Wednesday, May 13, 2020

6 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting Law School

The past few months in COVID-19 lockdown have definitely made me nostalgic. In trying not to dwell on all the things I'd be missing out on, I tried to look back on the happier times and the lessons I've learned over the past three years. Law school is a long and difficult experience, and everyone is bound to make mistakes that they wish they could have avoided. Here are some of the things I wish I had known about:



1. Get Involved with MEANINGFUL Pro Bono Work
My pro bono work was probably the most inspiring part of my law school journey. Most of my classmates who weren't on the BigLaw train were interested in public interest positions. I admittedly wasn't sure which camp I resided in when I started law school. My first semester I kept my involvements to a minimum, and balked at the idea of getting involved with pro bono work that would take away from my studies. After accepting an unpaid public interest summer internship, I decided to work towards getting enough pro bono hours to qualify for a summer grant. The organization I chose to work with ended up being a glorified study hall: maybe 3 clients came in the entire semester, everyone just studied in silence while they were there, and I got nothing out of it. The next year, I talked with my school's public interest office about pro bono work, and they pointed me to a different organization. I loved the work I was doing, I felt like I was actually making a difference, and I definitely improved my skills. I continued to work with this organization through my 3L year, and I'm actually still helping after graduation. One of the clients whose case I did almost all of the work on got a HUGE compensation package, and I about cried when I heard the news (and I do NOT cry in public)! I've gotten a few recognitions for my pro bono work, and I attribute those to the fact that I am so in love with the work that I've gotten to do. My confidence in myself and my abilities has absolutely soared from my pro bono work, and I cannot encourage law students enough to get involved with pro bono work that inspires you. There are so many different kinds of pro bono opportunities. Your school will likely have a list of clinics and organizations it sponsors, and your local legal aid office likely has some opportunities for students as well! Not only does this look good on a resume because it shows that you care about helping others, but you get to do actual legal work that will make you a better employee. You can also make a lot of connections that could lead to opportunities down the road. Find something that you are truly passionate about, and see how you can help!

2. Choose Your Roommates Wisely
While roommates can be helpful financially, I personally would recommend getting your own apartment if possible. Living in close quarters with people who have different ideas of how to share space can be tricky. Add in the stress of law school, and it can get pretty explosive. If you're going to opt for roommates, try to get on the same level (and stay on the same level) for expectations on cleaning, guests, noise levels, and communal spaces. It's also helpful to meet the people you're planning to live with and get to know each other before deciding to sign a lease.

3. Take Classes You're Interested In
There are so many classes in law school to pick from. Your first year classes will likely be mostly selected for you, but in your second and third years you have much more freedom. There will probably be a few required courses you'll have to take outside of your first year in order to graduate. I would recommend taking these as soon as you can. Scheduling courses is always stressful, and knowing you met your graduation requirements early on can alleviate some of that stress. If there are scheduling conflicts, electives are easier to let go of than classes that you have to have. I waited until my last semester for one of my required courses, and it made scheduling a pain. There was a class I really wanted to take but couldn't since it would have conflicted with the required course. Learn from my mistake. Once you have taken the classes you have to take, think about what kind of law you want to practice. If you want to go into litigation, see if there are any classes for trial advocacy. Future transactional attorneys may be interested in a contract drafting course. While you should try to take bar-tested courses to prepare you to study for the bar, you'll still have to re-learn the materials during bar prep. Don't completely ignore bar classes, but don't focus solely on them. You'll do so much better in a course you actually have interest in rather than something you're just taking to fill time or because you "have to" for the bar. Another point on classes, try to get some experiential learning classes into your schedule. You'll learn actual lawyering skills that will give you a taste of what actually working in the profession is like, and they're great resume boosters! I took a pretrial motions practicum course and the adjunct that taught the class actually helped me land my externship! Interviewers have also been much more interested in my experiential classes than the doctrinal ones. Try to fit in classes that will mimic what you'll be doing as an attorney to get experience that will help you down the line.

4. Focus Your Interests
I go back and forth on this, but overall I think it would have been helpful had I done it. I did internships in two different states (neither of which I'm going to be practicing in) and in different fields of law. My externships and pro bono work are also a bit mismatched. While I 100% believe it's important to explore differnt areas of law, being able to have a narrative of clear interest in your resume is also helpful. My fiancé is interested in prosecution, and his resume is filled with criminal law internships, coursework, and volunteer work. He's had a much easier time applying for jobs than I have. On the other hand, I feel like I'm able to appreciate a wider variety of practices and have an understanding of a few different types of law. While this gives me plenty to talk about in interviews, having a clear picture of what location I want to be in and what area of law I want to practice would probably make me a better candidate in the eyes of employers.

5. Make Time For Fun
I was so focused on doing well my first year that I didn't do much else than study, study, study. Looking back, I think if I gave myself some time off it would have made me relax more and have higher quality study sessions. My friends all joke that they barely saw me outside of class that first year. There were a lot of times I regretted not having a bit more fun once in a while that first year. Studying is super important, but making friends and memories is also important. My friends are what really helped me through law school, and I would have had such a miserable experience if I kept myself locked at my desk the entire time. I also let my hobbies slip, and I became a much happier person once I picked them back up. Crocheting while binge-watching Netflix was always a great way to have something to do when I didn't feel like going out, and reading was a great escape when I didn't want to think about classes for a while. Doing the things outside of law that make you smile can improve your time in law school and make it so much more enjoyable.

6. Don't Be Afraid To Ask For Help
I'll be the first to admit I am not the greatest at this one. I've always had the mindset of "don't let anything get in your way" and "you have to fight for what you want." Admitting that I need help has never been something that I liked to do. Walking into a professor's office and saying "I really don't understand this, can you please help?" seemed like a fool's errand. I didn't understand the value of studying hypothetical situations and discussing them with professors. However, if you don't understand something, chances are that other people don't either. I was used to being the smartest person in the room, but in law school, so is everyone else. I felt dumb if I didn't understand something right away. Study groups seemed like a way for some people to show off how smart they were while others just internally cowered in fear. Well, that changed. I was talking with a friend about a problem we went over in class, and it turns out we were both confused. So we went to talk to another group of people- also confused. The law can be as clear as mud sometimes. Going to talk to your professors about class materials is a way to help you understand the concepts and maybe feel a bit better about where you stand. Law school also comes with a mountain of stress, anxiety, and a myriad of other mental health issues. Don't be afraid to talk to a counselor if you're feeling any of these things. Law school is tough, and needing help is a normal thing.

As my time in law school comes to an end, I want to wish anyone still there (or going there soon), the best of luck! I believe in you, and I'm always here to talk! To any law school veterans, what do you wish you knew before starting law school?

Make today the best page yet,
Paige

2 comments:

  1. I love that these actually apply to any and all kinds of new beginnings!

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    Replies
    1. That's a great point! I didn't even think about that!

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