‘Admissible’ S3 E1: So You’re Thinking About Law School

Joe Fore
September 15, 2023

You’ve seen lawyers on TV and in movies, but what does it really mean to practice law? What is law school like and what does it take to succeed as a law student? Professor Joe Fore ’11 joins Dean Blazer to discuss lawyering, law school and what he has learned from teaching 1Ls at UVA Law. Whether you’re just starting to think about law school or already deep into the application process, this episode is for you.


NATALIE BLAZER: I remember when I was practicing law, I mean, you have to sort of become a subject matter expert on whatever-- I had a client that was a fiber manufacturer, so suddenly, I'm learning all about polymer fibers and things that I never thought a lawyer would need to know.

JOE FORE: At first, I thought you were talking like fiber supplements, like diet. I was like, well, that would be good too.


JOE FORE: I'm sure there's somebody out there, by the way. I'm sure there's somebody who represents the good folks at the Metamucil Corporation. Somebody has to do it.

NATALIE BLAZER: This is Admissible. I'm Natalie Blazer, Dean of Admissions at UVA Law. As you all know, this podcast is geared mostly toward law school applicants, whether you're in the thick of your application cycle or thinking about applying sometime in the future.

Well, today's show is hopefully going to be helpful to applicants no matter where they're at in the process. But it may be especially helpful to folks who haven't even gotten to the application stage yet, or just don't that much about how the process works.

The idea for this episode really came to me because it dawned on me that this is quite literally a new generation applying compared to when I applied. The world looked a lot different back then. But a lot of things about lawyering and law school really have not changed.

So I want to dive into what going to law school and being a lawyer means today in the 2020s. I am beyond excited to have our guest on today because he knows a lot about practicing law and preparing young law students from the second they enter the doors as one else.

Professor Joe Fore is the co-director of UVA Law's Legal Research and Writing Program. In addition to teaching legal research and writing courses, Professor Fore works extensively with the law school's moot court programs, something I know, for a fact, a lot of our applicants are already familiar with at the undergraduate level.

Before joining the law school faculty, Professor Fore was an attorney with BakerHostetler, practicing both trial level and appellate litigation in Washington DC and Orlando, Florida. Professor Fore graduated from UVA Law in 2011.

While in law school, Professor Fore was a notes editor for the Virginia Law Review and a semi-finalist in the William Minor Lile Moot Court Competition. And Professor Fore is the very first law professor we've had on this podcast, so I'm very excited. Welcome to the show.

JOE FORE: Great. Thanks, Natalie. Great to be here.

NATALIE BLAZER: So I do a little icebreaker with all of our guests. And so my question for you is what are you currently reading for fun? If anything.

JOE FORE: Yeah, that's a great question. For fun. I tend to read nonfiction stuff. But there is this book that it's a sci-fi novel set in the distant future in space. And actually, I learned about it from a podcast. OK. It's called Children of Time. The author is Adrian Tchaikovsky.

And it involves people traveling in space like in sort of a dystopian future. And then the other half is written from the perspective of these like sentient spiders. Yeah. It seems a little weird. It sounds really weird.

NATALIE BLAZER: It sounds not only weird, but also very entertaining. I'm always wondering what my dog and two cats are thinking, frankly. Well, the idea for this icebreaker actually came because I'm a huge reader. And I also hear about people recommending books on podcasts. So I feel like I just want to pay it forward. Now, someone might go out and buy that book. So there go.

This episode is called-- so you're thinking about law school. And I feel like we could go on for hours and hours on this topic. There's a lot to cover. But what I really want listeners to be thinking about at this stage is so why are you thinking about law school.

In other words, what does it mean to be a lawyer? What do what do lawyers do? So if I were to ask you, Professor fore, what does a lawyer do? And you had to answer in one sentence. What would you say?

JOE FORE: Lawyers help people solve problems that involve the law. So look, if you're having trouble with the pipes in your house, you call a plumber. If you want to design a bridge, you call an engineer. If you have an issue that involves the law in any way, that's what lawyers do.

And primarily, we deal in words. That's our sort of stock and trade. Carpenters deal with wood and we deal with words, for the most part.

NATALIE BLAZER: I love that answer. And we deal with words, which is right. Which is why it's hard to stick to one sentence. I definitely appreciate that. So fill in this sentence. If you don't like blank, law school's probably not for you.

