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The J.D.: More Than Just a Degree

A law school graduate describes his experiences.

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It's just a five-minute walk to the law school from Evans Hall, my on-campus home at the University of California–Berkeley for two years. I came to law from economics, starting my "1L" (first) year just as I began writing my Ph.D. dissertation. I liked that the law was interdisciplinary and that it would encourage me to think about research questions using a variety of methods and with a focus on public policy. I wanted to become a better and more persuasive communicator and a more adept advocate. I also figured that the return on the law degree, in terms of professional flexibility, was pretty good. 

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I got all of the things that I hoped for from law school, and others that I didn't expect. After three years at Berkeley Law, I had a degree, a clearer writing style, greater confidence about public speaking, the ability to read more efficiently, a head full of concepts and facts about the law, honed analytical skills, and an appreciation for the variety of arguments that can be made in the areas where the law is still evolving. And although the demands of law school made it a challenge to find time to work on my dissertation (a collection of essays on what might be called behavioral law and economics), the intellectual environment I found there provided a creative spark for my research that helped move it along. All of these were things that I had bargained for, things that any good law school should provide, and much of what made such a costly investment worthwhile. But I got more from law school than a degree and marketable skills.

One of the most exciting things about UC–Berkeley, in particular, is the extensive engagement that students and faculty have with other world-class departments and scholars. Berkeley Law has 12 different interdisciplinary research centers, each providing a context for legal scholarship to be developed and used to inform contemporary policy debates. Programs at the law school's Center for Law, Business, and the Economy enabled me to engage with scholars doing cutting-edge research, talk with judges and practitioners about the practice of corporate and tax law, and develop relationships with professors, classmates, and graduate students with similar interests. This was not unique to my experience; the range of research centers reflects Berkeley Law's commitment to areas such as intellectual property, environmental law, and social justice.

Berkeley Law also provides extensive course offerings in a variety of fields, which is something that I was grateful for, especially as I began looking for a summer internship during my second year. I was able to take three tax classes before even beginning my internship and five tax classes before I graduated. Being able to take so many classes in a particular area allowed me to figure out what kind of law I wanted to practice and demonstrate my interest in the field to potential employers. It also helped ease the transition into practice.

Lessons learned. In addition to providing these benefits, Berkeley Law surprised me. I had been unaware that law school is also vocational training for a profession and that this requires more than just the rehearsal of marketable skills and knowledge about the law. Lawyers have codes of professional conduct and duties that go well beyond the four corners of the job. I found this aspect both challenging and inspiring. I also developed a greater appreciation for the importance of process and procedure. Lawyers complete forms, file motions and briefs, and draft contracts because that is the way that things get done. I learned that you can't be a good lawyer without mastering procedure. At Berkeley, I had excellent professors in professional responsibility, civil procedure, and tax law to help me learn these lessons.

I am now a tax lawyer at a large New York firm, serving mainly corporate clients and financial institutions. I have exceptional colleagues, and the work is complex and fun. It requires analytic ability, creativity and judgment to operate in new and developing areas of the law, and the ability to efficiently manage process and procedure. Trying to excel in these areas while also living up to the expectations of being a legal professional is a challenge. But Berkeley Law prepared me well, and I have no regrets.

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