Thomas Holm Mentors Undergraduates at Carleton College about Law School 1 - Tom's Blog - Thomas Holm Legal Consulting LLC

Should I Go to Law School? What Can I Do with a Law Degree? Tom Holm of Thomas Holm Legal Consulting LLC Mentors Carleton College Undergrads Considering Law School

In Law School by admin3 Comments


Tom Holm meets an international relations major, class of 2018,
as part of Carleton College’s 30 Minutes Program.

Should I go to law school? If so, where should I attend? What can I do with a law degree? Can I afford law school? These are complicated questions; the answers vary depending on each person’s situation. Some potential law students don’t even ask themselves these questions, while other students don’t know how or where to find possible answers.


Working with attorney mentors is one of several potential means of answering these questions. I recently mentored several Carleton College students considering law school as part of Carleton’s 30 Minutes Program. This program “brings students interested in a specific job or industry face-to-face . . . with alumni experienced in that field . . . allow[ing] students to learn about the alums career path, typical day/week, organizational culture, educational requirements, ways to gain experience, related occupations, and resources for learning more.”

Questions You Should Ask about Law School and How to Answer Them

While my experience with each student was unique, our conversations addressed some common topics. I have expanded on the advice I gave regarding some of these topics below.


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  • Whether you should attend law school.
  • Careers in law can be immensely rewarding. For example, many of my colleagues and former students have meaningful careers they deeply appreciate.
  • But being an attorney is not for everybody. Practicing law can be demanding, stressful, occasionally isolating, and time-intensive. Even legal careers that purportedly provide the elusive “work/life balance” that many lawyers seek often still require significant time and impose serious stressors. Lawyers work with clients. Clients can be difficult and demanding. Meeting their needs will likely require repeated adjustments in your preferred schedule. I’m generalizing of course, and lawyers’ individual experiences may be very different from what I’ve described above, but these are facts of life for most attorneys.
  • Moreover, while some attorneys have huge salaries, going to law school doesn’t guarantee a high-paying job or financial security. Consider some recent findings by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).
  • Mean beginning salaries don’t necessarily reflect your likely salary out of law school. Instead, salaries tend to follow a bi-modal curve, with more jobs falling below the salary mean than above.
  • The type of job you choose can greatly affect your starting salary. While jobs in large law firms tend to pay the most, fewer “Big Law” jobs exist than previously. And access to these high-paying, Big Law jobs is usually dependent on you attending a highly-ranked law school and then finishing at least relatively high in your class academically.
  • Thus, do some meaningful, personal research before attending law school, including the following.
  • Seek mentorship opportunities with experienced lawyers. Your career services and alumni offices at your college can help you find potential mentors.
  • Get a job or internship at a legal employer, such as courts, law firms, corporate legal departments, government, and non-profits.
  • Research the types of legal careers that fit your career and personal goals. Students often focus myopically on Big Law jobs. Those jobs are great for some people (I had a Big Law job and appreciated my time there), but they may require some personal sacrifices that you may prefer not to make.
  • Determine whether you can get into law schools whose graduates obtain the types of jobs you want in your desired practice areas.
  • Above all, don’t go to law school simply because you’re not sure what to do after college!! Law school is a very expensive way to seek clarity.
  • Instead, spend at least a few years away from school, do your research, and get some life experience before investing potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in a law degree.
  • You’ll be more informed and comfortable with your decision, won’t get burned out from undergoing three more intense years of school immediately after college, and have a significantly better understanding what you want from your career.


Tom Holm meets with Noah Feldman, statistics major, class of 2019,
as part of Carleton College’s 30 Minutes Program.

