Advice for Law Students*
September 14, 2011
I write to you as you are still young and impressionable in your legal education. I begin my 2L year here at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and I am by no means seasoned authority on the “do’s and don’ts” of law school. However, I do think that I have some good tips you might want to give attention to.
Let’s be honest, you really have no idea of what you have gotten yourself into, and neither did I. At this point you are probably still riding the high of the glitz and the glam of the idea of being a student of the law. Notice I said “idea;” in reality that will quickly begin to fade the first time you spend an hour reading a case book and then come to the conclusion that the only thing you remember from the reading is how frequently you were looking up the definitions of what appeared to be three words strung together (ie-notwithstanding). With that said, it gets better, put in the tedious time now to learn the basics: like definitions, and how to IRAC. This will make things so much easier as the semester progresses. The last thing you want is to be taking midterms still not understanding what IRAC means. Believe me, there will be at least a few of you who do this.
For some of you, this feels like an extension of your undergraduate programs, for others this comes after years in the business world. With that said, I cannot stress enough that your reputation is crucial. How you present yourself to not only your professors, but to your fellow classmates is paramount. When I am asked about the “culture” at law school from my friends and family, I tell them that it is as if i’m back in high school. Everyone has their opinions about everyone else. And don’t think that what you did at that Bar Review on Friday night won’t spread like wildfire by the time Monday rolls around. Not to mention the cliques that have already begun to form. The fact that you have a seating chart in most classes doesn’t help. However, I encourage you to keep this whole experience in perspective. Yes, we all want to make friends and find a sense of belonging. However, I implore you to dress, conduct yourself, and speak in a professional manner. Remember, a reputation takes months to build and a day to ruin.
On a lighter note, as you attempt to build a new social life here in San Diego, I pass on to you some advice that was given to me. The chances that you will be lucky enough to sit next to your future best friend or spouse your first day of classes, is minuscule. It is easy to feel lost in such a new environment. However, look at the various student societies that our fine school has to offer, pick out two or three that represent an interest of yours and attend a few meetings. This will put you in contact with other students who share the same interests and passions that you do. Also, don’t be nervous about awkwardly being the new person. The sooner you bite the awkward bullet, and realize that we are all in this thing together, the more comfortable you will feel and the less awkward you’ll appear to everyone else.
Attention to all you Gunners:
(a gunner: def. a person who ‘shoots’ his hand up at a very high frequency to answer questions or volunteer ‘ his perspective.’) Although you think your eagerness to contribute is a positive attribute, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Just look back to the last time you thought drinking that last shot was such a great idea. It’s time to reminisce on that lesson we learned in kindergarten and its relevancy to law school: “Nobody likes a know-it-all.”
On a similar note, my next nugget of advice is to those of you who are having feelings of inferiority or are feeling overwhelmed. Remember, the only person you have to impress is yourself. Grading is anonymous, even if people are bragging about their amazing test scores. Let’s be real: there is about a fifty-percent chance that they are “adjusting” the truth a bit. Now for a personal story, a parable if you will, last year there was a student who was ranting and raving about how well they scored on their exams. Ironically, that student failed out. Translation: awkward for them, comical for the rest of us who listened to them all year. Don’t let this be you.
Words of Caution:
Among the plethora of student societies, intramural teams, academic teams, SBA, ABA, BarBri events: remember that you are here to gain a legal education. So, first things first, if you don’t give your studies their necessary effort and study time, you won’t get that 2.0 GPA required to continue in school, and subsequently will have a nice $68,000 to pay back without a law degree. I remember taking my first midterm exams, and secretly thinking that I would have one of the top scores in our class. To my surprise, I was in the middle of the curve. You see, you are now competing statistically against the top twenty percent of college graduates. Hence, you don’t have that bottom eighty percent to balance out the curve and propel you up to an A/B student. The majority of law students were A/B students in undergrad. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you will understand the need to balance the Bar Reviews, late night beer pong at Entrada, and Intramurals with those Review Sessions and library dates with your case books. This is not meant to scare you, or force you into a hole for the next four months. It is simply to give you a sober perspective on how competitive this experience really gets.
Lastly, I encourage you to get to know your professors. Do a bit of research on them, they may turn out be able to help you with some direction into a particular area of legal study and work, or even an internship or connection.