Juris Doctorate (law school)

Prospectives Beware: Post-Grad Employment Numbers Aren’t What They Seem

And currently two law students at Vanderbilt Law School are suggesting a way to fix that problem.

The farce of law school provided post-grad employment statistics is more than well-known, but every year plenty of prospective students flip through U.S. World & News rankings, see loads of law schools with post-grad employment in the 90% – 98% range, and convince themselves into law school without much further thought.  It’s an interesting phenomenon, as lawyers are known for being terrible with two things: mathematics, and the truth.  The result is that if you give any credence to the employment numbers law schools claim, you’re probably too much of a sucker to be a lawyer or to consider law school.

Needless to say, two law students are currently pushing a non-profit initiative to hopefully increase the flow of information to prospective students, so there are fewer people making the decision to incur the serious amount of debt and loss of time necessary to go to law school in the haze of unreliable law school provided statistics.

Their current organization is called Law School Transparency, and is can be found here.

For further reading, see the Above the Law column on the pair.

For further reading on law school statistic manipulation, see Lies, Damn Lies and Law School Employment Statistics

Updated to add:  The ABA has also taken note of the effort for increased transparency in post-grad employment numbers.

Presentation to Returnees : Taking the JET Experience into the Legal Field

Certainly this site isn’t the only one looking to help JETs take their time in Japan and segue into the legal marketplace.  Last month, there was a presentation at the Tokyo Returnee’s Conference specifically aimed at JETs considering legal careers.

The slides are posted here, and have some great information, including:

  • A list of foreign law firms that employ in Tokyo;
  • A list of possible legal careers, and;
  • A list of the qualifications necessary for a legal career in the various JET participating countries.

Happy reading!

Practicing Law in Tokyo (2): Practice Area

Also known as: there is no such thing as practicing “international law.”  Okay, that’s not necessarily true.  But the fact is that “international law” as a term more commonly refers to international law in the public arena: i.e. states dealing with states, or states dealing with international organizations.  Working for the United Nations, for example, would put you squarely in the realm of public international law.  This differs significantly from what most attorneys in the international arena are doing: practicing law internationally.

While there may be some overlap (if you are practicing law internationally, it may be worthwhile in understanding the WTO rules embodied in GATT/GATS/TRIPS/TRIMS, example, and the WTO’s Dispute Settlement procedures), if you’re seeking to do something outside the context of foreign relations, public interest, or NGO work, you will still need to figure out what kind of law you want to practice.  “I want to practice international law,” as a statement to a potential employer will not suffice.  “I want to practice international law in a Japanese context,” moreover, is not much better.

So, what practice areas are big in the Tokyo market?

As Martindale indicates, if you’re looking for a Tokyo firm that works in Education law, Elections, Eminent Domain or Family Law, you’re not going to find much.  (Okay, there may be some applicable family law disputes out there, I suppose).  If, however, you’re in the business of Intellectual Property, M&A, Finance, or Trade, you have considerably more options.

Unfortunately, first year law classes don’t necessarily prepare you to answer the kind of question you’ll need to be able to answer to employers: what kind of law do you want to practice internationally?  But thinking ahead about this – about both what it means to practice law internationally, and what kind of law you might want to practice internationally – is critical to marketing yourself to a Tokyo firm.

For resources regarding taking an international law course during your law school career see:

When Should American Law Students Take International Law?

Should 1L’s Take International Law?

The Utility of International Law Courses – A Response to Posner

Law Firm Pronunciation Guide

How do you say Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle?  How about Debevoise & Plimpton?

If you had an interview with a firm like this, your failed pronunciation of their name could be the difference between a call back and a thinly-packed ding letter.

Fortunately, Georgetown Law School has a law firm pronunciation guide out there for the major firms, available to anyone at a single click!

Duke Law School has one available as well.


Law Schools with Study Abroad in Japan Programs

One of the perks of being in law school is that the doors of study abroad are once again wide open to you — a summer study abroad program can help eat up your credit hour requirements, and a semester abroad might provide the kind of work experience you need to land a job overseas.  Many law schools out there have associations with schools abroad.  Some operate as island programs that are nothing more than a shell of an actual study abroad experience– you take classes with your law school’s professors, amongst your law school’s students.  The only thing that changes is the background.  The opportunities for immersion or networking on such programs, likewise, are considerably smaller.  Other programs out there, though, are more intensive.