  • How to choose a law school.
  • Don’t focus solely on a law school’s U.S. News ranking. While these rankings can affect your future employment opportunities to varying degrees, your school’s ranking typically will be more relevant to quests for Big Law and clerkship positions than for other types of positions.
  • Moreover, U.S. News rankings are subjective and rely on criteria that won’t necessarily relate to your personal and career goals. For example, 40% of a school’s overall ranking score depends on subjective assessments of the “best” law schools provided by faculty and senior administrators in law schools, lawyers, and judges. Few of these people, however well-meaning and principled they may be, have significant, accurate information about more than a few schools; they also have incentives to rank their own law schools highly. And the “Faculty Resources” score accounts for another 15% of a school’s overall ranking. The criteria for the Faculty Resources score are poor proxies for what you presumably care about: teaching quality.
  • Thus, you shouldn’t just simply attend the highest-ranked school you get into. Instead, consider other factors that you may care about, such as the following.
  • Cost
  • Attending law school can be prohibitively expensive. You can potentially get crushed by debt or be forced into jobs (assuming you can actually get hired for one) that don’t suit you just so you can afford to pay back your loans.
  • Thus, consider schools that offer you scholarships, favorable financial aid packages, or, if you’re seeking a career in public interest law, have strong loan forgiveness programs.
  • Consider using the University of Michigan Law School's Debt Wizard to assess whether and how you may be able to pay off your law school loans after you graduate.
  • The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) also has a nice overview of financial aid considerations, including financial aid options and paying back your loans.
  • The depth and breadth of the school’s clinical offerings.
  • Most likely, you are attending law school to get a job practicing law. Knowing the law of your practice area is but a beginning to being a successful lawyer. And really, knowing the law is the relatively easy part.
  • The hard part of being a lawyer is developing and honing the analytical and practice skills central to lawyering. Lawyers analyze their clients’ fact-specific problems and try to give them favorable solutions and results. Lawyers will do some or all of the following, among many other things, while serving their clients:
  • Research the relevant law;
  • Write objective and persuasive memoranda (i.e., briefs);
  • Draft contracts and many other types of documents to memorialize business transactions;
  • Verbally articulate or advocate their positions before courts, opposing counsel, and clients during oral arguments; negotiations, and client counseling sessions;
  • Interview and question clients and witnesses;
  • Negotiate business transactions and litigation settlements; and
  • Counsel their clients.
  • Clinical courses help teach you these and other practice-oriented skills. In my view, clinical courses generally help prepare you for practice more than academic courses in the practice areas you hope to pursue because clinical courses teach analytical and practice skills in situations that more closely mirror what actual lawyers do.
  • Thus, seek schools with robust clinical programs, including but not limited to strong legal research and writing courses. Determine whether your school offers practice-oriented writing opportunities beyond those provided in its 1L legal research and writing course. While seminar courses will require you to write papers, they usually don’t provide practice-oriented writing opportunities.
  • For example, I did environmental insurance defense and bank regulatory work at my law firm. During law school, I didn’t even know that these practice areas even existed, much less took courses in them. However, I left law school with foundational practice skills. I knew how to research effectively and efficiently, write cogent memoranda, develop facts, and verbally present arguments and other information.
  • Thus, even though I knew nothing about the legal rules when I began practicing in these areas, I could learn the relevant law over time, but immediately perform well because of my underlying skill set.
  • The depth and breadth of the school’s externship opportunities.
  • If you plan to practice law after graduation, seek as many opportunities as possible to develop your practice-oriented skills. Externships provide meaningful opportunities to actually perform real legal work. Ensure that your school gives you a wide array of externships to choose from.
  • How to choose appropriate practice areas and careers that satisfy your intellectual interests and personal needs.
  • Means of developing relevant practice skills even if you aren’t immediately able to find a job in your desired practice area.
  • For example, you may wish to practice immigration law. However, you may not be able to get a job in immigration law right out of law school. But you can seek other jobs that allow you to develop the skills that immigration practice requires, such as client counseling, reading regulations, administrative law procedures, and written and verbal advocacy. After you get a few years of experience in a related practice area, you may find more opportunities for positions in immigration law.
  • How to develop networking skills and strategies, as networking often helps uncover potential job opportunities.
Mentoring Relationships Benefit the Mentor and Mentee

I was grateful to discuss these issues with such smart, energetic, and kind students. I got as much out of the experience as they did, probably much more. And the good people of Carleton were generous with their thanks. Sarah Wolfe at Carleton’s Career Center thanked me “for being so generous with your time and serving as a fantastic resource for Carleton students!” Several students sent me thank you notes, offering warmhearted thoughts like:


  • “Your responses really cleared things up for me. While I understand the importance of pursuing what I love, it is really inspiring meeting someone who adheres to such principles in their career.”
  • “Your advice on finding a nourishing element for the soul really inspired me and helped me realize its importance. I love a lot of your advice as well!”
  • “Thank you for taking the time and energy to answer my questions regarding law school, internships, and career paths in general.”
  • “I appreciated the advice you gave me on social justice and law as well as your career advice.”

If you would like personal help deciding whether and where to attend law school, I mentor prospective law students on these and related issues. Should you decide to attend law school, I also provide individual tutoring to help you get the most out of your law school experience and excel on your exams. I love working with law students, and have over twenty years’ experience teaching and mentoring pre-law and first-year law students.


Contact me to get started!

Tom Holm meets an international relations major, class of 2018, as part of Carleton College’s 30 Minutes Program.

Should I go to law school? If so, where should I attend? What can I do with a law degree? Can I afford law school? These are complicated questions; the answers vary depending on each person’s situation. Some potential law students don’t even ask themselves these questions, while other students don’t know how or where to find possible answers.


