Advice for Law Students
I graduated from law school in May of 2018, so the law school experience is still fresh in my mind. Fresher still is the paralyzing doom surrounding the bar exam (my thoughts and prayers are with all those who are sitting or who just sat for the July bar exam).
I’m sure that every attorney will have a different perspective on what they learned from law school, and things they should’ve/could’ve/would’ve done differently. There is no failproof way to learn everything you need to learn while in law school; frankly, it’s impossible. You can’t take every class, do every practicum, or every internship – and even if you could, there is nothing except actually practicing law that will prepare you for the practice of law. Even the best internships cannot fully prepare you (although some can give you a very good start).
However, hindsight is 20/20. Based on my own experience, here are a few tips and pointers for those knee-deep in finals, outlines, and law reviews:
Take practical classes and practicums/internships as much as possible.
Bar prep classes enabled me to learn a majority of subjects tested on the bar exam, but not necessarily much for the practice of law itself. I did not take as many bar prep subjects in law school, to focus on subjects I wanted to learn. If I could go back, I would have taken a few more practical, hands-on classes (trial advocacy, drafting contracts, etc.) Although it is extremely important to be well-prepared for the bar exam, as much time as possible should be devoted to the “how” of being an attorney. Every law school has different opportunities for doing this. Take advantage of them as much as possible.
Intern in a variety of places with a variety of facets of the law.
Unless you know for sure what you want to do, in that case, intern in that area or with that specific organization or firm as much as possible, to make sure you’re still going to want to do it after law school. In my personal experience, since I didn’t know what type of law I wanted to practice, I focused on obtaining a diverse portfolio, such as interning:
- With a district court judge,
- With a business/franchise lawyer
- With a firm in my hometown (where I now privileged to be employed)
- With legal counsel for a nonprofit organization,
- With the Directorate of Public Prosecutions in Uganda, to add some international variety to the mix.
The things I did taught me invaluable lessons about myself and the practice of law. Looking back, I would have chosen to stress less about what to apply for and what opportunities to pursue, and instead realize everything was teaching me something, even if the lesson was that I didn’t want to practice a specific area of law.
Take mental breaks, often.
Take care of yourself. Your law school experience is a short 3-4 years of your life. Although it is testing and trying, it is still a season of life which can be enjoyed and cherished, as it does go by quickly. I promise. Plus, the habits you build in during law school will be easier to stick to as a new attorney; that is, having a good work/life balance, making time to exercise, making time for family. Your school/life balance will NOT be pretty, especially during the 2L year and 3L year if you are working and/or involved in extracurriculars… but try to create some time for yourself, to disconnect, once a week. I exercised much better during law school than after; working off some steam was crucial for my mental sanity. Do what you need to do to stay sane.
Remember law school and bar preparation are temporary – being an attorney is forever.
Maybe not forever, but your career as an attorney typically lasts a lot longer than law school does. Getting a bad grade in a law school class will not destroy your career. Failing the bar exam the first time will not destroy your career. Taking one internship over another will not destroy your career. Take a breath, say a prayer, study those outlines, and focus on figuring out as much as you can about what you want to do and why you want to do it. That is what will get you through the first few years as an attorney, which could be a standalone blog post. Pursue your passion. Enjoy the ride as much as possible
Attorney At Law