JOE FORE: I'd say, reading. I mean, lawyers deal in words. And primarily, if you're talking specifically about law school, most of what you do in law school to learn is you read, primarily, legal cases.

You'll go back and you'll read opinions from previous court cases to help you try to figure out what the law is, what the parties arguments are, why would the court decide the way they would. So you can kind of get a really broad understanding. And so yeah, if you don't like to read, it's going to be not as much fun.

NATALIE BLAZER: Absolutely. And for our one else who just arrived, seeing them go to the bookstore and come out with this gigantic stack of books and their eyes are kind of going wide. Yeah. They know that they're about to sit down for like you said, two or three hours of reading. I will say it does get easier. The more reading you do, you sort of can get quicker at it.

JOE FORE: Yeah. And one thing that is a little interesting about law school, that the students may not appreciate is when you read these opinions from courts, they all involve stories. I mean, you're reading the story of what happened to these people. So a car accident or a contract between two parties some business dispute that went wrong.

So it makes it a little more interesting than just of what people may be thinking of like reading a science book or a math book for an hour. And it's not like that.

NATALIE BLAZER: Yes. Absolutely. And so this might be the answer to the next question. You will enjoy being a lawyer if you enjoy blank. So we already covered you kind of have to like reading. But what about being an actual lawyer?

JOE FORE: Yeah. If you enjoy thinking about different arguments, if you appreciate all sides of like a debate or argument, if you want to actually discuss things and understand things, I think that those are the people that are going to enjoy lawyering and being in law school.

I think a lot of people who are starting out, they'll say, well, my parents always said I love to argue. So I need to go to law school. Yeah. I don't really buy in to that. Because there are lots of different ways to be a lawyer. Not all of them, by the way, involve arguing.

Some lawyer-- a lot of lawyers are, they're dealmakers. They're trying to actually work collaboratively with people. And even when you do have disputes like lawsuits or whatever, the most effective lawyers in my opinion, are the ones that actually are collaborative. They take that more approach.

Look, we all want to get to some conclusion. And arguing or fighting in with animosity doesn't help that. So I think that's one misconception people say. I like to argue, I should be a lawyer.

Also, learning. The law is always changing. New laws are passed, new court cases come down. We have to adjust and move. So if you like learning new stuff, laws for you.

NATALIE BLAZER: Yeah. So Professor Fore, as listeners learned from your bio, that I had at the top of the show, you, personally, practiced both trial level and appellate litigation before coming to UVA Law to become a law professor.

Explain like, if you can, for people who don't know, what does that mean to practice trial level and appellate litigation.

JOE FORE: Yeah, absolutely. So litigation, litigators, that just refers to people who go into courtrooms or work on lawsuits. So actually, litigation is probably what you're most familiar with. If you watch Suits, you watch Law and Order, those people are litigators. They're going into court, they're working on lawsuits.

When you hear about cases in the news, criminal cases or lawsuits or cases at the Supreme Court, those are litigation matters. They are matters that are in a courtroom because there's some kind of dispute going on between the parties. And that's how the parties go and solve their dispute is by going to court and going before a judge and solving their dispute that way. So those are litigators.

Trial level is where you start. And that's where you would have the parties will try to resolve their dispute. After that dispute ends-- so typically we think of one party wins and one party loses, the party that loses may not be happy with that. And then they can appeal that decision to a higher court, to an appellate court.

And that's what we call-- so appellate litigation would be stepping in to help the parties. They've already had one go round at the trial level, one party won, one party lost. And then the losing party says, hey, I want to appeal that. I want to dispute that. I think the lower court got that wrong. The trial court got it wrong. I should have won. And so that's appellate litigation, is stepping in to help the parties, then, at the next level of court.

NATALIE BLAZER: And before you got into litigation, did for sure that there were-- that you wanted to do that or that there were certain kinds of law you did not want to practice?

JOE FORE: Not really. I really didn't what type of law I wanted to do until I went out and did a summer internship. We call them like a summer associate or a summer internship, where you spend a summer working at a law firm. And I got to work with different people in different areas and sort of test out and say, well, what did I like, what do I not like.

I enjoyed the litigation aspect because I like writing. I like making those arguments. I like thinking about things. And that's how I like to solve problems. So I said before, lawyers help solve problems. And lawyers do it in all different ways.