Working with attorney mentors is one of several potential means of answering these questions. I recently mentored several Carleton College students considering law school as part of Carleton’s 30 Minutes Program. This program “brings students interested in a specific job or industry face-to-face . . . with alumni experienced in that field . . . allow[ing] students to learn about the alums career path, typical day/week, organizational culture, educational requirements, ways to gain experience, related occupations, and resources for learning more.”

Questions You Should Ask about Law School and How to Answer Them

While my experience with each student was unique, our conversations addressed some common topics. I have expanded on the advice I gave regarding some of these topics below.


  • Whether you should attend law school.
  • Careers in law can be immensely rewarding. For example, many of my colleagues and former students have meaningful careers they deeply appreciate.
  • But being an attorney is not for everybody. Practicing law can be demanding, stressful, occasionally isolating, and time-intensive. Even legal careers that purportedly provide the elusive “work/life balance” that many lawyers seek often still require significant time and impose serious stressors. Lawyers work with clients. Clients can be difficult and demanding. Meeting their needs will likely require repeated adjustments in your preferred schedule. I’m generalizing of course, and lawyers’ individual experiences may be very different from what I’ve described above, but these are facts of life for most attorneys.
  • Moreover, while some attorneys have huge salaries, going to law school doesn’t guarantee a high-paying job or financial security. Consider some recent findings by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).
  • Mean beginning salaries don’t necessarily reflect your likely salary out of law school. Instead, salaries tend to follow a bi-modal curve, with more jobs falling below the salary mean than above.
  • The type of job you choose can greatly affect your starting salary. While jobs in large law firms tend to pay the most, fewer “Big Law” jobs exist than previously. And access to these high-paying, Big Law jobs is usually dependent on you attending a highly-ranked law school and then finishing at least relatively high in your class academically.
  • Thus, do some meaningful, personal research before attending law school, including the following.
  • Seek mentorship opportunities with experienced lawyers. Your career services and alumni offices at your college can help you find potential mentors.
  • Get a job or internship at a legal employer, such as courts, law firms, corporate legal departments, government, and non-profits.
  • Research the types of legal careers that fit your career and personal goals. Students often focus myopically on Big Law jobs. Those jobs are great for some people (I had a Big Law job and appreciated my time there), but they may require some personal sacrifices that you may prefer not to make.
  • Determine whether you can get into law schools whose graduates obtain the types of jobs you want in your desired practice areas.
  • Above all, don’t go to law school simply because you’re not sure what to do after college!! Law school is a very expensive way to seek clarity.
  • Above all, don’t go to law school simply because you’re not sure what to do after college!! Law school is a very expensive way to seek clarity.
  • Instead, spend at least a few years away from school, do your research, and get some life experience before investing potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in a law degree.
  • You’ll be more informed and comfortable with your decision, won’t get burned out from undergoing three more intense years of school immediately after college, and have a significantly better understanding what you want from your career.

Tom Holm meets with Noah Feldman, statistics major, class of 2019, as part of Carleton College’s 30 Minutes Program.

