Thinking about law school? Get advice from a judge

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Photo by Rachel Ledon

In 1987, John Madden was a senior at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Since grade school, Madden had toyed with the idea of going to law school so he decided to take the LSAT, or the Law School Admission test. He received a 180, a perfect score.

Today, John Madden is a judge for the Second Judicial District Court of Colorado. Judge Madden was appointed to the bench by the governor in 2006 where he has worked for ten years. Before becoming a judge, he worked as an attorney for the District Attorney’s office and in private practice.

Careers within the law profession hold some of the most prestigious and highly esteemed positions in America today. Some of the world most prominent leaders like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Nelson Mandela were once lawyers. Television shows like Law and Order, How to Get Away with Murder, and Scandal love to glorify and dramatize the law profession.

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Photo by John Madden

But what does it actually mean to be a lawyer?

While the legal profession makes for great television, there are many misconceptions about the field as a whole.

First, many think that you must be a “pre-law” undergraduate student to go to law school. While there are certain skills you should have going into law school, the field is beginning to open up to become more inclusive and multidisciplinary. Judge Madden was a computer science major when he ultimately decided that he was going to attend CU College of Law.

“Going into law school, you have to be bright, learn things quickly, and have a broad interest in things,” Judge Madden explains. “But it’s also really important to have a well-rounded background.”

Furthermore, many people go to law school because they want to make a lot of money.

While lawyers make an above average salary, about $114, 970 according to USnews.com, it often takes many years of experience in the field before attaining those six figures. Payscale.com shows that an entry level lawyer makes $52,488, or about as much as a nurse. In other words, lawyers spend a lot of time “paying their dues” before becoming the big money attorneys we glorify in the movies.

Judge Madden offers his own bit of advice to those thinking of going to law school.

“Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons,” Judge Madden says. “While there are lawyers at the top end who make a lot of money, they sacrifice a tremendous amount to get to that level.”

Collegegrad.com shows that the employment of lawyers is expected to grow six percent before 2024.  However, you aren’t guaranteed a job right out of law school. Bloomberg Law reports that the legal job rate for graduates is a mere 52.9 percent in 2015.  Judge Madden describes his experience.

“I was lucky. I’ve never had that position,” Madden recounts. “But there is a tremendous amount of people coming out a law school who are not able to find a job right away.”

The next myth worthy of debunking is that being a lawyer is glamorous. While movies depict lawyers wearing expensive suits and going to cocktail parties, the reality of a working lawyer includes a lot of desk and paper work. Furthermore, lawyers can face many difficulties and stresses. Judge Madden speaks about the more difficult times he’s had as a lawyer.

“The difficult times for me were anything from feeling like my work was monotonous to fights with clients or feeling like I screwed something up,” Judge Madden said. “That can be very stressful.”

So why then do people become lawyers?

While the career in law requires hard work and dedication, being a lawyer is often tremendously rewarding. Lawyers do important work and get to work with all kinds of different people.  Judge Madden explains his favorite parts about being a lawyer.

“I love getting into court. I loved arguing cases in court. I love legal research, I loved trying to figure out what the right answer.” Judge Madden said. “It is a thrill.”

Like any career, being a lawyer comes with its challenges and has its rewards. Lawyers get the unique opportunity to do thoughtful and creative work. A good lawyer must always be seeking new knowledge and learning new skills.  If you are passionate about doing good work, love to build arguments,  have a strong work ethic and a passion for learning, then a career in law might be for you.

“As a judge and a lawyer,” Judge Madden says. “It’s life-long learning.”

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