Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

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jackdanielsga

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Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby jackdanielsga » Thu Jul 12, 2018 4:31 pm

Hello everyone,

First, I am not a troll and this is a real question.

I live in Atlanta GA and work in the IT field. I got accepted to Georgia State University college of law's part-time program but with no scholarship or financial aid. I'm also in my early 40s.

The primary reason I ever was interested in law school is that I wanted to learn the law (especially property and international law - I also have an MBA) and I want to improve my writing skills - which at the moment kinda suck.

GSU Law at sticker is costly (about $16k per year) but not unaffordable. I have a decent job that pays salary.

However, it still represents a big commitment in time and money.

So here's what I would like your thoughts on:
- Does my plan fundamentally make sense? Am I going to dramatically improve my writing, and is the law school really the only source for the guided knowledge of the law?
I didn't find any courses on Coursera/ EDX etc that were deep enough, and although in the perfect world I'd like to just take maybe a year of electives and a few clinics in the topics of interest, it's not available unless the "first year" is completed first"
***** NOTE - I know there are online law schools in California and I am not interested in those, I learn best in the actual classroom experience with professors and other students

- Exactly how much work outside the classroom should I be expecting in the first year? The curriculum calls for Contracts 1+2, Torts, Property, and "Lawyering Foundations" 1+2 which is GSU's term for legal writing. 11 credits in the fall, 10 credits in the spring.

- How valuable would a law degree be if I am probably not going to become a practicing lawyer? (I just don't see myself as an almost 50 years old first-year associate anywhere)

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby SomewhatLearnedHand » Thu Jul 12, 2018 4:43 pm

Spending that kind of money for essentially an introduction to legal writing and a broad law school level understanding of a variety of legal fields is in absolutely no way, shape, or form a good idea.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby magikarp » Thu Jul 12, 2018 5:35 pm

If you really want to pick up the fundamentals of various fields of law, just to scratch an intellectual itch, you can save tens of thousands of dollars by ordering a few "hornbooks" or study guides from Amazon.

Going to law school to improve your writing in general would be a colossal waste of time and money. A law school's writing program will focus on teaching you (1) the minute technical details of citing cases, (2) how to use extremely expensive online databases to research narrow legal questions, and (3) how to write specific legal documents, like research memoranda and briefs. Item (3) will include learning strict conventions that govern how you're expected, in the legal profession, to apply case law to facts. By practicing those conventions, you might get better at logical, persuasive writing that's unrelated to law. But legal writing classes aren't designed to make you a skilled writer; they're designed to make you a minimally competent legal intern. They definitely don't focus on what most people think of when they think of "good" writing.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby nixy » Thu Jul 12, 2018 5:58 pm

All that said, if you really really really wanted to do this you could get a lot of what law school actually teaches by doing one year and then bailing.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby hoos89 » Thu Jul 12, 2018 6:16 pm

jackdanielsga wrote:The primary reason I ever was interested in law school is that I wanted to learn the law (especially property and international law - I also have an MBA) and I want to improve my writing skills - which at the moment kinda suck.


Law school isn't really the place to go to become a better writer. That's not really a major focus. You'd be better off taking community college writing courses.

jackdanielsga wrote:Does my plan fundamentally make sense?

No

jackdanielsga wrote:Am I going to dramatically improve my writing?

Probably not.

jackdanielsga wrote:is the law school really the only source for the guided knowledge of the law?

No. Law school isn't really a great source for a practical understanding of the law, frankly. It's all pretty arcane and general but not really useful in practice most of the time. You need to actually work as a lawyer to pick up those skills, and even then it'll only be in the area(s) you practice.

jackdanielsga wrote: How valuable would a law degree be if I am probably not going to become a practicing lawyer? (I just don't see myself as an almost 50 years old first-year associate anywhere)

Not very.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby jackdanielsga » Thu Jul 12, 2018 10:02 pm

hoos89 wrote:Law school isn't really the place to go to become a better writer. That's not really a major focus. You'd be better off taking community college writing courses.


To be clear, I do have an undergrad degree with all As in my English courses and also a few undergrad-level law courses (e.g. Business Law) also with As. Community college doesn't give the type of writing I am after - which is writing to persuade and to deliver a fact-supported argument.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby jackdanielsga » Thu Jul 12, 2018 10:06 pm

magikarp wrote:. By practicing those conventions, you might get better at logical, persuasive writing that's unrelated to law. But legal writing classes aren't designed to make you a skilled writer; they're designed to make you a minimally competent legal intern. They definitely don't focus on what most people think of when they think of "good" writing.


