Winter break is for many law students, a breath of fresh air. Fall semester, like any in law school, is demanding. Between outlining, preparing for classes, clinics, pro bono hours, and more, the pace is almost unrelenting.
So when we are given three weeks off, it’s understandable that we don’t want to think about work for a while, or the future. Yet these weeks offer a chance to do something we rarely get to do as law students: reflect. In the following paragraphs, I offer some suggestions as to things to think upon during your last week of break. For IL students, you’ve just completed the hardest part of law school – your first semester. I remember the exhaustion from studying and finals, and the anxiety about grades hitting me like a truck as my first semester concluded. So I know how you feel. As a 3L, I also have the benefit of hindsight. There are things I wish I would have thought about if I could go back. Fortunately for you, you still have time to.
To begin with, reflect upon whether your first semester in law school was a positive one for you. Did you enjoy the challenge? Were you determined to make each day count as one more step towards a goal? Or did you dread going to class, case briefing, the thought of two and a half more years of what you just endured? If you count yourself among the former, that’s good. It means that while you will encounter disappointments and adversity as you complete your doctorate, you won’t quit. You’ll have the willpower to keep pushing, and as everyone says, it does get better. If you hated your first semester, don’t be ashamed of that. Be proud that you had the courage to attempt law school, something many people would never do. Yet, think carefully about the next step. After one semester, you aren’t in too deep. Your loan amount is still relatively small compared to three full years of tuition. You still have time to consider other career options. The most important thing you can do for yourself is thinking hard about what you want to spend the next twenty years of your life doing. If you don’t see the benefit of getting a law degree, then you should attempt something else. You’ll be more likely to succeed at whatever that is, and you’ll probably be happier too.
That being said, a law degree is a versatile thing. You don’t have to be a lawyer. You can work in law enforcement, the government, or for private companies. While a law degree doesn’t guarantee a legal job, it does provide a solid testament to your cognitive abilities. Everybody knows that at the end of the day, you possess a doctorate in an academic area. That’s worth a lot. So before you make the jump to another career, consider the applicability of a J.D.
As a 2L, congratulations, you are halfway done. You’ve proven to yourself and others that you have what it takes to pass tough legal courses, and you probably feel good about the effort you’ve put in thus far. So what’s the next step at this point? One word: externships. With your 2L summer coming up, you can work for a variety of different employers in a legal capacity and gain valuable experience. Now is the time to start looking at what externships are available. Go on to Symplicity and check out the career development office postings. You can work for St. Alphonsus, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Boise State, the Idaho Supreme Court, and many others. Although you won’t be getting paid, the boost to your resume will be invaluable. Employers will see that you have performed actual legal work and performed it well. It’s a worthwhile investment.
For 3Ls, the homestretch looms. This your last semester of law school. For most 3L’s, the answer to what they should be thinking about is both obvious and intimidating: the bar exam. Now is the time to complete your application for the exam. You can access it online at www.isb.idaho.gov. The application is lengthy, and requires the submission of several pieces of supplemental information. The sooner you tackle it, the more time you have to address problems that may arise during the application process. Another thing a 3L should be thinking about is what jobs they can apply for, if any, right now. If you know that you only want to practice law, consider compiling a list of firms to contact later in the spring. Let them know that you will be sitting for the bar soon. You may score a preliminary interview, and maybe even a contingent job offer. If you are interested in government work, it is NOT too soon to apply. Many government jobs require a security clearance, which involves a thorough background check. The sooner you apply, the less time you will have to wait between the bar exam and getting paid.
A final note for 3L’s: don’t forget to take a moment and appreciate how far you’ve come. Enjoy your last semester, but plan for the future – it looks bright.Best, Kanoa