Ten Tips For Those About To Start Law School

Ten Tips For Those About To Start Law School

Later this month, tens of thousands of prospective lawyers will start law school throughout the country.  In Chicago alone we probably have more than 1,500, many of whom are moving to the City as I write this, getting apartments and probably freaking out a bit, especially if they’ve never been in the work force and are going straight from college.

It’s been 20 years since I was in the same position and while a lot has changed since then – mostly with technology – hopefully these students won’t make the same mistakes I and others made.  If I had a friend getting ready to start law school, this is what I’d tell them:

1. Treat it like a job. And nothing more.  Do the work you are asked to do, but if you act like being a 1L means you’ll be so busy that you have to cut out the outside world, you are making law school out to be tougher than it is.

2. Don’t be a douche. Kind of goes hand in hand with #1, but you have to realize fast that law school is like running a marathon. It’s you competing against you.  Telling your classmates how hard you are studying or what they are doing wrong or refusing to work with them or acting like a know it all in class just makes you an asshole and benefits nobody other than the people who realize that they don’t want to hang out with you.  Smart and likable goes a lot farther than smart and acts like they know they are smart.

3. Network. While great grades will get you the first job, for most others the first job and for almost everyone the second job will come because you know somebody.  Or maybe one day you’ll need a trustworthy person to refer a family member to for a case you don’t handle. You’ll meet a lot of people who you wouldn’t normally associate with. For me some of my closest friends were women in their 40’s and 50’s who came back to school after years of working. Getting to know others is both the right thing to do and in your professional advantage.

4. Have fun.  Law schools have lots of social events and as you get to know people you’ll find that there are a lot of parties.  There is no reason not to go.

5. You can’t win anything worth winning as a 1L. It’s great to get the award for highest grade in your class and maybe that gets you a leg up on a summer clerking job.  Not that you shouldn’t do your personal best, but doing so at the expense of how you act and treat others is a waste of time.

6. Exercise. It’s scientifically proven to help your brain function.

7. Study abroad. It’s the best thing I did in law school, it’s sometimes cheaper than paying your own private school, it’s incredibly fun and for many people it’s the last time you’ll be able to do that type of extended travel for a long time.

8. Realize that if like me you aren’t at a top tier school (I went to Chicago-Kent) that if you aren’t in the top 10-15% of your class you probably will have to make your own magic to get the job you want.  That’s not a problem, but something you should be aware of.

9. Don’t worry if you have no idea what you want to do with your law degree and realize that your plans can change.  The best part of a law degree is that it gives you so many options.  Many of my classmates wanted to be environmental lawyers until they realized that there were no jobs available that helped save the environment which could also help pay down their law school debt.

10. The most important test you’ll take the next three years is the bar exam.  So while you want to do well on your law school tests, if you don’t it won’t change the fact that you really need to pass the bar exam more than anything. And since most of law school doesn’t teach you how to pass the bar, don’t freak out.

Good luck.  Have fun. And don’t become the type of lawyer that everyone hates.

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