Insights From a Practicing Attorney: How to Make the Most of Your Law School Experience
Law school is a costly and timely endeavor. But, it can also be an extremely rewarding experience for those who want to practice law.
In this piece, Chris Devanny, a practicing attorney of over 25 years who is a member of the New York State Bar Association and the New Jersey Bar Association, shares his insight on the law school admissions process and how to make the most of your law school experience.
First and foremost, it’s critical to evaluate whether law school is the right fit.
Chris says, “It’s a rewarding profession. A challenging profession. A stressful profession. You have to love what you do. It can’t be about the money. If it is, you’ll get very burnt out. Be driven by the love for what you’re doing.”
Is Law School the Right Fit?
Chris Devanny explains “I liked the idea of changing the world in some fashion and the law seemed to be a vehicle for doing so.” Although he explains that many professions can help change lives for the better, the legal field felt like the right fit for his own personality. An analytical mindset and a yearning to problem solve coupled with his desire to make a difference, made law school a practical choice for Chris.
Chris stresses the importance of thinking critically about whether or not law school is the right path prior to applying. He reflects that he knows a number of individuals who spent the time and money to attend law school only to later decide the legal career wasn’t for them.
However, it can be tricky to figure out if it is something you would love. Partly, this is because there are so many types of law.
“Lawyers come in all shapes and sizes. Some never go into a courtroom. Some are in a courtroom every day and some draft contracts all day. Talk to lawyers. Talk to as many as you can. See the variety,” Chris recommends..
Chris also encourages prospective students to intern in a law office while in college if at all possible. While in his undergraduate, Chris interned for a full semester at a law office in Washington D.C. As Chris says, he was able to “dip his toes into the field before jumping into the ocean.”
Applying to Law School
There are many factors one could examine when deciding where to apply to law school. However, a lot of the feasibility regarding where one might be accepted is based on scores.
Chris explains that there isn’t really any other exam like the LSAT. It’s nothing like any other test you’ve ever taken. The exam tests how you think, how you comprehend, and how you work through problems. Chris recommends taking a practice exam and a course if possible. “Try to familiarize yourself with the test as much as possible.”
Besides looking at where he had the greatest chance of acceptance, Chris factored in cost, the areas of law different schools specialized in, and externship or internship programs offered. Many law schools have relationships with different government agencies or private corporations which can help students gain real world experiences while in school.
Chris knew that he wanted to attend a law school that focused on serving the public good. He had a desire to serve the disadvantaged and those in need. The school he attended, The City University of New York School of Law, was the perfect fit. The school’s mission is to “practice law in the service of human needs.” They are the nations #1 public interest law school.
Making the Most of The Experience
Chris emphasizes the importance of taking advantage of all of the opportunities available at the law school you attend. It is particularly important to gain real world experience while in school.
He had the opportunity to work for a judge his school put him in touch with starting his second year. The judge later put him in contact with the prosecutor’s office in New York where he started working his third year of the program. The experience of working for the judge led to a full-time job post JD.
Community experience or pro bono work is also extremely valuable. Chris took advantage of an elder law program while in school. He assisted the elderly who couldn’t afford to draft wills or set up a healthcare proxy. Not only was it great real world experience and an added benefit on a resume, it was vital to his personal development.
Additionally, Chris recommends working for the law review at the university you attend. He did this for two years. Students may also choose to gain experience by assisting a professor or joining a legal fraternity, Chris says.
Studying for the Bar and Finding Employment
Unlike the LSAT which can be difficult to study for, Chris emphasizes how critical it is to study diligently for the bar. He highly recommends taking a bar exam course which will walk you through the exam over a period of a few months. He says, “stick to the program and do everything it says. It’s all about preparation, commitment, and sacrifice. Devote yourself to studying so you don’t have to retake it.”
Chris studied about six hours a day for six weeks prior to taking the New York and New Jersey bar exams. He passed both on the first try. He does recommend taking local exams back to back and getting them both completed within a dedicated period. He explains, “you sacrificed three years and thousands of dollars to study the law and it all comes down to this one test. Take it seriously.”
Of course, no one can study 24/7 and Chris also emphasizes the importance of balance. “Exercise, go to the gym, or do some form of recreation each day. You can’t study every waking minute.”
After passing the bar, Chris went to work for the New York City Law Department as an Assistant Corporation Counsel at the same prosecutor's office he worked at while in school. There were two aims of that job, Chris describes. First, their goal was to protect society. Secondly, their goal was to put services in place for juveniles to put them on the right path and steer them away from a life of crime.
Later he entered the private sector working as a trial lawyer. “That was exciting,” he reflects. It was high stakes and he got to do something different every day. He knew he was playing a significant role in the lives of the people and the companies he was representing.
From there, he entered his current firm at Kent/McBride where he has worked for 21 years. He specializes in insurance law, criminal law, asbestos litigation, premises liability, motor vehicle products liability, and mass tort litigation.
Law school isn’t the right choice for everyone. But, it was the right choice for Chris. By thinking carefully about his career aspirations prior to applying, taking advantage of every opportunity while pursuing his JD, and studying diligently for the bar, Chris has had an extremely successful legal career thus far. It’s all about knowing what you want to do, and working diligently to achieve those goals.