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Judicial staff attorney: How I got my job and where I'm going

Mark Wilson talks about his path to become a judicial staff attorney and explains the importance of networking.

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Video transcript

My interest in the law started in college when I took a class on The First Amendment. The First Amendment is the right to speech, petition, free press, religion, and one more that I'm forgetting. And it intrigued me because there waw this whole world of case law, which is just opinions written by judges. And analysis, and these really fine distinctions like, what is obscene? What is obscenity? What are fighting words? You know, can you be protected if you say something to someone that would want to make them want to punch you in the face? And there's these really fine distinctions. And that's one thing I love about the law is the niches where things live that you have to sort them out. So that gave me an interest in the law. I finished college and I moved here to the San Francisco Bay Area. And I worked as an IT guy, for several years before I went to law school, finally, to do the law that interested me so much. So it wasn't the straight shot. For some people it is, but for me it wasn't. So to become a lawyer you have to go to a four year college. And then you go to law school, which lasts three years. So the whole process is about seven years long. In college, you can major in really whatever you want. It's generally recommended that you major in one of the humanities like history, political science, you can major in English. Creative writing. You can even major in science and become a lawyer. You can become a patent attorney, in fact, those are really sought after jobs, if you can get them. I don't recommend, if you want to be a lawyer, going to college and majoring in pre-law. Because that's sort of pigeonholes you into being a lawyer. You don't get a lot of the more well-rounded education that you would. And what if you never go to law school? What if you go to law school and decide you hate it? What if you become a lawyer, and decide you hate it? Then all you have is law law law in your background and nothing to fall back on. So one of the things you need to do to become to get into law school is take the LSAT, and the LSAT is sort of like the SAT as the SAT is to college the LSAT is to law school. There are two big components to what law school you get into. And that's your undergraduate grades and your LSAT score. So, undergraduate grades work hard in college, get good grades. LSAT, take an LSAT study course, for example. Study for it. You can take it really, as many times as you need. But, one or two times and your score is pretty set. So, you have to study for that if you want to get into a good law school. And getting into a good law school is important because you really, going to a good law school can open doors for you that would be closed otherwise. Employers come to your school. They want people from your school. They'll call you up and say, "Hey, would you like this job?" People in high up positions will say, "I want people from this, this and this school. "And you can toss all the other applications out." So, law school is three years. There's a joke about law school, the first year they scare you to death. The second year they work you to death. And the third year they bore you to death. The first year is basically you're what they call your core courses, you learn about evidence and torts. Torts is harm that you do to anyone, like hitting someone or. You learn a criminal law, just the doctrinal stuff. And then the second year and third year you take a lot of electives. You do a lot of internships and externships. A lot of law school training is on the job so you go intern at law firm X, or the district attorney's office, or the public defender's office. And then you graduate. And, you think it's over, but it's not. Because then you've got to study for the bar exam. And the bar exam is a two-day long two full days of about 100 multiple choice questions and about six essays that basically test your memory or the law and your ability to analyze the law. It's just you in a room with 1,000 other people. And your computer. So you can type. And it's all, what can you remember about negligence? And they test these very fine distinctions. So, then if you pass the bar exam and you pass some other things too like in California, you have to do a background check. You have to take an ethics test to prove that you know how ethics work. And then you can become a lawyer. My advice for taking the bar is, treat it like a job. Eight hours a day, five days a week, six days a week for probably two months. Take a bar prep course. They will teach you the tricks that the bar examiners use and just practice practice practice. Practice writing essays so you get into the groove of knowing how long it's gonna take and what you need to put down on the paper. But don't treat it as, you know, a 60 hour a week job. It's just a 40 hour a week job. So don't burn yourself out. Take some time for yourself. I worked as a a pellet, a criminal pellet defender for about a year and a half before I got this job. So I just represent people on appeal, kind of like the public defender for appeals. Then I found this job online, actually. And I applied to it. And I got an interview. So we interview with some people on the staff first. Then we interview with some of the justices themselves. Which can be a little interesting. It's sort of like an oral argument where they just pepper you with questions and you have to kind of come up with answers. And then they hired me. And it was amazing. But yes, it is a sought after job so you need very good grades. You need very good writing skills. You have to submit a writing sample. You have to be personable. Yeah, so the law maybe more than other fields is very network heavy. So, generally people don't get jobs just by applying for them, into space. They hire people at law firms hire people they know. We've got an opening, can you call up your contacts and find someone? Or, law firms go to schools and recruit people. So, or you meet people at mixers, cocktail parties, happy hours. And you just get to know them. Actually, I got my first job out of law school the pellet job by meeting a person who knew someone that I went to school with. And it wasn't straight out of the it wasn't straight off the bat that I got a job. It was building a relationship so one thing about networking is that you're not gonna get a job right out of the cage. You build up a relationship with someone they get to know you. It's sort of like dating. And then eventually, at some point in the future they'll pop the question and say, "Hey "I've got a job opening, would you be interested?" So in my staff, the growth opportunities are kind of limited by how many people are on the staff. My position is a term position so it expires in the next year. So I have to look for other jobs. Now I'll probably be looking at small law firms. Or the government, again, like I said working for a city's attorney office. Or the state attorney general, or something like that. Generally, in a criminal capacity, but my skills also transfer over to civil side too. My career goals could include being a judge, if they would make me one. I don't want to be presumptuous but the the kind of job, the lifestyle that I have now I think is great, and I'd like to continue doing that sort of thing, which is very like reading and writing heavy, which is the job of a of a pellet judge. It's just reading and writing all day long. Well, if you want to be a lawyer and you're in high school I guess I would say, don't worry about the law so much, don't worry about law school so much. Worry about your grades. Worry about applying for college, applying to a good college. Private colleges are good. The private non-profit colleges are good. State, good state schools, I went to a great state school. Just think about what kind of classes you need to take and really focus on getting good grades and being a good student. Because being a good student will really open doors for you. To be a lawyer, you have to be willing to have, I guess, delayed gratification. In the sense that you your rewards come further down the field when you've gone to college, when you've gone to law school. So it requires that you have those long-term goals. And be able to say, you know what, I need to study right now. I can't go out and party, or whatever.