Here's some law school advice from our resident 3L, Daniel, who is currently completing his JD at the University of Southern California:
Adapting to a new style of work
As earlier posts have shared, and as I’m sure you’re all aware, law school is hard. The rigorous course load and novel work of deciphering cases and parsing through them to find relevant legal rules and principles can be extremely tough, especially at the beginning and for students with limited legal backgrounds.
- Read smart. At the end of each reading assignment, you should be able to understand why your Professor gave that assignment. Although the point of class in law school is to learn relevant legal theories, principles, and rules, you are also learning a key task: how to be a lawyer. As a young lawyer – whether at a big law firm, public interest firm, or government office – a frequent task will be reading through cases and generating arguments. You do not want to miss learning these skills during your 1L (or 2L, or even 3L) year. But, if you feel like you are reading through those cases and not gleaning any valuable information, turn to practice guides or supplements to help your understanding.
- Don’t fear the cold call! Cold calls are part of the law school experience. But no one remembers bad ones. Don’t be cocky. Instead, strive for confidence. If you’ve done the reading and briefed your cases, you will have some sort of answer.
- Embrace the unknown! Law school can be confusing, and you might head into a class with no clue about the subject material for that day. Do not worry! Embrace the uncertainty and the unknown and go with it!
- Schedule everything. You’ll have a lot of reading assignments, writing assignments, and other law school-related work. You cannot survive without a schedule: as little as a day/week/month list or a Google calendar can suffice.
Dealing with stress
Probably because of everything above, law school is really, really stressful. Developing good habits early will sustain your career not only as a law student, but also, as a lawyer.
- Know your limits. You cannot pull all-nighters with no end in sight. Be kind to yourself and recognize that your body has limits.
- Plan study breaks. Be sure to plan long and short study breaks in your schedule. With lots of work, each day may seem to go on and on. A quick study break – whether its go get coffee or run errands – can help break it up. Longer breaks, too, can be helpful.
- Don’t strive to be the gunner in the class, and don’t deride him or her either. There will always be those few law students who seem “on it.” They may be eager, know-it-alls, brown-nosers, whatever, but regardless, don’t try to be them. Focus on you and eschew unnecessary competition. No one wins when you try to compare yourself with others.
The law school environment is made especially tough by the competition associated with recruitment. Regardless of whether you are looking at big law firms, government jobs, or work in the nonprofit field, there are a finite amount of jobs available.
- Don’t think about jobs during your first semester of law school. Your first semester should be spent making friends and adapting to law school and all of its elements. By focusing on a job search that early on in your law school career, you’ll risk hurting things that also matter.
- Instead, in your first semester, think about what brought you to law school. You can think abstractly about where you may want to work in your first summer. Beware, though, that few big law firms – outside of diversity scholarships – hire 1L summer associates. Rather, think about what kind of nonprofit work you may want to do, if you’d like to Extern for a federal judge, or work at a U.S. Attorney’s Office. Your goal out of your first summer is to get good stories for interviewing, hone in on your legal writing skills, and fine-tune what kind of work you want to do in the long run.
- Focus on grades: your grades – especially in your first year – will most likely correlate with where you end up working after law school, assuming you want to work in a big law firm. Because big law firms hire at the end of your 1L summer for your 2L summer, and because quite frequently, they hire all their summer associates, your grades will matter. Although networking will matter, your grades will matter more: firms won't hire you if you don’t have adequate grades for them.