TempleUJapanMost importantly, if you want to find yourself back in Japan right after law school, studying abroad there can be key.  As one current Tokyo attorney put it to me:

If you want to work there, do the Temple program. That increases your chances of scoring a job in Tokyo by like 400%, especially if you are a former JET…

While I’m sure 400% is not a scientifically precise figure of your chances, it delivers a clear message: if you really want to work there, you have to be there, and study abroad can help you do that.

So what law schools out there give you the chance to study abroad in Japan?

Harvard.  Okay, there are probably a host of other reasons you might want to go to Harvard.  After all, it’s Harvard!  But aside from that, Harvard has the key relationship with Tokyo University.  To-dai.  The One.

Additionally, a number of other law schools have relationships Waseda University Law School, including: Columbia University, Duke University, Cornell University, Michigan University, the University of Illinois, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Washington, and the University of Virginia.

A third option is Temple Law School – Japan Campus.  The program operates every winter semester and is open to applicants outside of Temple Law School.  Internships are also available to those with sufficient Japanese ability.

Santa Clara Law School also has a summer program in Tokyo.

Michigan State University has a summer program in Kyoto as well.

JET on Your Resume

The nagging question to most folks concluding their JET experience is: how the hell do I utilize JET on my resume?


Maybe tone it down a little.

The short answer is that JET can be sold as a positive experience, but compared to the opportunity costs of other things you could have been doing instead of JET, JET won’t necessarily be a golden ticket into law school or a legal career.  Perhaps the first threshold question is: Should I even put JET on my resume?  What may seem like a no-brainer (yes!  of course! JET’s great!) may actually not be so — there are certainly no dearth of web forum arguments out there over this very issue.

Technically The JET Program[me] was not your employer, your contracting organization was.  JET, then, is more like your placement agency, and your BOE your placement.  Additionally, with a name that ends in “Program[me],” JET doesn’t sound really like an employer, but, well, like something that’s simply experiential – like study/work abroad.  There’s the rub – if JET is your only post-undergrad experience, you’d prefer to characterize it as close to actual work as possible.  It seems odd, then, to try and fit JET at the top line of your resume in your employment slot.

However, JET also has a pretty vast and active alumni community, and as such, you might want to find a way to highlight the fact that you’re a former JET to get the attention of possible JET alums that can help you find employment.  It that sense, it would be understandable to put “The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program[me] somewhere visible on your resume.  Also worth noting, as of April 10, 2010 – LinkedIn now recognizes “The JET Program[me]” as an employer on its drop down menus when putting your work experience into that site.  This should assist former JETs search for other JET alumni with which to network.

The good news on this is, since there’s no significant consensus on this issue, you can likely list it however you like.  If you’re going to list JET as your employer, it would make more sense to list the whole name as opposed to the acronym (i.e. The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program[me], instead of just “JET” or “The JET Program[me],”) to give non-JET employers some idea of what you were doing.

Alternative approaches would include listing your Board of Education as your employer, and then including “Placement by the JET Program, one of Japan’s largest cultural exchange programs, run by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with local governments.”  Or some other such thing.  If, for some reason, you don’t want to highlight that your background was on JET, you can always just list your JETAA affiliation near the bottom of your resume, or omit JET altogether.

From personal experience, I can say at interviews I’ve never had my time on JET come up in a negative light.  In the interest of full disclosure, my JET resume entry is below:

Naninani City Board of Education Dokoka Pref., Japan

Assistant Language Teacher, August 2005-August 2008

  • Ÿ  Instructed English as a Foreign Language and led internationalization activities for a city of 35,000 at 14 different schools
  • Ÿ  Instructed English at community college, coached winning speech competition contestants
  • Ÿ  Co-developed and presented a curriculum for use in nineteen area elementary schools.
  • Ÿ  Advised youth table tennis players for five junior high schools

While I do not mention JET explicitly, I do mention my JETAA affiliation in a separate area.  I have friends, however, who have included JET prominently in their resume, and who have found employment.  How, where, and whether you choose to make JET a visible part on your resume is up to you.  It is something to think about, though.

