INTERVIEW: KATHERINE WU, 2L, BENJAMIN N. CARDOZO SCHOOL OF LAW

Katherine Wu is currently a second-year law student (2L) at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. In addition to a full-time course load this semester, she also interning with the Division of Enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission’s New York Regional Office.

Prior to attending law school, she worked in New York City for two years as a corporate paralegal at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, specializing in Private Investment Funds (specifically, in Private Equity and Hedge funds).

Katherine graduated from Johns Hopkins University in May 2013 with a degree in International Studies with a focus on East Asian Affairs. While at Hopkins, she interned with the Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City. She grew up in China and Hong Kong before completing her high school degree in the United States.

Questions
Describe a typical day as a law student/2L at Cardozo.

A typical day as a 2L is much different from being a 1L. As a 1L, I had an assigned schedule with designated core classes (i.e. civil procedure, torts, criminal law, contracts, property, etc.). As a 2L, there is much more flexibility when it comes to schedule planning. I get to choose my courses and because there is less class time, I have more time to engage in extracurricular activities. A lot of my friends are on journals or participate in law school clinics. I took on a fall semester internship at the Bank of China’s U.S. register broker-dealer, working about 15-20 hours a week. This semester, I am interning at the SEC’s New York Office in the Market Abuse Unit within the Division of Enforcement. So two days out of the week I work full time, and I spilt my academic courses over the three other weekdays.

To date, what has been your favorite law school class, and why? What classes are you looking forward to taking after your first year of law school?

I find that when I can make a tangible connection between classroom materials and events that are happening in the real world, the coursework becomes more alive and interesting. Because of this, I really enjoyed international law. I had a very brilliant and passionate professor, and the subject matter itself is also really interesting. Topics covered in the course included international human rights, nationality, terrorism, international agreements and international courts. It was a macro view on how sovereign states interact with each other in maintaining world order. It is a bit different form a traditional law school class because there are a lot of gray areas and the topics can be theoretical, but much of the issues we discussed in class had a real-world application that was prominent in current events. I plan to take more courses that deal with specific areas of international law next semester and beyond.

What made you choose Cardozo? What do you see as the primary pros and cons of law school?

Having lived and worked in NYC for two years prior to law school, I knew that I wanted to be in the city for law school. NYC is unique in its concentration of opportunities—whatever area of law you want to pursue, there is a space for that. Furthermore, much of my professional network is also in New York City. I would highly recommend anyone applying to law school to think carefully about the geographical location of the school.

The major pro of law school is the legal education itself. It is hugely demanding, but incredibly rewarding. The major cons of law school – honestly, most of the cons I can think of are fairly obvious: huge time and financial commitment, stress, amount of work, etc. But it’s all the worst if you went to law school just to “figure things out”. If you go into law school with a clear goal and understanding of what being a lawyer means, most of these cons aren’t really deal breakers.

What types of undergraduate opportunities did you pursue that led to your decision to apply to law school? Were there any experiences that you felt were particularly helpful in strengthening your application to law school?

There are some obvious components of a law school application that are important: undergrad GPA, LSAT score, resume. To that end, other than getting good grades at Hopkins, take the time to study for the LSAT. A good score can mean a better chance at getting into the school you want to and also get you scholarship, which is particularly attractive in a three year graduate school commitment. While at Hopkins, I knew that law school was something I had definitely wanted to pursue, but wanted some work experience first. I had interned with the Maryland States Attorney office while in Baltimore and I also took some finance related courses towards the end of college and got really interested in finance, which is when I realized that pursuing business/corporate law would be a perfect combination of my interests. Now that I am in law school, I am also realizing the value of having taken so many writing-intensive courses while at Hopkins. There is, predictably, a tremendous amount of reading and writing in law school. I think Hopkins prepared me pretty well for that.

What did you pursue during your interim year(s)/before beginning law school, while in law school and during your law school summer(s)? How did you go about researching these opportunities?

I took two years off between Hopkins and law school as a corporate paralegal at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Most paralegals have more of a generalist role, but I was placed into a group that specialized in private funds. I cannot say enough good things about my two-year experience at Paul Weiss. I gained insight into the mechanisms of a law firm, learned the ins and outs of a niche field that is in high demand, and gained substantive legal experience. It has also proven to be incredibly helpful for internship/job opportunities. Since then, I have interned in the legal department of a large investment manager as well as a bank. I am currently doing a spring internship at the SEC, which has been quite interesting and exciting so far. Getting good grades in law school is no doubt important, but having substantial work experience is what can set you apart in the hiring process. Law school courses do not provide a lot of “hands on” legal work, so the best way to gain experience is through working.

How would you compare the reality of law school and the ensuing job search to the picture you had of it while an undergraduate?

I think that in general, most law school applicants are pretty well informed. The data on law school applications and the legal job market are readily available, as well as the individual employment statistic for each school. Do your research before applying.

As for the reality of law school- it’s a steep learning curve. It will take longer than expected to get the hang of reading an opinion, to really “get” legal writing or legal research. Your first time outlining for an exam will be stressful and overwhelming. But it is absolutely manageable, especially coming out of a school like Hopkins.

Do you have any advice for an undergraduate interested in pursuing law school and a career in law given your experience in today’s legal market and now as a current law student?

The best course of action I took prior to going to law school was working in the industry for two years. Above all else, the experience and network I have built from those two years have been absolutely invaluable. Separately, law school is a big commitment in terms of money, time, and opportunity cost. Do not go to law school if your motivation or end goal is unclear. I would recommend any prospective law school applicants to talk to as many law students or practicing attorneys as they can, and try to work in the legal industry to gain some insight into the field.

Contact Information: Katherine is happy to answer questions relating to the law school application process, taking a gap year (or two), law school, and anything in between and can be reached at katherineykwu@gmail.com.

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