This is kind of what I was hoping to achieve, by immersing myself in the environment of continuous writing. I saw a number of great examples of "good" writing come from the various law offices - so I naturally jumped to a conclusion that the authors learned to write well while in law school. But perhaps clerkships / internships were the more likely sources of the writing skills?

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby Wubbles » Fri Jul 13, 2018 10:07 am

yeah, law school is definitely not the place to learn how to write, even to learn to write like a lawyer.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby hoos89 » Fri Jul 13, 2018 11:01 am

jackdanielsga wrote:
magikarp wrote:. By practicing those conventions, you might get better at logical, persuasive writing that's unrelated to law. But legal writing classes aren't designed to make you a skilled writer; they're designed to make you a minimally competent legal intern. They definitely don't focus on what most people think of when they think of "good" writing.


This is kind of what I was hoping to achieve, by immersing myself in the environment of continuous writing. I saw a number of great examples of "good" writing come from the various law offices - so I naturally jumped to a conclusion that the authors learned to write well while in law school. But perhaps clerkships / internships were the more likely sources of the writing skills?


Eh...I'd guess that it's a combination of (1) they were above average writers entering law school and (2) years in practice as an attorney have helped them hone the skill. I wouldn't expect to just pick that up after a year or three in law school, and you're seriously not "immersing yourself in the environment of continuous writing" as a law student.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby HamlinMcgill » Fri Jul 13, 2018 11:14 am

Most law school classes don't focus at all on writing. You read cases, talk about them in class, and then at the end of the semester, you take a timed exam. The exam prompt is usually a hypothetical situation and then you have to spot and analyze the legal issues. Quality of writing usually doesn't matter much at all on the exam -- it's just how many issues you spot.

There are first year classes on writing. But they're generally fewer credits and class time than the big doctrinal classes. And as others have mentioned, a lot of what you learn is legal citation style and how to structure your writing to incorporate and apply conclusions from old court cases. That's all useful stuff if you want to be a lawyer, but a very inefficient way just to improve writing skills. I've learned a lot in law school, but I don't think I'm much of a better writer than when I started.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby jackdanielsga » Fri Jul 13, 2018 12:30 pm

Thanks to everyone who replied thus far, very helpful and I appreciate the sharing.

I'm welcoming more thoughts as I still have a couple weeks before pulling the trigger either way.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby totesTheGoat » Fri Jul 13, 2018 1:37 pm

jackdanielsga wrote:I got accepted to Georgia State University college of law's part-time program but with no scholarship or financial aid.


Never go to law school for sticker price. Never EVER go to GSU for sticker price. It's objectively not worth the cost. Whether or not you can pay for it, it's like paying $50k for a base model Ford Focus.

Also, part-time law school isn't like getting an MBA at night. It is an absolute slog that changes your personality. Part-time law school is designed for somebody working 25 or 30 hours per week, not a full-time career job. You will have almost no personal life outside of your job and your school for 4 years, and you will graduate as a different person than you started because of it. I did part-time law school and full-time work, and the only classmates of mine who stayed in that program with full-time jobs were the people who had to support a family with their income while going to school. Most of them would've quit/reduced their job if at all possible. I did. I certainly regret choosing a school and program based on the idea of working a full-time engineering job while going to school.

The primary reason I ever was interested in law school is that I wanted to learn the law (especially property and international law - I also have an MBA) and I want to improve my writing skills - which at the moment kinda suck.


Law school is a professional school. It's not for learning the law, it's for learning how to pass the bar exam and optionally acquire skills required to be a minimally competent lawyer in certain legal areas. It's much easier and cheaper to get a decent understanding of whatever law interests you by reading legal related blogs, relevant court cases, and maybe purchase a law360 subscription. Heck, spend $2500 on a bar prep course and you can learn the law in 3 months.

Learning writing from law school is similarly unlikely. To give a slightly ridiculous analogy, going to law school to become a better writer is like going to med school to become a better butcher. Yes, you learn some extremely basic skills that could possibly improve your writing style, but any benefit would be minimal and completely not worth the costs. I'll add that legal writing may look cool, but it's often quite poor writing. Legalese may impress those who aren't familiar with reading it but it's often unclear, verbose, and lazy. Obfuscating your ideas in such a stupid form of writing isn't something you should pay money to learn.


Does my plan fundamentally make sense? Am I going to dramatically improve my writing, and is the law school really the only source for the guided knowledge of the law?


As mentioned above, it makes no sense. It'll be a waste of time and money for the reasons stated above.


- Exactly how much work outside the classroom should I be expecting in the first year? The curriculum calls for Contracts 1+2, Torts, Property, and "Lawyering Foundations" 1+2 which is GSU's term for legal writing. 11 credits in the fall, 10 credits in the spring.