  • How to choose a law school.
  • Don’t focus solely on a law school’s U.S. News ranking. While these rankings can affect your future employment opportunities to varying degrees, your school’s ranking typically will be more relevant to quests for Big Law and clerkship positions than for other types of positions.
  • Moreover, U.S. News rankings are subjective and rely on criteria that won’t necessarily relate to your personal and career goals. For example, 40% of a school’s overall ranking score depends on subjective assessments of the “best” law schools provided by faculty and senior administrators in law schools, lawyers, and judges. Few of these people, however well-meaning and principled they may be, have significant, accurate information about more than a few schools; they also have incentives to rank their own law schools highly. And the “Faculty Resources” score accounts for another 15% of a school’s overall ranking. The criteria for the Faculty Resources score are poor proxies for what you presumably care about: teaching quality.
  • Thus, you shouldn’t just simply attend the highest-ranked school you get into. Instead, consider other factors that you may care about, such as the following.
  • Cost
  • Attending law school can be prohibitively expensive. You can potentially get crushed by debt or be forced into jobs (assuming you can actually get hired for one) that don’t suit you just so you can afford to pay back your loans.
  • Thus, consider schools that offer you scholarships, favorable financial aid packages, or, if you’re seeking a career in public interest law, have strong loan forgiveness programs.
  • Consider using the University of Michigan Law School's Debt Wizard to assess whether and how you may be able to pay off your law school loans after you graduate.
  • The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) also has a nice overview of financial aid considerations, including financial aid options and paying back your loans.
  • The depth and breadth of the school’s clinical offerings.
  • Most likely, you are attending law school to get a job practicing law. Knowing the law of your practice area is but a beginning to being a successful lawyer. And really, knowing the law is the relatively easy part.
  • The hard part of being a lawyer is developing and honing the analytical and practice skills central to lawyering. Lawyers analyze their clients’ fact-specific problems and try to give them favorable solutions and results. Lawyers will do some or all of the following, among many other things, while serving their clients:
  • Research the relevant law;
  • Write objective and persuasive memoranda (i.e., briefs);
  • Draft contracts and many other types of documents to memorialize business transactions;
  • Verbally articulate or advocate their positions before courts, opposing counsel, and clients during oral arguments; negotiations, and client counseling sessions;
  • Interview and question clients and witnesses;
  • Negotiate business transactions and litigation settlements; and
  • Counsel their clients.
  • Clinical courses help teach you these and other practice-oriented skills. In my view, clinical courses generally help prepare you for practice more than academic courses in the practice areas you hope to pursue because clinical courses teach analytical and practice skills in situations that more closely mirror what actual lawyers do.
  • Thus, seek schools with robust clinical programs, including but not limited to strong legal research and writing courses. Determine whether your school offers practice-oriented writing opportunities beyond those provided in its 1L legal research and writing course. While seminar courses will require you to write papers, they usually don’t provide practice-oriented writing opportunities.
  • For example, I did environmental insurance defense and bank regulatory work at my law firm. During law school, I didn’t even know that these practice areas even existed, much less took courses in them. However, I left law school with foundational practice skills. I knew how to research effectively and efficiently, write cogent memoranda, develop facts, and verbally present arguments and other information.
  • Thus, even though I knew nothing about the legal rules when I began practicing in these areas, I could learn the relevant law over time, but immediately perform well because of my underlying skill set.
  • The depth and breadth of the school’s externship opportunities.
  • If you plan to practice law after graduation, seek as many opportunities as possible to develop your practice-oriented skills. Externships provide meaningful opportunities to actually perform real legal work. Ensure that your school gives you a wide array of externships to choose from.
  • How to choose appropriate practice areas and careers that satisfy your intellectual interests and personal needs.
  • Means of developing relevant practice skills even if you aren’t immediately able to find a job in your desired practice area.
  • For example, you may wish to practice immigration law. However, you may not be able to get a job in immigration law right out of law school. But you can seek other jobs that allow you to develop the skills that immigration practice requires, such as client counseling, reading regulations, administrative law procedures, and written and verbal advocacy. After you get a few years of experience in a related practice area, you may find more opportunities for positions in immigration law.
  • How to develop networking skills and strategies, as networking often helps uncover potential job opportunities.
Mentoring Relationships Benefit the Mentor and Mentee

I was grateful to discuss these issues with such smart, energetic, and kind students. I got as much out of the experience as they did, probably much more. And the good people of Carleton were generous with their thanks. Sarah Wolfe at Carleton’s Career Center thanked me “for being so generous with your time and serving as a fantastic resource for Carleton students!” Several students sent me thank you notes, offering warmhearted thoughts like:


  • “Your responses really cleared things up for me. While I understand the importance of pursuing what I love, it is really inspiring meeting someone who adheres to such principles in their career.”
  • “Your advice on finding a nourishing element for the soul really inspired me and helped me realize its importance. I love a lot of your advice as well!”
  • “Thank you for taking the time and energy to answer my questions regarding law school, internships, and career paths in general.”
  • “I appreciated the advice you gave me on social justice and law as well as your career advice.”

If you would like personal help deciding whether and where to attend law school, I mentor prospective law students on these and related issues. Should you decide to attend law school, I also provide individual tutoring to help you get the most out of your law school experience and excel on your exams. I love working with law students, and have over twenty years’ experience teaching and mentoring pre-law and first-year law students.


Contact me to get started!

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Comments

  1. This post outlines everything you want to consider about the legal profession before applying to law school. Much of the information you’d want to know before applying can only be learned by speaking with someone who has already experienced the process of becoming a lawyer. Tom’s post gives you an excellent preview of questions you should ask law students or attorneys to find out more information about their law school or professional experience. And Tom is absolutely correct about how to conduct the appropriate research to figure out which law school is the right one for you. Although I was satisfied with my law school experience, I absolutely wish I had read this post before applying.

  2. Great suggestions re finding mentors and working with a legal employer before attending law school. I loved my experience at Munger Tolles & Olson before starting at USC Gould School of Law. I still have mentors at the firm who are very supportive.

  3. I was one of the students that Tom met with for the 30 Minutes program. Tom was friendly and easy to speak to. He gave me great advice on what it means to enter law and I plan to use this advice in the future.

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