When I was first accepted to law school I was ecstatic. I immediately began reading and watching anything that had to do with law school to try to get a better understanding and prepare myself for what I would soon go through in the next three years.
Now that I am almost exactly a month away from graduation, I have been reminiscing about my law school journey. There was nothing that I could have done to fully prepare myself for what was going to happen during my time in law school. Law school is something that you just have to experience; no amount of preparation will overcome that. But there are a few things I would have liked to tell my 1L self to get the most out of the three year sprint.
1. Get to know your professors. They are intimidating. And much smarter than you. However, even the most seemingly unapproachable professor wants you to succeed and will do whatever they can to help you, if you ask for it. Attending office hours may be at the very bottom of the list of things that you want to do in your “free” time, but getting to know your professors is invaluable. They know the material the best and can answer even the smallest questions, which serves you well at exam time. But more importantly, they are great resources and often become great friends. When you need a reference, professors that actually know you, other than just as the person they call on occasionally in class, will write the best, most heartfelt letters on your behalf. And when you’re having a bad day or feeling discouraged, it is a relief to stop by your favorite professor’s office and get some much-needed encouragement. I have yet to meet a professor who doesn’t genuinely want students to stop by with questions and to chat about the material, or just to talk.
2. Be involved. Many people think that you have to spend all of your time preparing for class and studying for exams. But, it’s the extra stuff that sets you apart for jobs, and the extras are a nice break from the rigorous law school schedule. There are numerous clubs, student body association, writing competitions, student journals, mock trial, etc. Attend meetings for things you wouldn’t normally be interested in (for me, environmental law club!), and you will meet other students, attorneys, and judges; learn about topics that are new to you; and bonus, you often get free food. I highly recommend spending a year as an officer for a club that does interest you. The experience gained in planning and putting together events will serve you well in the future when you need the same skills in the workplace as you attend or plan networking opportunities and events to build a client base.
3. Volunteer in class. I must admit, this is the advice I often don’t follow because isn’t getting cold-called in class enough punishment? But, if you are prepared and well-spoken, volunteering in class helps your professor get to know you better, you will be more prepared and engaged in class, and it helps you to improve your oral advocacy skills in a less intimidating environment. Public speaking for many people, especially someone more on the shy side like myself, is hard to do, but, it gets easier the more you do it. And classes provide the opportunity to improve your speaking skills, which you need to do if you plan to be an attorney since that is one of the most important skills, whether you are speaking to a client, opposing counsel, or a judge. The worst that can happen is you give the wrong answer, and even then you get insight into what you need to study more in-depth for the final, which never hurts! Practice how you present yourself in public in a more laid-back setting like class and you will be less terrified when you have to speak in front of a judge or your peers.
4. Enjoy the journey. Law school is not “fun,” but there are fun moments. Final exams are a beast, but there is nothing like meeting up with your law school friends after exams to grab food and drinks and finally relax and rejoice that it’s all over and you made it through together. The bonds that you make with law school buddies are not like other friendships because you have all been through an extreme mental boot camp together, and no one understands what you’re going through like they do. Sure, there are many tough days and late nights in law school, but there are also numerous events, like the talent show, or Supreme Court Justice Trivia nights, or the school auction where you can buy a bowling night with your favorite professor (to name just a few), that make the experience about much more than just learning the law.
There are many other things I would like to tell my 1L self, but primarily just to relax. Three years may seem like a long time, and it may feel like a long time when you're in it, but it flies by! Pretty soon graduation and the Bar Exam is looming, you have to worry about finding your first job, you attend your final law school events, and you have to say goodbye. Make time to enjoy the journey because it is over before you know it.