Some lawyers help people manage their business affairs, write their wills or set up estates or trusts to buy property or hold property or pay taxes or do business deals. I liked helping people and making arguments by writing and thinking about things. And so that's why I gravitated towards litigation.

But if you were to talk to most lawyers-- so if you went into a law firm right now and you found some partner at a law firm who's been there for 20 years, and you said, did you end up as an employment law lawyer, 20 years of experience of being an expert, I think most lawyers would probably say, look, I was in law school or fresh out of law school. I really didn't what I wanted to do. And I ended up working on one employment law matter for one lawyer, and they were really cool. And I thought it was interesting. And yeah, I liked it. And now, 20 years later, that's what I do.

So I just encourage people to be really open minded about what they might want to do. And if you don't know, you're sitting there, and you're like, I don't know how exactly I'd want to use a law degree or what I would want to do, that's totally fine. There is lots of time to figure that out.

NATALIE BLAZER: Absolutely. And for the people who do know or think they know, being open to changing your mind. Because a lot of times, what people think certain type of law is or a certain type of lawyer does, they've come to find out that's not really the case.

So I think what you just said is going to put a lot of people at ease. You haven't even had a law school class yet so it's completely fine not to know. And you're going to be exposed to so many different types of law and people and practitioners and who will influence you.

JOE FORE: Yeah. And actually, if I could go back like even at the very beginning, what are lawyers do, I think because of especially the news and movies and TV shows, what do people see in lawyers? They see litigators. Like that's all they see.

And that's kind of like saying, if you base your knowledge of what doctors do, solely by watching Gray's Anatomy, and you think that every doctor is like in the ER saving people from car accidents, like rushing around, saving people who are bleeding out. And you're like well, of course, that's not right.

There's like hundreds of different kinds of doctors. And a lot of people are like sitting in a pediatrician's office or looking at X-rays all day. I just want to be clear that there's tons of different kinds of lawyering. And so there's tons of things you can do. Some of them are, sure, in court. Some of them are writing. There are tax lawyers. There are business lawyers. There are people that help people with adoptions and divorces and family law matters and real estate.

What can really help you decide what kind of law you want to practice is your own personality and your temperament and understanding that. So you asked about litigation. I tended to enjoy more of the appellate litigation because that's my temperament.

I'm kind of a calmer, quieter person. I'm a more of an introvert. I was always fine going into work, sort of closing my door, and sitting there for six hours and writing a motion for the court or an appellate brief.

Now, there are lots of other people that would find that super boring. There's not like one kind of lawyer. There's not one kind of person that should go to law school. I think any type of person, any type of personality can be an effective lawyer. It's just about finding what fits your personality and your experience and your passion.

NATALIE BLAZER: So true. And sitting behind closed doors, writing an appellate brief does not make for great television. But those things are happening all the time.

JOE FORE: Yeah. There's no medical shows about radiologists.


JOE FORE: Looking at an MRI. Maybe there should be. There's yeah, not a lot of law shows that focus on the corporate tax attorney, quietly going about their business.

NATALIE BLAZER: That's right.

JOE FORE: But if you like that, if you're a business-minded person and you love spreadsheets, and you're thinking about, well, should I go work at like an investment banking, or maybe I want to go work for business somewhere, like maybe you should go be a tax lawyer or go be a corporate lawyer and help people put together investment plans. Like that looks a lot like the same kind of work.

NATALIE BLAZER: I always tell people, ask people how they spend their time. What do they do in the day to day, and think about that.

JOE FORE: There's a great story. There's a podcast called How I lawyer by Jonah Perlin, who teaches legal writing at Georgetown. And his whole podcast, he just interviews different kind of lawyers. And he asked them about their career paths and how they got in there.

And he had a guest on, a guy named Raffi Melkonian, who's a lawyer out in Texas. And Raffi has a great story. When he started, he wanted to be an international business lawyer. He's like, I want to be this fancy, hotshot international dealmaker.

But he realized what it mostly involved was him sitting around, calling people on the phone all day, and badgering them about whether they had completed all the checklist items that had to go through before the business deal could go through. And he was like, I actually hate talking on the phone to people. And so I was miserable.

