My apologies for the hiatus… the semester crashed to an end and I am finally feeling like things have settled down. I want to cover the important end of 1L topics – finals / grades, writing on to a publication, summer work, and selecting classes – but I don’t want to cram all this info into one post. So, stay tuned over the next few weeks for posts about these topics (and more!) But for now, let’s catch up. I’ve missed you all. As of right now, I’m completely finished with my first year of law school. I took all my finals, completed the write-on competition, received my grades, and started my first law-related job. It feels pretty amazing to be finished – and I recently learned that I earned a spot on WashU’s Journal of Law & Policy! Hooray! Anyway, since you know I love to make lists – let’s kick it old school with some serious advice in list-form…
Here are the top 7 lessons I learned (and things I wish I had known) from 1L:
- You have to put in the time. I am one of those people who is very good at figuring out the quickest way to accomplish a task. I am also one of those people (hard for me to admit) who is good at figuring out the exact minimum amount of work necessary to achieve a goal. During undergrad, I wrote a lot of “A” Papers from 5:00am-8:55am for a 9:00am deadline. I graduated magna cum laude. I think people like me have the hardest time in law school. I was accustomed to reading something a couple of times, “getting” the essential concept, and performing well. But when you’re graded on a curve, this isn’t enough. Workhorses, gunners – people who eat, drink, and sleep law school – even if you think they aren’t as quick-witted or “with it” as you, will out-perform you every time. Professors lecture for a reason, and the information they give is information they think is important. The people who spend hours in the library making sure they know exactly what, why, and how the prof explained the issues and concepts will perform much better on an exam than someone who instantly “gets” the basic principles of the law. Of course, this is only my reading of law school and not pure fact – but it is never bad advice to put in the hours reading and reviewing your texts and notes to make sure you and the prof are on the same page.
- Believe the Hype (and don’t). My love of The New York Times has suffered at the hands of law school. Partially because I have less time to read for pleasure – but mostly because they can’t stop writing about how going to law school is a terrible idea. My initial take on this was “just because a whole generation of people messed up the economy, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t get to pursue the career I have always wanted to pursue.” But now, even I will admit, I sometimes see their reasoning. My advice to you is to believe the hype – the parts that are true – that the legal market isn’t what it used to be, that jobs are harder to find, that grades matter, and that debt is a big deal. These facts can’t be ignored and should factor into your efforts, choices, and relationships in law school. But I don’t want you to listen to people when they say you can’t pursue your passions. People are finding amazing jobs, people are successful – and if you work really hard – you honest to goodness can be too. If you think you want to be a lawyer, but still don’t know what field you’re interested in – that’s OK! Just make sure you don’t sell yourself short by not taking your first year seriously. 1L lays the foundation for everything else, so get those good grades and open doors for yourself!
- Have a reason for being here. The eight years I spent in high school and undergrad were directed toward one specific goal: getting into a good law school. I knew I was good at arguing, I knew I liked politics, I knew I wanted a fancy degree, I knew I liked working hard, I knew I was smart. What I didn’t know was what I wanted to do with that law degree. Waltzing into law school just happy to have been invited left me a little startled in my first few weeks. People were talking about types of jobs and fields I had never heard of, and I felt a lot of pressure to commit to one track or another. As I said in #2, law school debt is a huge commitment – and if you don’t come in to law school for a particular reason (or that reason is, I couldn’t find a job/I didn’ t know what else to do) – you should probably find a reason quickly and/or get really good grades so you have options. Luckily I got involved in some amazing organizations and was able to seek out opportunities that have helped me find a path. But, law school requires a lot of time, money, effort, and commitment – so make sure you have something to look toward that will continue to inspire you during the dark and stressful times. Don’t feel like you absolutely need to have the next 10 years of your life planned perfectly, but do realize that you’re entering into a serious commitment that will impact your life.
- Get involved. Some people might disagree with me, but I think becoming involved in organizations at law school as well as in the community is an essential part of becoming a lawyer. I think every 1L should carefully pick a couple of groups to participate in. This allows you to gain experience, get to know other students, develop relationships with lawyers and professors, and start to build a network that will help you find a job. Many people sort of blow off this aspect of law school and I think that’s a mistake. Also – take advantage of competitions at the law school. They’re free, only take a few hours, and offer great experience. Finally, make sure you complete the write-on competition. As you’ll come to find out, employers “prefer,” “recommend,” and sometimes “require” that you are a member of a publication. I’ll write you an inspirational post soon so you can refer back to it when the time comes (May 2012), but just keep that in mind for now. OH! And go to Bar Review on Thursday nights. Just trust me on this one.
- GRADES GRADES GRADES. #4 being said, nothing is more important than your 1L grades. Your first semester grades get you your 1L summer job, and then you apply for your 2L summer job at the end of 1L summer – so all you have to rely on are your first year’s grades. The job you get 2L summer is usually the job you keep after graduation, and if not – it’s the job that reflects your experience, talent, and expertise to potential employers. SO – everything is based on 1L performance! You can’t “ease into” law school. It isn’t like undergrad where you have 7 semesters to make up for that freshman fall (and maybe spring) spent partying. Each semester counts and needs to be taken seriously. You should be a well rounded person – you need to be happy and balanced, but you also need to realize that you’re being graded on a curve and you have to get to work.
- Read EVERYTHING. This goes with #5. Law School reading assignments typically consist of 3 things: Cases, Footnotes, and Introductory Material/End Notes. Cases are the easiest to read. Everyone (or mostly everyone) reads the cases, some people write briefs, others highlight, but you read the case, get the basic rule it explains, and go on your merry way. Professors know this, so some of them will direct class discussions or write exam questions based on footnotes. Yes, I am aware this sounds insane, but footnotes are where more spirited judges get to make their opinions known and stray from the more diplomatic tone of the majority opinion. It is also a place where they may refer back to a dissenting opinion and explain a contrast or send you to a secondary source that clarifies a concept. One of my biggest mistakes of 1L was that I found footnotes and introductions/end notes to be absolutely infuriating and thus largely refused to read them. Do not repeat my mistakes. The notes after each case as well as introductory material before is also incredibly helpful in understanding concepts, and about 75% of the time, class discussion questions will be based on the questions you find after each case right there in your very own case book. Sometimes law school isn’t as mysterious as it seems if you just do ALL the work. You’re welcome.
- Don’t give up. I know these lessons seem intimidating and I’m being more forceful than usual because I want them to resonate with you. These are things you might already know, but they are lessons I had to learn the hard way, and now that you’ve been warned, you should be totally set for life. (haha). Anyway, after all of this, you should remember that you’ve already accomplished a lot! Just getting in to WashU is a HUGE accomplishment and all the work you have done to make it to your first day of class here is something to truly be proud of. If you weren’t smart, capable, or dedicated enough to do this, you wouldn’t be here. And if you ever feel like giving up, you should remember that. Law school is enthralling, challenging, and it’s also a lot of fun, so keep that in mind as you read my harsh advice! =)
These are just some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. I’ll be posting throughout the summer as well as next year… so I hope you’ll keep following me through this insane law school journey. Best of luck and see you soon!