Now that we have that out of the way, onto something more significant: How should I explain JET on my resume?

The answer to that question depends upon whether: (a) You’re using your JET experience to get into law school, or (b) You’re using your JET experience as part of your search for legal employment.  Oddly enough, law schools and legal employers are not looking for the same things on your resume.  What you know is that neither really cares about your amazing Fruit Basket ‘skillz’ – but what is it they are looking for?

The Law School Resume

Law schools care about nothing more than your LSAT score having a diverse student body that can bring different perspectives and ideas into the law school classroom.  The good news is that a former JET can bring a lot of diversity into the classroom, and having a resume that screams both to your JET-related accomplishments as well as this diversity/uniqueness element will likely help you.

If you take some time to think about it, you do bring a pretty unique background with you.  If you were in a small town (like I was) chances are you were the only person – or only one of a very few select people – of your nationality to live there.  You’ve lived the life of an outsider – trying to adapt, fit in, and get along in a place very different from your home.  You’ve taken on challenges from such mundane things as sorting your garbage to seven different categories to having to plan a lesson on the fly because your JTE decided it would be fun not to tell you forgot to tell you about the class you are going to teach five minutes from now.  You’ve been asked to make impromptu speeches and you’ve been made a spectacle of at town events.  In other words, you’ve had a unique and rare experience that not many of your fellow law students bring to the table.  Capitalize on that.

Of course JET probably won’t offset a poor LSAT or undergrad performance – JET will be a ‘soft factor’ on your law school application, but you can utilize it in a way that makes it a very strong soft factor, if you want to do so.

The Legal Employer Resume

The legal employer doesn’t care so much about your diverse background, your interesting perspective on life, or your opinions on onsen etiquette.  A legal employer wants to know two things: (1) Can you produce a good work product for me?, and (2) Are you going to be impossible to work with?

Keep in mind, moreover, that if you were born between 1979-2000 and coming off of JET, going to law school, and looking for legal employment, you may also have to overcome the image employers currently have about the Millennial Generation.  While employers recognize our generation as tech-savvy and confident, we’re not so beloved for having an ‘entitled’ attitude, short attention span, an inability to do anything without the approval of a superior, and a dislike for consulting resources that were, at one point, trees.  For additional information regarding hiring and millenials, see Jim Kennedy’s 2008 Article on the subject.

Also, JET will not be at the top of your legal resume.  Legal resumes naturally bifurcate the ‘Work Experience’ section into two areas, with Legal Experience (at the top) and Other Experience (after Legal Experience).

Your resume to a legal employer needs to (1) convince them of your competence, (2) do something to demonstrate that you’re not like the other Millennials applying for the position (i.e., you can make decisions – Millennials are often lauded for their ability to find information, but severely disliked when it comes to not knowing how to process or act on it), and (3) show them something, some skill or ability you can bring to their work place.  All of this needs to be designed to get you to the next step of finding employment: an interview.

But, while JET didn’t provide you the legal training to necessarily help you accomplish (3), it definitely gives you a good angle to attack (1) and (2).  For (1), show some quantifiable results– how big a town or city did you work for?  At how many schools?  What other accomplishments did you have in the workplace?  Did you design a curriculum?  Coach students for the speech contest?  Numbers, data, and achievements are the best way to show you did something with your time on the Program[me].  For (2), show you took some leadership, or were put in a situation where you had to make decisions.  If you had to teach at elementary school, chances are quite high you had to do a lot of the grunt work yourself – in terms of class preparation and class leadership.  If you were a one-shot with a ton of schools, you probably had to walk into a classroom full of kids you saw, maybe, once a month, read the tone of the room, and with only that limited amount of information figure out how you were going to conduct class.

This doesn’t mean that legal employers don’t want to hear about your adventures, however.  Your employers may want to know you are human in some way, and your JET entry may be a good place to add a little of that ‘human’ touch to your resume.

As your law school career progresses, you may want to consider how much space JET takes on your resume, and how you want to adapt JET to polish weaker parts of your resume.

