Wednesday, September 05, 2007

How an Attorney becomes an Attorney -- a Writer's Perspective

I'm often asked how an attorney becomes an attorney. This column will go up at Keep Me In Suspense this week or next, but you get a sneak peek at it....

Your character did not wave a magic wand and become an attorney. She didn’t sing abracadabra either.

Instead, your character who is now an attorney, spent at least four years in an undergraduate program and then went to law school. If they went to law school as a day student, then three years of hard work later, they’ve got their diploma. If they went to law school at night, like I did, then they worked and went to school for four years to earn that diploma.

During law school your character competed for grades (the best jobs and plumb assignments go to those with top grades). They competed for positions on law review, other scholarly journals, moot court, inn of court, and on it goes. Then there’s the summer clerk positions. The brightest minds go to the best firms. And then there’s the all powerful judicial clerkships.

One of my best friends from law school basically graduated at the top of the class. She clerked for a circuit court of appeals judge. I graduated with honors, but not at the top, and clerked for a federal special court judge – think district court level. Others behind me, clerked for state judges, and those too much further back didn’t get the opportunity to clerk at all.

That’s why so many people come out of law school with competition bred into them. Let’s face it, you probably don’t go to law school unless you want to be or think you are one of the best. Then the process of law school burns that into your psyche.

The school you go to also makes a huge difference. I went to George Mason University School of Law, a young program. Our first US Supreme Court Clerk just happened in the last couple years. Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown have done that for centuries.

So if one of your characters is an attorney, you’ll need to know some of their backstory. Did they got to a top school, earn top grades and get their pick of jobs? Or did they got a midline school, barely graduate and have to scrape for every court appointment they get?

The answer to those questions will dramatically impact who your character is and how they behave.

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