If you are in college and considering law school, or out in the working world and looking for an occupational change, Los Angeles based attorney Shant Karnikian has some very specific recommendations, and I’ll get to those in a moment.
But first, let me tell you about this young attorney making a real difference in the lives of his clients.
I met him in 2009 when he was a first year law student at Loyola, in Los Angeles. Karnikian demonstrated real initiative by applying for a summer scholarship to study international law in Paris at a summer program conducted by Cornell University.
While these scholarships had only been given to second-year students, those of us on the selection committee were impressed by one of the most compelling personal statements we had ever received, and is so relevant in today’s America. It read, in part:
“It is my profound, personal sense of injustice as an Armenian-American that drew me to the study of law, as it is our best hope for achievement of social justice when all other avenues seem to be failing. Law can transform issues of intense divisiveness into opportunities for us to heal our cultural wounds, reunite as a national community and strengthen the promise of social justice for future generations.
“These beliefs drive me to want to become a lawyer,” his statement concluded.
Announcing that Karnikian had been selected, one member of the panel said, “Here is someone who understands injustice firsthand, from what happened to his family in the Armenian genocide. Loyola can be confident that he will use his legal education in the cause of justice.”
He passed the California bar in 2012–on the first try--itself quite an accomplishment--and works in downtown Los Angeles as a senior associate with Kabateck LLP, a nationally respected plaintiff’s firm that litigates complex cases with an impressive record of success.
Coincidentally, founding partner Brian Kabateck, was one of the first attorneys to successfully sue insurance companies withholding money from heirs of victims of the Armenian Genocide.
“I feel passionate about representing people who have been harmed. Our law firm plays a valuable role in society. In so many ways, I am living my dream,” he told me when we spoke recently, but admitted, “I went into law with a romantic notion of the good that I could accomplish which has worked out. But I have been very fortunate.”
His boss, attorney Brian Kabateck, describes Karnikian as: “Capable, skilled, a great trial lawyer who never complains about the long hours and hard work this profession requires. He has the right attitude; juries like him, and we all like him.”
Find out What the Practice of Law is Really About
“The most important piece of advice I can offer to anyone thinking of attending law school and becoming an attorney is to find out what the practice of law is really about, and believe me, it is not what you see on television or in the movies,” Karnikian underscores.
“Speak with lawyers and ask them to tell you their likes and dislikes about their jobs. Would they choose this occupation if given the chance to go back in time?
“As you would research any major purchase, do the same thing with law, because that’s what you are about to do, only it is a ‘purchase’ that could easily cost over $200,000 and once you ‘own’ it, could lead to great disappointment. There is a lot of information online written by people who left the practice of law, and their stories could help prevent making a wrong decision.”
Law School Isn’t Just an Extension of College - Take a Year off First
In many European countries it is common after earning a college diploma to work for a year before pursuing an advanced or professional degree. Karnikian feels this is an excellent idea:
“If you are in college now, by taking time off after graduating and working before law school, you’ll likely acquire a better sense of responsibility, and a much more accurate idea of how society functions.
“In addition, it is important to understand that law school isn’t college simply with three more years tacked on to your bachelor’s degree. A completely different approach to study is required, and you cannot cram for tests. You are being trained to become a professional, someone who others will rely on.”
Never off the Clock
Karnikian had heard that, “Time demands take away from a lawyer’s personal life,” but only understood what that meant when “12 hour days became the norm with no such thing as being off the clock.”
He has these words of caution for anyone considering the legal profession:
“Never forget that the law is a jealous mistress.”