To do well? 20-40 hours per week outside of class. To do middlingly? 15-25 hours per week outside of class. Obviously, your individual aptitude influences these numbers. I usually studied 15 hours per week outside of class because I didn't really have any more time than that.

How valuable would a law degree be if I am probably not going to become a practicing lawyer? (I just don't see myself as an almost 50 years old first-year associate anywhere)


Near zero. There are JD-advantage non-lawyer positions, but they're mostly seen as fallbacks for people who don't have the resume to get a legal job. To reiterate from above, law school is a professional school. The point of law school isn't to learn the law or to become a good writer. It's to get a credential (the JD) that allows you to sit for the state bar exam.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby Aptitude » Tue Jul 17, 2018 12:49 pm

OP,

Have you looked into Master's Degrees in Law? They're becoming more common, but different universities use different names (Master's of Jurisprudence, Master's of Study of Law). It sounds like more of what you're looking for than traditional law school.

http://law.emory.edu/academics/jm-degre ... index.html

http://www.law.uga.edu/msl

How valuable would a law degree be if I am probably not going to become a practicing lawyer? (I just don't see myself as an almost 50 years old first-year associate anywhere)


It'll depend a lot on your experience. There are a lot of JDs seeking these "JD advantage" jobs, and a lot of them are K-JDs with no work experience. I know of some people that were K-JDs (no work experience), where going into law school they thought they'd be a shoe-in for these jobs because their JD would automatically qualify them and it'd be a cushy fallback. That at worst, they'd get a $80,000-$100,000, 40 hour a week office job at a Fortune 500 company. They're still unemployed 1 year out, confused as to why they haven't even gotten interviews at the banks/universities/fortune 500 companies they applied to.

However, I do know some people that landed these type of jobs in government doing policy work or at financial and wealth management firms. They either worked extremely hard during their internships and networked well, or already had prior experience in the field.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby jackdanielsga » Tue Jul 17, 2018 5:03 pm

Thank you Totesthegoat and Aptitude.

Very helpful. As I am thinking through this I'm better able to articulate the reasons at least to myself. Basically it's also an effort to better understand the functioning of "the system" and legal risks and interactions between the risks and business goals (and opportunities). My inspirations are not necessarily any famous lawyers but those with law degree who were successful outside the field of law (Peter Thiel? Lincoln?)

When I was much much younger, I would have loved the story of climbingcheddars from the litigation boutique thread. I love his writing style and his motivation for winning. However, that's a path that I did not take when I was of the right age, and now I'm simply too old to be working 3200+ billable hours per year to get to the level where I would be any good.

1) Masters of law and such - It's not necessarily cheaper - for example, in the case of Emory: "Annual tuition for the JM program is the same as that for the juris doctor program. JM tuition for the 2018-2019 academic year is $2,354 per credit hour, or $28,250 per semester." - that's 3.5x the per-credit cost of the GSU's program.

2) Second concern is just how deep is the level of study in master's programs? I had financial accounting both at undergrad and at MBA level and I was certainly able to see the difference - the undergrad course introduced the concepts but the MBA-level course taught the right mindset.

3) My fallback is my current IT work. I'm not looking forward to the mindless coding work of a contract lawyer.
Basically I am thinking of the law degree as 3 decision points:
- Whether to commit for the first semester (cost is ~8k)
- If I like it or at least not absolutely hate, finish the first year and pick a few electives for the summer/ fall L2 (another ~15k for the year), and join a clinic. That'll probably give me most of the knowledge I want.
- Decide if it makes sense to actually finish the JD just to have it next to my name, or if I've learned as much as I wanted

Also, a followup question - if I pay full price for the first year, and do reasonably well, what would be the ways to reduce tuition for the subsequent years?

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby Wubbles » Tue Jul 17, 2018 5:39 pm

There isn't a way to reduce tuition after 1L, it actually goes up. Also, going to law school to not be a lawyer or get a JD is still a bad idea

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby totesTheGoat » Tue Jul 17, 2018 5:43 pm

jackdanielsga wrote:Basically it's also an effort to better understand the functioning of "the system" and legal risks and interactions between the risks and business goals (and opportunities)


You could probably better get that info by taking business law classes in an MBA program: https://pmba.business.uconn.edu/academi ... -courses/#


My fallback is my current IT work. I'm not looking forward to the mindless coding work of a contract lawyer.