NATALIE BLAZER: Absolutely. People talk a lot about wanting to be an international lawyer of some kind. And I think yes, they have this idea in their mind. But sometimes, you really do need to understand it's sifting through documents. It's the phone calls.


NATALIE BLAZER: So for someone out there, who's listening to this episode, maybe it's the beginning of their college career, maybe they haven't even gone to college yet. But let's pretend they're in a relatively early stage of thinking about law school, do you have advice in terms of what they should study in undergrad? What kind of internships? Like what kind of advice would you give to a person who's maybe just embarking on their college career?

JOE FORE: So from an admissions side, listen to Natalie. And if you're trying to get into law school, if you're trying to kind of maximize your chances, I'll come at it from just a preparedness side. I don't think there is really a particularly like one track to prepare you.

I think stereotypically, a lot of people would say, well, I'm going to major in history. Or maybe I should take some Latin, or whatever. I should take English if I want to write a lot. I'd actually say, no, take all different things.

Because what I think students should do is study what you're interested in. Study what you're passionate about. Study broadly. At this point, I'm closing in on 1,000 or so students that I've taught in my courses. And I've had students that run the gamut from majors.

I've had everybody from your stereotypical history, English, business person to people that were computer programmers and engineers. And they've all been super successful. There's not one recipe. Don't try to fit yourself to the mold of quote, "a lawyer." Bring yourself to that role.


JOE FORE: And it will you can build your career and your law school, or whatever around, of what you are. And in terms of said like internships or experiences, look, if somebody-- if they're really interested in criminal law and they want to go do a summer internship at a prosecutor's office or go into a judge, I would never dissuade somebody from doing that.

But you got a lot of time. You got the rest of your life if you want to be a lawyer. If you do end up being a lawyer, you got the rest of your life to see law stuff. Like you're in college I would say, if you want to spend the summer being a Whitewater rafting guide in Montana, do it. You're not going to get to do it again.

I would kind say in terms of extracurriculars, do whatever you want. Things that are interesting to you and are going to make you an interesting person.

NATALIE BLAZER: And from an admissions standpoint, it's always more powerful when we see someone who is authentic, not just doing the cookie cutter things they think they should do. The one class has had the most diverse range of experiences you could even imagine. And I couldn't agree more that while you're young, there's plenty of time to work.

Obviously, it's great to be exposed to different sectors and everything like that, but also take time for your interests, your hobbies, all of that stuff. So this segues pretty nicely into my next question, which is the 1Ls, they're here. As 1L faculty member, you have what I consider a privilege of seeing our law students at the very, very beginning of their law school education journey. Like their raw material.

So I'm curious if you have identified any skills or qualities, traits that students come to you already equipped with that really help set them up for success on the path to being a lawyer.

JOE FORE: Yeah. So sort of break this up into what we would call the hard skills and the soft skills. So the hard skills are like the tangible things like being able to write or read well or critically think. And then there's the softer skills, things like time management, organization.

So I'll talk about both of those. I'm going to actually start with the soft skills because I think that those are really critical and often overlooked. Things like organization. A whole lot of lawyering is just making sure that certain things happen at a certain time and in a certain order.

So if you're doing business deals or whatever, like a lot of it is not super like intellectually heavy lifting. It's just like did we achieve this. And then we have to make sure that this thing happens before this thing. Did we get this document signed by the court. This needs to go to the client at this date. And just staying on top of that is such an important part of lawyering.

And same with law school. Because law students are going to be-- we've talked before about readings and things. You're going to be juggling as a first year law student. Like at UVA, I mean, you've got five courses in the fall. And they're all new things.

You're going to be juggling five classes, each of which has different readings, different times. Some of them will have a midterm exam. You might have a paper in my class that you're working on. You have readings for other classes. You're doing all these different things, and just the ability to stay organized, have a system is really critical.

The other one is just, I would say, time management and balance. Burnout is a real thing. People can go too hard. You can lose focus. So I think the most effective students that I run into are the ones who can manage their time, but they also like when to stop. When they say, look, I got to go to sleep. Or I got to go to the gym. Or I'm going to go for like a hike. Because like I haven't gotten outside and touch grass in a while. So I'm just going to step outside the building.

Or I'm going to hang out with non-law school people or whatever. Hey, it's a little intense in here, sometimes. People are like freaking out about something. I'm going to go over here and just hang out with my family or call, whatever. So I think that that's really important.

