New student organization hosts panel discussion of LR lawyers
The Pre-Law Society’s bimonthly “Law@Lunch” meeting on April 3 featured a panel of Little Rock lawyers who spoke of future law school decisions, attorney career opportunities, and personal advice.
Guest attorneys were Murad Elsaidi, staff attorney for the Arkansas Board of Review; Caleb Garcia of the Immigration Law Center; John Johnson, chief deputy prosecuting attorney for Pulaski and Perry Counties; and Mark Ohrenberger of the Agency Division of Civil Department at the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office.
Having only recently become a registered student organization in spring 2013, student membership is low. But this proved advantageous as the panel seemed comfortable speaking to the small assembly of aspiring attorneys.
“The best thing about being an attorney is that it grants you a certain level of autonomy,” Johnson said. He works 8 to 5 and answers only to his senior prosecuting attorney.
Ohrenberger shared his perspective of a lawyer’s life as well. “Litigation means there are ongoing deadlines, lots of nighttime and weekend hours, and it’s really nonstop,” he said. “Just because you leave the office at 2:30 because it’s a sunny day outside doesn’t mean that those cases aren’t constantly running through your head.”
Garcia relayed to the assembly much the same message. “I work anywhere from 65 to 80 hours a week, mostly drafting motions, filling out forms, and speaking with clients. You always hear about ‘billable hours’. Well, not in immigration law. We deal primarily with the Hispanic population in Arkansas, and we charge a flat rate. Instead of billable hours, we ask for $1000 and we’ll do the rest.”
Naturally, a major concern for the Pre-Law Society involved advice for applying to law school and what to do afterwards. The panel offered several useful tips.
Prior to entering law school, a pre-law student should focus heavily on maintaining a high GPA and scoring well on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Once a student has been admitted in law school, the attorneys agreed that the student need not focus on one particular path, but should branch out and explore options. If the student is interested in working during this time, the William H. Bowen School of Law also offers aid in their Career Services office. Many law firms come to the Bowen campus for recruitment. The student may find a position as a courier at a law firm or in the Public Defender’s office.
“That’ll at least get your foot in the door,” Ohrenberger said.
Johnson stressed the importance of networking as early as during undergraduate study. “I always say that law school is a trade school to learn how to make money,” he said. “It’s about the contacts you make and the experiences you make.”
Arkansas is a small legal community, so making connections is always conducive to a graduate. Pre-Law Society Advisor Joanne Matson called 2013 a “good year” to apply to law school.
To succeed in law school means to be able to write well and read difficult pieces. The final grade for a course is often contingent upon the final paper’s grade. Law students will develop what the panel called “issue spotting”, which is exactly what it describes: spotting the issues in papers, briefs, court cases, testimonies, etc.
Matson asked the panel if they might offer final “pearls of wisdom” before the meeting adjourned.
“I would say, just work hard, but take time for yourself. It’s all about balance,” Garcia said.
Ohrenberger asserted the prudence of assessing one’s goals in terms of standard of living. “Just think about what you really want in life. I know guys who work in big firms at $125,000 a year and have miserable lives,” he said.
“I’d say, look into clerkships, internships and externships,” Elsaidi suggested. “They show you the work that you’ll be doing, but they also help improve your writing.”
Johnson echoed his colleagues, as well as including his own advice. “Like and be liked. Start to network and like people. Have goals, but be flexible in them,” he said. “Don’t be afraid to acknowledge who you are. And once you’re in law school, talk to your professors.”
Students interested in joining the Pre-Law Society can contact President KenDrell Collins at email@example.com or Faculty Advisor Joanne Matson at firstname.lastname@example.org.