I get the sense that you're bored. Law is a paper pushing profession. If you're bored by IT work, you're going to be bored by legal work (and study). I forget if it was this thread or not, but I've previously stated that legal work is a constant tedium of paperwork occasionally punctuated by an exciting moment here or there. I switched careers from computer engineering to law, partly because I was hoping for more exciting and interactive work. That specific aspect didn't change as much as I had hoped.

That'll probably give me most of the knowledge I want.


This is what I'm afraid won't happen, and it's something that is going to be unnecessarily costly if you pursue it. I wasn't joking about the suggestion that you buy a bar prep course and take it if you want the knowledge. Here's why. There are two well trod paths through law school. Some students take all of the classes pertaining to topics that are on the bar exam, and studying for the bar is essentially a review of previously learned knowledge. Most students take classes pertaining to topics of interest/topics they are going to practice in. Those students are learning 5+ classes' worth of law in roughly 2 months using the bar prep course. How is it that you could learn an entire semester's worth of classes in less than 8 weeks? Because the classes aren't designed to convey knowledge. They're designed to cross you up, hide the ball, and confuse the hell out of you so that your mind recoils and begins thinking in shades of gray rather than in black and white. Basic contracts law, for example, is really easy. However, most students hate it because you spend 90% of the class floundering through the 10% of introductory contracts law that is complicated. If you take a bar review course, they give you a few simple pointers, maybe a mnemonic or two, and the hazy complications come into sharp, clear focus in a few days. I was selected to be an official tutor for contracts law during my 2nd year, and it was amazing how easy the material seemed when I used online and commercial supplements to guide the tutoring sessions. I prepped maybe 15 minutes a week for the tutoring sessions, and that limited time created so much more clarity than 100 hours of class time during my first year.

Also, most of your business related classes are taken in 2L and 3L years. If your primary purpose in law school is to study the interrelation of law and business, most of the insight is going to be back loaded. Many of those business classes are focused on contract drafting techniques and other practical skills that are only particularly useful to practicing lawyers.

All in all, I highly recommend you find some alternative path to gaining the knowledge you seek. I think you're going to be profoundly disappointed by law school.

Also, a followup question - if I pay full price for the first year, and do reasonably well, what would be the ways to reduce tuition for the subsequent years?


Legal scholarships tend to be offered from the start. There are some that you can get later, but most money in subsequent years would be from working a summer associateship, which makes no sense if you don't want to work as a lawyer.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby jackdanielsga » Tue Jul 17, 2018 6:33 pm

totesTheGoat wrote:I get the sense that you're bored. Law is a paper pushing profession. If you're bored by IT work, you're going to be bored by legal work (and study). I forget if it was this thread or not, but I've previously stated that legal work is a constant tedium of paperwork occasionally punctuated by an exciting moment here or there. I switched careers from computer engineering to law, partly because I was hoping for more exciting and interactive work. That specific aspect didn't change as much as I had hoped.


Yes that's exactly right. I am kinda bored with life at the moment. And when I was unemployed a few years back, sometimes I'd go to a courthouse, pick up a particularly thick court case and try to figure out the proceedings. Plus I think of all those fancy lawyers who make deals on behalf of politicians, the real make-things-happen things. Bill & Hillary had law degrees and got far ahead in life.

totesTheGoat wrote:Legal scholarships tend to be offered from the start. There are some that you can get later, but most money in subsequent years would be from working a summer associateship, which makes no sense if you don't want to work as a lawyer.


Oh that sucks! Seems kinda backward - i guess the schools have their students captive once they are in since transfers are what, 1% of fresh admissions?

Do you mean something like this for the bar review: https://www.barbri.com/locations/all-ube-states/

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby magikarp » Tue Jul 17, 2018 8:29 pm

jackdanielsga wrote:I am kinda bored with life at the moment. And when I was unemployed a few years back, sometimes I'd go to a courthouse, pick up a particularly thick court case and try to figure out the proceedings. Plus I think of all those fancy lawyers who make deals on behalf of politicians, the real make-things-happen things. Bill & Hillary had law degrees and got far ahead in life.


It sounds like you're considering law school because [a] you want to be able to critically engage with the law as more than a novice, and [b] you want a credential that will enable you to make a significant difference in society. I could totally be wrong, that's just the sense I'm getting from your responses. Two things to consider are:

1. Pretty much nothing about the first-year law curriculum is designed to reward -- or even encourage -- thoughtful academic engagement with legal theory. Yale, UChicago, and UCLA (at least UCLA's critical race studies program) have reputations for being different, but I don't think they're particularly relevant to this discussion.

2. Getting a J.D. will not put you in a good position to do "real make-things-happen things." Even a J.D. from a school at the very top of the heap will do no more than put you in a position to get a first job that will help you get a second job that will help you get a third job at which, finally, maybe, after many years, you'll get to do make-things-happen things.

