Monday, August 24, 2009

For new law students

Many law schools across the U.S. are starting classes this week, which means a whole new class of 1L's. It seems like every lawyer or returning law student has advice to dispense to the new law students, so I'll pitch in my three bits of wisdom. My successes and failures in law school were largely based on how well I adhered to these suggestions.
  • Work hard. It may be obvious, but it's worth stating up front. Law school is intentionally hard, and you will be competing with some of the best and brightest minds. You will also be learning to think in new patterns and with new concepts. Put the time in, do the reading, and be prepared for class. A lot of law students are naturally intelligent and may not have had to do much work to excel in undergrad. That won't cut it in law school and it won't cut it in the real world.
  • Find a schedule that works for you—and stick with it. When I was in law school I treated it like a job. I went into school in the morning and I left at the end of the day or whenever I finished my work. Some people prefer to get up early so they can be home earlier. Others like to work late. Develop a schedule that allows you to get all your work done, and stick to it. Being able to focus for long periods of time is a skill you must learn in order to succeed in law school and to succeed in legal practice after you graduate.
  • Keep your priorities straight. You may be spending upwards of $100,000 to go to law school, so it should rightly be your top priority—most of the time. But you must keep some balance in your life. It is possible to spend too much time doing school work. I've seen classmates do it, and it's unhealthy and ultimately unproductive. Make time for friends, family, scripture study, church service, and community involvement. You may even have to schedule some of these items to fit them in. Just make sure they happen. Even though law school is very important, your family or other priorities may trump your studies from time to time. And that's okay. 
I also recommend that all new 1L's (and even returning law students) read "To Beginning Law Students," a brief but worthwhile article in the December 2002 issue of First Things magazine by Arizona State University law professor Patrick McKinley Brown.

If any of the readers have better advice to new law students or things they wish they had done in law school, feel free to share them in the comments.

Photo credit: Jesse Michael Nix.