In this podcast episode, Josh and Aaron talk about their experience as lawyers and some things to think about if you are considering law school.
Listen here or read the transcript below. FVF’s Summary Judgment podcast is available wherever you listen to podcasts including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radio, and more.
Introduction: Thank you for tuning in to Summary Judgment, where Austin Personal Injury attorneys, Josh Fogelman and Aaron Von Flatern of FVF Law discuss the ins, outs and in-betweens of personal injury cases.
Aaron Von Flatern: Alright, welcome back to Summary Judgement. This is Aaron Von Flatern. I’m here with my co-founding law partner, Josh Fogelman, and we are FVF Law. Today, on Summary Judgement, we’re talking about, “Should I go to law school?” It’s a common question. People are searching for it online and people are talking about it. So, two lawyers here, talking about what our experience was in law school and what our experience has been in the practice, which I think is pretty unique, but it’s worth sharing. Josh, one of the reasons I’ve brought this topic to you is because I keep seeing lawyers on the list of most unhappy professionals over and over. We’re one or two on that list, which is a bad thing. Why do you think that keeps happening to professionals?
Josh Fogelman: Yeah, I think there’s a few factors that come into play in the legal profession in particular. A lot of people don’t understand that when you get your law license, you become the decision-maker often times in what might be one of the most stressful or important decision-making processes in a person’s life. They are coming to you for advice. They want to put the cards on the table, and they want you to lead them down the road that is most likely to lead them to successful resolution of whatever their issue is. And it’s an incredibly heavy burden to bear because, if you screw it up, you can really have a negative impact on a person’s life. So that’s just something that you carry with you out of the office in most circumstances. And it becomes a lifestyle more than anything else. And I think that there are a lot of people who are well-equipped to handle that kind of stress, but many people end up going to law school for the wrong reason.
A lot of people go to law school just because they’ve seen lawyers on TV or heard that if you become a lawyer, you’re going to do well financially and so forth and so on, without really fully understanding and internalizing the burden that is going to be carried with them from that point forward and from when they get into the practice of it. You’ve gone to law school for three years. In most cases, you’ve taken on a substantial amount of student loan debt, and there you are with this license to practice law and this privilege to practice law and this tremendous amount of student loan debt before you really recognize what the actual practice of law really looks like. And I think that in a lot of circumstances, people don’t really see a positive way forward or a positive way out, and it can really be troubling.
Aaron Von Flatern: Yeah, I think for me, one observation I’ve had is law doesn’t have a residency like the medical practice does, right? So when you get out of medical school, it’s understood that you’re not equipped to be a doctor. You still need four years in the field before you’re going to get your license, and then after that, you might be spending another year studying for the board examinations. Whereas lawyers, we come out of law school, they give us the degree, they basically tell us that we’re ready to practice. And in reality, law school is not very good at teaching the practical aspects of the law, the knobs and levers that you need to pull and turn in order to get things done in court. It’s often overlooked that the most important person in the courtroom might actually be the court coordinator instead of the judge when you’re trying to get an extension on some kind of hearing or something done like that.
And I think depositions is another thing that law schools just do a terrible job of training on. You have to come out and practice in the field, and what happens when you do that is you fail at first, repeatedly, over and over. You’re falling on your face. You feel like, “This training just didn’t work with me. I thought I was smart. They gave me my degree. They gave me my license, but it just didn’t work because I’m not a master of the universe, coming right out of law school.” So a lot of people get discouraged right there. It points out the need to have good mentorship. One of the things I like about FVF Law, now, we’ve grown to the size where we can have mentors for some of these young lawyers coming out of law school and guide them through that difficult process where you’re just feeling like you’re just taking a beating as a new lawyer. And I think if it were presented that way in the beginning like, “Hey, you’re going to get out of law school and then you’re going to spend years learning the practice.” I feel like more people would grow to like the practice because ultimately it can be very satisfying, which leads me to personal injury law. So, we’re obviously a sub-specialty of law. Josh, what’s been your experience with personal injury law specifically, and how do you think it compares to some of the other specialties?
Josh Fogelman: Yeah, I was drawn to personal injury law within the first couple of years of private practice. When I started practicing law, I didn’t know that I wanted to be a personal injury attorney. I knew I wanted to be a litigator, which makes a lot of that burden that I was just talking about easier to bear. I knew that I could handle it, and I knew what I was in for mostly, but once I got exposure to personal injury law, to representing people who had been harmed, I recognized the importance of that area of law because we have really vulnerable members of the community who get hurt for no fault of their own. Their world is turned upside down unexpectedly with literally no warning at all. They’re faced with a bunch of really challenging financial decisions. They don’t know how to navigate the insurance claims process. They’ve got insurance companies trying to get them to sign documents and accept checks for money, and they don’t know what they mean.