As to what specifically to put on your resume, there is fortunately tons of advice out there on that.  I’ve amassed as much of it as I can, and put it below.

Additional Materials:

Transferable Skills JETs Have.pdf: Contains a listing of various transferable skills JETs tend to gain on the Program[me]

JETAA Portland offers a little bit of resume advice

Careers After JET 2005.pdf: Contains various job hunting tips as well as CV/Resume tips.

2003 JET Alumni Assoc Resume Writing Workshop.doc: Doc file with resume writing tips

Temple University Japan Campus Post-JET: Slides from a What to Do After JET for Job Searching

$0.02 for the Prospective Student

So you graduated from a great school, and are now off on you adventure in Japan.  Teaching tomorrow’s English speakers, mingling with an eclectic blend of newly minted (or maybe not so newly minted) college grads, and being the recipient of a unique and deep cultural experience are what joining JET is all about.  And now, your time on JET is winding down, and you find yourself wondering: What’s next?

After a pause, you think, perhaps, a law degree is a way to go.  After all, you’re international, intelligent, and adaptable– and now, you’re intercultural!   What better use of your time than to take that and turn it all into a law degree?  Well, much like the prior to joining the JET experience, when you didn’t know you’d be sorting your garbage into eight different categories, dealing with frozen pipes, or fending off mukade the size of your arm, the expectations you bring with you to a possible legal career can conflict starkly with reality.

This post isn’t designed to discourage you from going to law school, but to make sure that, if doing law after JET is a choice you are entertaining, that that decision should be an informed one.

First of all, a couple words of encouragement — You Can Get Into Law School.

Especially if you start early.  As a JET, you have the time and the potential flexibility to make a committed, concentrated effort to study for the LSATs, to look through school rankings, to contact current and past law students and get a read on exactly where you want to study, what you might want to practice, and where your law school education might take you.  This is true even if you’re a one-shot (as I was).  With a few months of concentrated study, you can handle the LSAT, get an account set up on LSAC, and start applying to law schools.  You even have the time and ability to go through your applications several times, consider what you want to highlight in your personal statements, and contact the right people to submit letters of recommendation for you.

The benefit of being on JET and looking to get into law school is time.  While your fellow law school applicants may be hard at work, or trying to multi-task a law school application with married life, children, and keeping down a job– you have, conceivably, less on your plate to distract you, and that will pay off for you in the end.

Secondly, You Can Do Law School.  That is, if you want to.

The nature of the work in law school won’t kill you.  If you can read and do some critical reasoning, you can handle law school.  I promise.  Moreover, law school will turn you into stronger writer and a more efficient reader within a matter of a few weeks.  Perhaps spending the last two years singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in front of small children has also removed any apprehensions you might have of being called on in a classroom environment– which is sure to happen in law school, and what’s more on a regular basis.

Unless you make intentional and deliberate effort to ignore your classroom obligations and impending exams, you can make law school work for you.

The question that remains, then, is do you really want to?  Do you really want to do law school?

Before signing on to my law school career, I made an effort to seek out every friend I’d ever had that had ever gone through the law school experience.  I had already gone through LSATs, the application process, and was receiving my offers from the schools I had applied to, and wanted to tap into their law school experience and insight, to help inform my ultimate decision on a school.  I even received one email from a law student I had not met before, with what seemed to me to be a fairly direct admonition:

First, a threshold matter: Are you REALLY sure you want to go through with this? Law school is not for the faint of heart. This is an ugly, unglamorous profession. Do not come to law school because you think you might want to do “something” with a law degree. That is delusional. Come to law school because you want to come out and become a practicing attorney. Before you think of accepting any of those offers, I STRONGLY URGE–INSIST– that you get in touch with a family friend who is an attorney and talk to him about the profession.

