Great advice for struggling law students

Great advice for struggling law students

Probably the best book I’ve read in a long time is Toughness which is written by former Duke basketball player and current ESPN analyst Jay Bilas.  I’ve always liked him because he doesn’t give canned comments and isn’t afraid to take a position that isn’t popular.

Aside from being a great analyst, he’s also a lawyer.  Unlike most media people who have given up their legal careers, it appears that Bilas actually still handles cases and goes to court.  I imagine that his minor celebrity is an advantage in securing clients for his firm and before a jury.

There are so many valuable lessons in this book, but one of the best ones is about his initial struggles at Duke Law School when his playing days were over.  Bilas was always a decent student and accomplished a lot both on and off the court (e.g. he was successful in his high school theater department and on their team that had to make impromptu speeches).  But when he got to law school he became nervous about the amount of work and the quality of students in his classroom.  He simply wondered if he’d make it.

That is not an uncommon fear.  When you start law school, fellow students get freaked out and will brag about how hard they are studying, if only to ease their own insecurities.  That certainly happened at my school and it’s a tale I hear from just about anyone that at one time or another was a 1L.

Bilas went to his Dad and let him know that law school might just be too much for him.  His Dad is not a lawyer and his professional career is mostly doing blue collar work.   Even when he owned a construction company, he was right in there doing all of the manual labor.

His Dad would have none of his complaining, telling Jay that he sounded like a new parent who was concerned about a child not being the first among their peers to walk.  He wisely said that there is no prize for knowing how to do something first.  The goal is to know how to do it at the end, e.g. at final exam.

But the most astute guidance was when the father pointed out that there are hundreds of thousands of licensed attorneys in the United States.  Did Jay think that law school wasn’t too hard for them, but was too hard for him?  That’s ridiculous.

The same point was made by my professor when we were studying for the bar exam.  He had asked how many of us had been to the Daley Center and seen all of the unimpressive people walking around there?   “Well, those people got through law school and the bar exam and so can you!” he said.

So even if you are feeling overwhelmed in law school right now, just hold on.  It’s going to be fine.  99% of the lawyers out there didn’t finish first in their class and it doesn’t matter that you won’t either.  The goal is to get through school and have a versatile degree that will give you lots of options along with all of the debt you are piling up.

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