And then on the hard skills, like we said, reading, critical reading. I think everybody's like, oh, I can read a book. I can read my textbook. And I think one big difference right is a lot of times in college or high school, people are reading to kind of acquire information.

They're like I'm reading my AP history book. And I'm just highlighting, check, check, check. I learned this fact. I learned this fact. I learned this fact. And like OK, I gathered that from the reading, and now I can go use that fact in this thing.

Like we said, a lot of what you're going to be reading in law school are things like judicial opinions, where a judge is explaining the case and kind of explaining their reasoning for why one party should win and the other one should lose.

But you got to do a fair amount of work there. It's not just like the one slight difference there is these aren't textbooks, where somebody has already curated and given you the clear answer. You are kind of having to figure out a little bit of the answer on your own. Saying, well, wait a minute, I see what the judge is saying here, but how exactly does that tie-in with this or how does that relate to the argument that the parties made.

So I see that the judge bought into this argument, but rejected this one. But wait a minute, but they also made this argument. So the judge doesn't say why they didn't buy that argument. And you might have to do some work on your own to figure that out. So really like critical reading, which is not an easy thing to do.

NATALIE BLAZER: That's why reading 10 pages can take two hours, sometimes, in law school.

JOE FORE: Yeah. I mean, it is, really. It is about quality over quantity. You got to really understand that. Or the ability to integrate what you'll actually be doing a lot is you won't just be reading one case. You might be reading two or three cases together.

So your professor might say, OK, tomorrow, we're going to talk about this topic. And I want you to go read these three different cases. And we're going to figure out how they fit together. And so the ability to read there is critical.

And then I think another, I guess, soft skill or hard skill. I mentioned before about arguing. I actually really think that probably call it like empathy. The ability to actually understand, fully understand the other side's argument, or all sides of an argument.

It doesn't mean you have to agree with them, but you have to understand it. So if you're thinking about the context of negotiations, if you're a kind of lawyer you're negotiating or trying to get a settlement, you've got to put yourself in the other side's shoes and say, what would I really want. If I were over there, because I'm trying to reach a settlement here.

So the ability to really see things from different points of view, that's a tough thing. you talk about how does law school differ now from 20 years ago or 15 years ago, or whatever. I mean, social media and yelling, and the ability to actually like sit down and think really critically about what's the other side's position, it's gotten harder to do that, I think.

But that's why what we do as lawyers is more critical, I think, than ever because I think, we represent some values that are a little different than what sometimes the rest of the world values.

NATALIE BLAZER: I could not agree more with that. So Professor Fore, one question I get all the time from folks who are sort of in the early stages of this process is should I work between college and law school. And I always say, it depends. And so I would love to hear your take on that question.

JOE FORE: I think kind of like the advice about picking a major. It's the question of should I work or not? Do you want to work? I mean, I don't think there's any advantage or disadvantage, inherently, in that decision.

I will say, I do think that the people who have spent some time out of school, I think they often come to law school with a bit-- I don't know if purpose is the right word. But they kind of, I think, are often able to adapt really quickly in terms of the regimented nature and sort of staying organized.

I think sometimes, they almost are a little bit better at that just because they've been out there and they tend to treat it a little more work-like. And so sometimes, they may not be quite as intimidated at the start. Because they're like oh, I've been doing this. And it's not a big deal. I can treat this like my to 9:00 to 5:00.

Sometimes, they might have a little easier transition. But both types of people can be incredibly successful. And I don't think there's any one type of job just like there's not one type of major or one type of internship that is inherently better or worse. They're just different experiences that you bring.

NATALIE BLAZER: And I'll just add on to that. I think they have purpose. They also have perspective. So if somebody is talking about education law in law school, someone has just come out of teach for America, they're going to have a perspective on that, that really adds to the classroom. And this goes back to why we're always trying to bring people who have come from all walks of life.

I also have to say people who have been in the working world appreciate being in school. Because as I say often, there is nothing better than being in school. I personally came straight through from undergrad. And I was rather young when I started. And I wouldn't do it any differently. But now having been working for 15 years, I'm like gosh, it would be nice to be in school again.

