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Handbook aims to educate those thinking about going to law school

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'Being a lawyer is far from easy, but for the right people, it can be one of the most rewarding professional experiences with tangible benefits to communities for years to come'

SEABC Law School HandbookJust as the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing millions of Americans to ponder their career choices, the Student Education and Admission to the Bar Committee is offering a valuable resource.

The committee just released, “So, You Want to Become a Lawyer: Law School Handbook 2021-2022.” It’s available free at the Center for Professionalism website.

“The committee is dedicated to promoting professionalism throughout all stages of an attorney’s development by focusing on the importance of a client-centered practice,” said committee Chair Josh Magidson. “We are very proud of this work.”

Designed for high school, college, and law school students, the 18-page tutorial is divided into more than a dozen chapters that define, in clear and concise prose, everything from the Bar admissions process to a lawyer’s potential income and debt load.  Florida Bar member Heather Thom of Washington, D.C., chaired the working group that put the guide together.

The guide cites The Florida Bar’s 2018 Economics and Law Office Management Survey that shows the median starting salary for lawyers with no prior clerking experience is $50,000, although that figure varies by region, from $45,000 in more rural North Florida to $60,000 in more densely populated Southeast Florida.

Included is a U.S. News & World Report survey that shows average annual law school tuition in 2019-2020 ranged from nearly $50,000 in private schools to nearly $30,000 in state schools.

Debt loads also vary, the guide notes.

It cites an ABA Young Lawyers Division 2020 Law School Student Loan Debt Survey Report that shows, among new and young lawyers surveyed, more than 75% had at least $100,000 in student loan debt at graduation, and more than one of every four respondents had $200,000 or more in debt.

The guide includes important reminders about minimum qualifications for becoming a Bar member that may not be common knowledge, including an “extensive and deep search of their backgrounds prior to attending and while attending law school.”

The guide warns that the process can take many months, or potentially years. In addition to passing the bar exam  — The Florida bar examination consists of the General Bar Examination, which includes a Florida-prepared Examination (Part A), the Multistate Bar Examination (Part B), and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (Part C) — the guide also reminds would-be lawyers that sometime during their 1L year, they are required to pass a professional ethics exam.

“It would be tragic if a student passes the state Bar exam but finds out that they also needed to pass the Professional Ethics exam before they can practice law,” the guide warns. “Get it out of the way as soon as possible!”

The guide points to another valuable reminder: Most states only schedule bar exams twice a year, typically in July and February.

“That means that if one fails the exam in July, they must wait six months to try again to pass,” the guide states. “Having to wait six months could be challenging since most students find that they may have forgotten much of what they learned in law school courses some six months after graduation.”

In keeping with the Bar’s recent focus on health and wellness, the guide devotes a chapter to “Well-Being and Self-Care in Law School.”

It advises potential law school students that it is vital to find “a core group of law school cohorts with whom to build lasting relationships.”

“There will be moments of joy, and some moments of hair-pulling aggravation; and riding that roller coaster will be easier for you and your cohorts if there is a solid group of people that each of you can reach out to and celebrate, commiserate, or just chat with about being a lawyer,” the guide states.

In its conclusion, the guide reminds would-be lawyers that while salary and living conditions are always a consideration in a career choice, they shouldn’t be the primary one when becoming a lawyer.

“The legal profession is exciting and challenging, as it deals with vital areas of our lives, often when individuals and businesses are at their most difficult crossroads,” the guide states. “Being a lawyer is far from easy, but for the right people, it can be one of the most rewarding professional experiences with tangible benefits to communities for years to come.”

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