My obvious answer to this question was: “Yes.”  I’d already jumped through all the hoops to go into law school.  I’d already turned in my “will not renew” contract slip to the Board of Education.  My course was set, and I wasn’t changing it.  Nor do I regret my decision to come to law school.  My uninvited messenger, however, did raise a good point: unlike JET, law school is a hard, three year commitment.  Unlike JET, law school is going to push you, and hard, for all three of those years.  Unlike JET, you may have to…

Treat law school like a job. Go to work in the morning. Put in a full, honest days’ work. Go home, and rest. The fact that you’ve been out “in the world” for a while is a huge benefit. Your sectionmates (who may not even really want to be in law school, but are using it as a way to escape the real world for a few years) will not have the coping skills that you will have developed outside school.

Unlike JET, you will have some feedback on your performance, and that feedback will have a direct impact on whether or not your J.D. will land you a legal job after law school.  What’s worse, your grades are not necessarily a reflection of how much you know, but how much more you know compared to your classmates.  As my unsolicited informer put it:

Law school evaluation is un-American. Not only are examinations terminal assessments–your whole grade is in a single exam– but the grades themselves are awarded on a fairly inflexible curve. No matter how good you feel about your exam, no matter how well you think you know the law–that doesn’t matter nearly as well as how well or poorly your section-mates did on the same exam. Like it or not, you are going to be ranked according to your performance on a single arbitrary problem that will test your ability to apply “the law” to a ridiculous set of hypothetical facts.

If you are in Japan, talk to your Japanese colleagues about “exam hell” and their experiences with juku. That is the world you are about to inhabit. Be warned.

Of course, the irony of the law school grading curve is that no one ever fails law school.  With minimal half-assed good faith effort, even the lowest scorer will likely end up with C, unless they deliberately try to derail their own education.  The only catch is that employers know this, too.

Which brings me to precisely why I’m writing this post, and why you should really ask yourself whether or not you want to go through this law school experience.  Everything prior to this is nothing more than a fair warning, that yes, law school is challenging and frightful mess, but also doable and potentially vastly rewarding.  The real thing you need to ask yourself is, if I do this– if I go through law school, what is waiting for me on the other side?

This is where I found myself three years ago, as I was scheduling for the LSAT, reading U.S. News & World Rankings, and being confronted with law school website language like:

Each year more than 98 percent of graduates report employment within nine months after graduation. We have one of the highest placement rates in the country. And you can connect with our more than 9,000 alumni who are working in all 50 states and around the world.

You won’t be buried up to your eyebrows in debt upon graduation… a large percentage of students receive scholarships from the College.

The above language is taken from one of many law schools out there, but it’s overall representative of the whole.  The sales pitch is undeniably good – High placement? Low debt? Moving into a career and getting paid more?  Where do I sign?

It wasn’t until I entered law school that I realized I had forgotten the conventional knowledge that lawyers, by their very nature, are sketchy on two things: mathematics, and the truth.  The reality is, the law degree does less to set the one who holds it apart than you might think, and when it comes to the job search, you’re about as visible as a rain drop in the ocean.  Add to that, the economic collapse and subsequent lay-offs that went with it mean you’re not just a raindrop in the ocean, but the ocean is also getting flooded by melting ice caps.  The law student now not only has to compete with a crowded and choked legal market, but now also has to deal with a market crowded with actual attorneys, laid-off and looking for work.  This year, my school’s class of 200-some 3Ls has 20 students employed in a legal position, and only five weeks of their law school careers remain.  This isn’t because these 3Ls did not do their homework, did not seek out legal employment, or are somehow unqualified.  The jobs just simply aren’t there.

I write this not as a complaint- but as a word of caution.  If you’re really thinking about law school, know that it’s going to be a challenge — not just while you’re there — but after you graduate.  Law school is no longer the golden ticket to a stable career that it once was.  Graduating law school with the coveted $100k salary and big firm position is becoming an increasingly rare, increasingly unstable phenomenon.  What’s worse, some places may seek to compensate you an amount akin to a high school employee’s wage.

So, if you’re going to go after a law degree, I sincerely wish you the best of luck.  Law school is an intensely rewarding experience that will work you to your limits, should you choose to go for it.  But, more importantly, should you choose to do it, your hard work will not end in the classroom, in those long nights in the library, or odds are, even after you graduate.

But, as a former JET, you have an incredible community out there you can tap– and both the coping mechanisms and network waiting to help you make your legal education into something you can enjoy.  And that’s precisely why this blog is here.