JOE FORE: Yeah. I think that's right. The perspective one is valuable. We talked about the range of things that come up in law school, whether it's economics or philosophy or anything. And yeah, people who have been out there.

And even we mentioned about when you're reading these judicial opinions, you're reading these cases, they're stories. And most of the time, they're about adults doing adult things.


JOE FORE: And it can be really helpful, I think. And you may not fully appreciate it. If you came straight through, you're 22 and you're reading a case about some business transaction or somebody buying a house that's falling apart, and you're like oh, that would be bad.

But if you've been out there, and you bought a house, you had a family, you're like oh, my gosh. I can't believe putting yourself in that position. And to have that perspective of being able to empathize a little bit with those parties, having a little bit more life experience just gives you a different take on the situation. Gives you maybe a more rounded experience, kind of appreciation for those aspects of what you're learning.

NATALIE BLAZER: For sure. So a couple more questions as we wrap up. I'm curious if you have a favorite memory from your time as a student here at UVA Law.

JOE FORE: Well, I probably have to say meeting my, now, wife.

NATALIE BLAZER: , Oh you met in law school?

JOE FORE: Yes. So I was in law school. She was getting her master's at the nursing school. So that was what-- meeting my wife was great. I think also, the one thing you didn't mention about my bio in the beginning, which I have to throw in was I was extremely proud to represent the law school in our Softball Invitational Tournament.

So those students who aren't familiar, if you're thinking about law school and another great reason to come to UVA is like softball is a big thing here. And it's a super fun tradition. Everybody plays. You don't have to be good. Just everybody gets out there and plays. It's really fun.

But there is this tournament in the spring, where dozens and dozens, 50 or 60 different law schools from Harvard and Florida State and Ohio State, all these different law schools come to UVA to play this tournament in April.

And there are some competitive teams. You get like drafted. And so I got to play on men's blue, which is like the second best team. There's gold, which is the best. I was on the second. I was on blue.

NATALIE BLAZER: That's great.

JOE FORE: And so that was a super fun. Like that whole weekend, getting to meet people from all over the country and getting to play a bunch of softball with friends. That was my 3L year. That was a nice like capstone. That was a nice like thing to end on kind of end law school.

NATALIE BLAZER: So I was on co-rec blue, which was like the co-ed, again, like second, I guess, best co-ed team. It truly is the best weekend of the year. And I remember so many people saying, is this what life is like here all the time, playing softball and this weather and these this mountain views.

And it really makes you remember not to take it for granted because you see it sort of fresh through the eyes of other law students from other law schools. So yeah, that's a great memory.

JOE FORE: And I, and as a faculty member now, it's really fun for me. Like I'll be teaching. And I have the students come into class with their jerseys on. Because for those who aren't familiar, I mean, the 1L sections will have their own team.

And then there's a field that's directly across the street from the law school. And very often, the 1L teams will have games like during the day. Like they might have class from 10:00 to 11:00, and there's a game at 11:30. And then they have classes again.

And so I love it, the students. Sometimes, they'll come they're covered in dirt. They were like sliding or whatever. And they'll have their jerseys on. One of my sections last year, they gave me a jersey. It was really fun.

Yeah. It's a great-- and I think you're right. It's a great tradition. And it epitomizes, like it captures a lot of what the school is about, camaraderie and balance.

NATALIE BLAZER: Balance. And you said earlier, you got to when to go on a hike or go to the gym or sleep. Having a chance to run around for an hour or even just sit outside for an hour and cheer on your section to have that break is great.

JOE FORE: It's really special.

NATALIE BLAZER: And I'm feeling all the emotions on this second day of class, spending nine months or however long it was, bringing in the class of 2026. Knowing that they are now in your hands in legal research and writing just makes me so happy. And actually, really excited to go out and get you another great group of students.

So this was so much fun. I want to thank you so much for coming on the show, Professor Fore.

JOE FORE: It is my pleasure. This was great. I really appreciate it.

NATALIE BLAZER: This has been Admissible with me, Dean Natalie Blazer, at the University of Virginia School of Law. My guest today was Legal Research and Writing Professor Joe Fore. For more information about UVA Law, please visit law.virginia.edu.

The next episode of Admissible will be out soon. In the meantime, you can follow the show on Instagram at @admissiblepodcast. Thanks so much for listening. And please remember to rate the show wherever you listen to podcasts.