This week we welcome guest writer Mark Livingston, current 3L, to talk about what it was like to find out his law school was closing.
In 1879, my law school opened its doors. In 2019, or possibly 2020, it will close its doors forever. Over the last nearly 139 years, many have learned the practice of law here; many have gone on to attain significant influence and important positions within the legal community, both nationally and globally. When I started my journey in 2016, there was no indication that the future of my law school was in jeopardy. When the announcement was made during my 2L year that the school was “not closing” but only looking for partners, or maybe a possible relocation to a less saturated market (we are just outside of Chicago) the feeling of panic began to settle in. This year, when a relocation out of state fell through, the hallowed halls seemed more like the decks of the Titanic post-iceberg. This post is about how I am coping with the realization that I will graduate from a law school that will soon no longer exist.
The “Rest of the Story”
On his radio segments, Paul Harvey always shared “the rest of the story,” particularly when there was misinformation or misconception surrounding a particular news piece. Unfortunately, the media coverage of the closure of my school has done a lot to create and cultivate misconceptions about the closure. The school is not closing because it has provided substandard education to its graduates; the accreditation with the ABA and academic bodies remains strong. Like most law schools, my school was once a profit center for the main campus, but all of that changed with the 2008 recession. Suddenly, there were too many law school graduates and licensed attorneys vying for too few legal jobs. As a result, admissions declined and law schools started operating at a loss. In most cases, the main university campus subsidized the law school, because it was advantageous for them to have a law school. At my private university, the will to keep the law school alive was lost and the governing body decided it was time to let go. The decision to close the doors of my 139-year-old was a purely financial one.
What Do I Tell Prospective Employers?
The single greatest challenge for me has been answering the inevitable question from prospective employers during job interviews; without exception, the closure comes up in one way or another. I have made it my mission to emphasize that the quality of my legal education has not been diminished. The same faculty that have been teaching law students, some of them for decades, are still torturing students with the Socratic method and difficult exams. I make it clear to a prospective employer that I am getting out of my legal education exactly what I put in, which would also be true if I was at Georgetown, Harvard, or any other law school. No one receives a law degree without suffering, sacrifice, and a lot of hard work. I tell prospective employers, I have worked harder since learning the fate of the school. I can’t rely on the name or reputation of my school anymore, I have to bring just myself to the table.
My Plan To Excel Despite The Reality
The moment that I learned the fate of my school, I got even more serious about my legal education. I developed a four-part approach to setting myself apart from my classmates and my competition from schools that aren’t closing.
First, I began by squeezing the most out of my experienced faculty. I was already doing this, of course, but now I did it as if my legal “life” depended on it. I briefed every case more thoroughly, I participated in every class, and I studied for exams like they were the bar.
Next, I took advantage of any and all experiential learning opportunities I could find. I secured externships, internships, and pro bono positions. I knew that it was critical to expand my legal resume before I left school. Of course, I had to find a work-school balance that made sense, but I made the experiences and resume building potential a priority.
After upping my game in class and in the realm of experiential learning, I focused on networking opportunities to expand my legal rolodex. I started attending local and state bar functions, taking full advantage of informational interviews, and reaching out to Alumni. These are the people that will either hire me, or help me get hired, and are hundreds of individual resources that can help me overcome any deficiency the closure of my school may create.
Finally, I started applying for post-graduate jobs often and early. I want to get ahead of the closure as much as possible and land that first job before I leave school. Once I have my first postgraduate legal job, where I went to law school and whether or not it’s still open will be much less important. The job search has been grueling, but critical to overcoming this calamity.
Coping or Fighting?
I used the word “coping” in the title of this post. There has been some coping involved in this for students, faculty, and staff. I think that the faculty and staff have it worse, because this is their livelihood. The halls of my school are quiet. There are only about 100 students left, and it is a depressing place. That being said, I have chosen not to be a victim. I have chosen to fight through this challenge. “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul,” and I refuse to allow a business decision by a university take that power away from me. I cope by fighting and overcoming this calamity.