Prospective law students decide on law school for a variety of reasons. At least some of these reasons, however, are erroneous and leave much to be desired. For example, prospective law students rationalizing their future career uncertainty by enrolling in law school because the JD’s versatility will open many doors. These erroneous reasons are not grounded in research and statistics, but are more akin to popular folklore. What this means is that the likelihood of achieving the desired result, in reality, is almost completely detached from the strength of the desire itself. The only thing that matters is that at some point in time, somewhere out there, someone out there achieved some type of popular and desired result, and there now exists a belief that achieving this result is relatively standard practice. Armed with the belief that they are next in line, legions of prospective law students enroll in law school ready to make it happen. What almost all of these law students don’t realize, however, is the unlikelihood of actually achieving that coveted result. A particularly egregious example of this sort of thinking is a law student’s desire to work in ______ law. Fill in the blank with any of the following: sports, entertainment, international, environmental, constitutional.
The basic relationship between such legal practice areas and the chance of landing them after graduating law school can be generally summarized by the following: the popularity of the practice area is inversely related to the likelihood of any one law graduate obtaining it. In other words, the more popular the practice area, the more infinitesimal is the probability of actually practicing that area of law. It just so happens all of the outlined practice areas are very popular among law students, assuming some of these practice areas even exist. Yet, many law school brochures and course offerings entice prospective law students by not only mentioning these practice areas but setting up “specialties” within their 3 year programs for quasi-majoring in them during law school. This mostly consists of taking several classes related to the practice area, which would be perfectly alright if there was a disclaimer somewhere stating that this specialty is meant to satisfy the student’s intellectual curiosity rather than equip him or her for the extensive job opportunities in that area of law. There’s nothing wrong with taking any sort of class in law school, especially to improve or maintain your grades, but that’s quite different from developing a specialty or “concentration” in a practice area 99.9% of enrolled students will never practice. The latter creates a reasonable reliance of potential opportunity when the likelihood of success is never mentioned, but that’s a different topic. Let’s get to the practice areas themselves.
This is the premier dream of many a law student. Everybody loves sports, can you imagine how awesome it would be to be a sports team’s legal counsel? Better yet, over time transition from legal counsel to sport management. Look at Scott Boras, he has a JD and is now arguably the most known baseball agent. There’s also Tony Larussa, who went to law school and wound up being a major league coach. The allure of this type of potential career result is undeniable. Unfortunately, sports law doesn’t exist. As discussed in the JD versatility article, the mere fact these individuals obtained a JD was not determinate to the development of their careers. Their careers were a byproduct of more important factors, most importantly the connections they developed when they themselves were baseball players. To stick with the examples, before Larussa even attended law school he had a relatively long minor league career, with a small major league stint. As a result, before graduating law school he already had a minor league coaching opportunity. Scott Boras also had a minor league playing career, and after graduating law school he became a baseball agent because he represented a high school teammate who was already a major league baseball player. Unless you are a D-1 athlete with major connections or a person with a bunch of close yet unrepresented friends with major talent, the closest real world chance of practicing anything remotely close to sports law is if you wind up securing big law after 2L OCI with a firm like Proskauer. Directly from Proskauer’s website:
How about sports law? Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? It can be. And we should know; we practically invented the practice. But here’s a secret – there is no such thing as sports law. It’s really a compilation of litigation and labor and tax and media law and construction and licensing and financing and antitrust and intellectual property and ADA compliance and…
The truth about this quote cannot be overstated: if you take away the flashy names for most of these practice areas, they are nothing more than a combination of regular practice areas. It just so happens that a firm is providing these services for major clients in the given field (for example, a sports team).