And I found that untangling that web and providing some comfort and some education about what is to come and what decisions to make helps to really alleviate the burden in a meaningful way, in a way that I can recognize. And then, of course, in cases where you have some sort of substantial or catastrophic injury or loss, what we can do on the back-end and what we’ve been able to do to help our clients can literally change their lives. Aaron, I know there’s a handful of cases that we’ve dealt with that have really stuck with us as far as being fulfilling. What are some of the most memorable cases that you’ve worked on?
Aaron Von Flatern: Now, every time I get frustrated with the practice of law, I try to think about those because they really brighten my day. Any day of the week, I can just think about one of those cases and get a great feeling about what we’re doing, and I know I can overcome the challenges. One of the first cases that this law firm took on was from a fellow lawyer in the community who was unable to find a lawyer to take the case. They knew better than to represent themselves. And when we started to get into the case, bottom-line is both parents died, and there were three kids who didn’t seem to have a chance in life. And so by the time we got done prosecuting this case, we ended up not only succeeding in the case, but getting all three of their colleges more than paid for. And it was a daunting case that went on for over a year, and when I look back on that, it’s just very gratifying to have been a part of it. I wasn’t the only lawyer working on it. We had Josh and we had other people in the firm working on it, but it just felt good to be a part of something good, to be part of something that is still going to mean something for those kids into the future until they get older.
Josh Fogelman: I think that’s… You hit the nail on the head. It’s gratifying when you do work appropriately. It’s gratifying, and the fulfillment can be long-term. We have clients that will reach out to us years after we finalize their lawsuit, continuing to express gratitude and recognition for what we were able to do for them that they would not have been able to do had they attempted to handle their case on their own. And kind of getting back to the focus of this particular podcast, for those people that do go to law school that are prepared to accept the burden that comes with going to law school and the stress that comes with going to law school, on the other end of that, like you said, is this long-term gratification that can arise when you do good for your client. And that’s a feeling that can really transcend the practice of personal injury law. So it’s not necessarily limited to that practice area, but it’s something that I think without that sort of gratification on the back-end, I don’t think that I would enjoy the practice of law nearly as much, if at all.
So, if I were to give some advice to someone who’s considering going to law school, I would say think beyond the paycheck. Think beyond the prestige of being a lawyer and understand what it is that you wish to accomplish and how you’ll find that to be fulfilling for the remainder of your career so that you can really be excited and approach sort of honing your craft, perfecting your craft, what the type of energy that it takes to be great at what you do. Aaron, what advice would you give to someone who’s considering going to law school?
Aaron Von Flatern: First and foremost, go talk to some lawyers. If you can, get some real-world experience. There’s no substitute for getting exposure to this work, understand the kind of commitment it takes. And commit is kind of the main word there. Lawyers, who are successful at this, who when they are old and grey look back on their careers and feel really good about everything they’ve accomplished, they committed at some point to, like you said, a lifestyle. This is a calling. And if you’re going to law school just to try to make money and that’s your only goal, nothing wrong with making money. My advice would be, “Go to business school.” They’re going to do a better job of getting you out, getting you into the money right away. Law is a profession that you build slowly over time, and it kind of ripens over time into something just incredibly satisfying. But you have to know where you’re going. You can’t just be aimless in it, and you have to be prepared for that journey, that journey of challenge that’s in front of you.
Josh Fogelman: Yeah. Yeah, when I was in college and in law school, I interned and worked for a local law firm here that gave me exposure to a variety of different practice areas. They were doing some criminal law, some family law, some general, civil litigation, things of that nature that allowed me to at least narrow down the areas of practice that interested me. But I think you made a really good point earlier when you said, when you compared law school to medical school. We don’t have this residency program, so really what we’re left is to rely on some sort of internship program, trying to get into a law firm to do some work either during college or during high school or even during law school where you can get some exposure to what the practice of law is like. But even then, many lawyers and law practices are just so busy and they’re so overwhelmed with the work that they have to do that they don’t have the time to train somebody who’s not a lawyer to really get engaged and get a good feel for what the actual practice of law looks like beyond just filing documents and fielding phone calls and opening mail and the types of stuff that I was doing for a big part of some of my internships.
So I would say, to the best extent possible, if you can identify an opportunity to get into a law firm or a solo practitioner’s law practice that is doing some type of law that might interest you, even if it’s not the most interesting law to you in the world, if you can find an opportunity where you can have a mentor who is really going to show you what the practice of law is like and give you some inside information and allow you to take part in the sausage-making process so that you can understand what you’re in for, for the day-to-day life, I think that could go a really long way.
Aaron Von Flatern: Yeah. Yeah, that’s a very good point. Well, it’s been another episode of Summary Judgment. I hope you enjoyed listening. We definitely enjoyed providing you the information, and look for our Facebook post. You can find us on Instagram, and of course, find us online at www.fvf.law.