A master's degree in law and public policy feels like it might make more sense for you.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby totesTheGoat » Tue Jul 17, 2018 9:10 pm

jackdanielsga wrote:Plus I think of all those fancy lawyers who make deals on behalf of politicians, the real make-things-happen things. Bill & Hillary had law degrees and got far ahead in life.


It sounds like more than boredom. This sounds like a full fledged mid-life crisis! :D


Do you mean something like this for the bar review: https://www.barbri.com/locations/all-ube-states/


Yup.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby jackdanielsga » Tue Jul 17, 2018 9:44 pm

magikarp wrote:
It sounds like you're considering law school because [a] you want to be able to critically engage with the law as more than a novice, and [b] you want a credential that will enable you to make a significant difference in society. I could totally be wrong, that's just the sense I'm getting from your responses. Two things to consider are:

...

A master's degree in law and public policy feels like it might make more sense for you.


Very well put.

How does the depth of the study of the legal issues in the master's level courses compare to the JD level?

magikarp wrote:Pretty much nothing about the first-year law curriculum is designed to reward -- or even encourage -- thoughtful academic engagement with legal theory.


I side-stepped this issue in my undergrad by doing it part-time as well. Basically front-loaded in math / computer science courses in the first 2 years, then slowly dragged myself through other prerequisites (English 101 and other junk :? ) only to eventually satisfy the degree requirements.
Last edited by jackdanielsga on Tue Jul 17, 2018 9:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby jackdanielsga » Tue Jul 17, 2018 9:48 pm

totesTheGoat wrote:It sounds like more than boredom. This sounds like a full fledged mid-life crisis! :D



Lol. You are not wrong at all. Actually I was driving home today and had a thought that if I was to hit the Mega Millions jackpot tonight, I'd definitely quit my job go to law school just for fun. But that would mean that I'd never actually have to practice what I learn, not to earn a living. It's an entirely different experience when the college courses are taken as an adult for the joy of learning a specific topic rather than as a juvenile just because it's needed to get the piece of paper with my name on it.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby magikarp » Wed Jul 18, 2018 1:02 pm

jackdanielsga wrote:How does the depth of the study of the legal issues in the master's level courses compare to the JD level?


Honestly, I'm not sure; my guess is that it varies from program to program. What I meant to get at was that you can pursue an advanced degree that involves focused intellectual engagement with law and society without going to law school.

Another way of putting it is: the only circumstance in which law school is a good choice is if you want to be a lawyer. Why? Because 95% of the ROI you get from law school is possible employability as a lawyer.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby Synapse2018 » Wed Jul 18, 2018 4:05 pm

I honestly don't see the point in spending $$ on law school unless you are going to take the bar exam. If you want be to be a better writer, take writing courses. It just seems like an awful lot of unrelated work just to benefit from one or two classes in law school.

On EdX and Coursera, there are lots of legal courses you take. So, you can get the skills you're looking for for free or darn near close to it.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby hoos89 » Wed Jul 18, 2018 4:14 pm

jackdanielsga wrote:Yes that's exactly right. I am kinda bored with life at the moment. And when I was unemployed a few years back, sometimes I'd go to a courthouse, pick up a particularly thick court case and try to figure out the proceedings. Plus I think of all those fancy lawyers who make deals on behalf of politicians, the real make-things-happen things. Bill & Hillary had law degrees and got far ahead in life.


Bill and Hillary went yo Yale Law School. Most people who go to Georgia State aren't going to be "fancy" lawyers.

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Re: Part-time law study to learn law and writing rather than become a lawyer: what do y'all think?

Postby jackdanielsga » Wed Jul 18, 2018 6:00 pm

Synapse2018 wrote:On EdX and Coursera, there are lots of legal courses you take. So, you can get the skills you're looking for for free or darn near close to it.


Nope, there aren't.

Not at the depth of the law schools.

For example, an IP course would briefly go over patents and trademarks, review the five rights of a copyright, introduce a few cases, talk over a few issues, but when I read an actual IP-related case, I'm still woefully confused.

A business law course would explain the difference between an SP, and LLC and a corporation. Hello, it's kinda obvious.

Very very basic.

The strength of any contract is only shown in court. 10 lawyers can write 10 different contracts to protect the same business transaction, and they could all be technically correct - but some contracts will stand in court better than others. That's what I'm interested in - what does really make a difference in the end?

The benefit of a JD is that it's a comprehensive course that's been put together by people who are probably smarter than me with the purpose of making sure I know enough to understand the nuances of the legal frameworks that may be impacting the potential outcomes of litigation.



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