If it’s not sports law, there’s always entertainment law. Wouldn’t you want to be negotiating your favorite artist’s next record contract with his or her record label? After a while, maybe you can even transition and start your own record label. A vivid dream, but about as common as hitting the lottery. Again, although there are certain firms that have such clients, these are almost exclusively big firms. So outside of researching which of these firms handles these types of matters, the only thing you should be focusing on is having a shot at them for 2L OCI. On top of this, even if you manage to enter a firm that provides services for big clients in this field, you will start at the bottom of the totem pole and will be far removed from what you probably expect (at least for a while). After all, it’s not like by joining the firm you will be directly responsible for examining the legal ramifications of your favorite artist’s next world tour. Entertainment law also doesn’t sound as exciting when you realize it is just a combination of mostly copyright and trademark law.
This is a very popular practice area because many prospective law students believe law school will allow them to travel the world or work on expanding international social justice and human rights. This is simply improbable. If you do some research online, you will quickly learn that these positions either don’t exist or to the extent they do exist they are occupied by individuals with fantastic experience and connections. The bigger problem here is that you’re talking about international law. Unlike the other outlined practice areas, this means law students from all over the world are competing for the trivial amount of potential openings, not just US law students. What would give US law students even remotely preferential treatment? It’s not like there’s a slew of non-governmental agencies vying for fresh law graduates to the exclusion of lawyers from all over the world with a long list of experience. The closest to practicing international law is representing multinational or international corporate clients. If you are at a big firm that handles cross-border M&A, you may potentially call yourself an “international lawyer” because you’re handling international business transactions. However, isn’t this exactly what almost all of the students wishing to practice international law detest?
Environmental law has the same song and dance. There may be a few openings for positions with non-profits or government agencies handling environmental protection, but these are extremely competitive (arguably even more so than big law in today’s New Normal). The closest any law student is getting to environmental law is working for a big firm that protects corporations from environmental lawsuits. Again, the polar opposite result of almost any student wishing to practice environmental law as he or she understands it.
This one is a little weird, because it’s the least likely to actually exist. As with all these other practice areas, the key is to separate the legal work from the clients themselves. Those students interested in constitutional law are most often referring to working for the ACLU, the Office of Legislative Council, Appellate Division of the Department of Justice, or any sort of appellate federal work. These are the places with a heavy emphasis on civil rights and other constitutional matters. However, the amount of these positions is astoundingly finite. For a real shot at this outside of the traditional big firm exit option model, Harvard, Yale, or Stanford with Honors grades is your best bet. Yes, it’s that competitive and niche.
The bottom line is simple: if you truly want to do something like sports or entertainment, law school is not going to increase your chances. You should be out there trying to snag an internship with a sports team or any place with any sort of connections to a sports team so that you can attempt to work your way up, gain experience, and grow your network. The same can be said about any of these practice areas, including “Constitutional” law. Short of Harvard, Yale, or Stanford with high grades, which does not guarantee anything anyway, it’d be easier to just find an entry level government position and work your way up. Then, if you truly need the legal license, you can go to law school knowing you have a job secured because of years of experience and a network in place. In reality, none of this is easy to do. That’s exactly why law school seems like the perfect way to indirectly enter these fields, but as you now know this belief is erroneous. To even have a shot, there are so many objectives that must first be reached that it is simply unlikely for any of this to happen. Excluding the very rare exception, almost all of the lawyers working at these places or doing this sort of work at firms followed the same exact model: 1) great law school 2) great 1L grades 3) great firm after graduation that handles this type of work for these types of clients 4) and a transition to a client or government (almost nobody can go to these places straight out of law school without big law training and experience). How many things can go wrong in this chain?
Again, there is nothing wrong with taking classes relevant to these practice areas throughout your time in law school. However, short of great connections or success at 2L OCI, a law student’s focus needs to be on obtaining a job after graduation. This includes gaining as much practical experience as possible during law school and growing a network that can open up job opportunities. If these things are done, you can have this dream on the side hoping for a big break, but it cannot be the priority. For prospective law students, understand that a dream of practicing in these areas of law after graduation is not a reason for going to law school. If any of those fields are truly your dream career, law school is of little use in your pursuit of them. Law school is a major financial and time investment, banking on this type of result is outlandish. Do your research, and decide on enrollment only after careful review of material information about the legal field.