Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Advice for First Years

As I sit in my office at work, enjoying the sun shining through my window, avoiding starting a new project because there are only 13 minutes left before I leave for school, I consider that it is the time of year when new law students tend to find my blog. So, if you are a new reader, welcome!

I am a 4L or 4E (4th year evening) or some simply lump me into 3L, but I know I've already been doing this for three years, so that doesn't sit well with me. I work a full time job by day, play law student at night, and try to keep in touch with my family - my wife and 2 children - during the early morning, late evening and weekends. It's been a tough gig for us all, but the light at the end of the tunnel looks to be daylight. We're going to make it!

(By the way, Wife's blog has all the family stories and pictues. When would I upload photos?)

Each fall I like to give out a few tips that I've learned over the years that I wish I'd known when I started. If you do a word search on this blog for "first years" you will probably come up with posts from years past. I could look back through those, but I would really like to offer something fresh and insightful. I've been doing this for three years. I should have accumulated some great tips, right?

RIGHT! Unfortunately, they may be muddled up with some mediocre tips, so you may have to weed through the junk. Very much like reading a case. Hey - there's a tip already - sometimes you have to wade through a lot of junk to get to the good stuff.

It may feel wonderful, or terrifying, or both, to be starting law school. It is probably both, but remember, ultimately, it is just school, and if you are in law school, you probably figured out already how to do school. Only this time, keep up on your reading. Really. You don't want to get behind and think you will make it up later.

Sometimes you will be on top of everything, sometimes you will feel lost and wonder what you are doing. You will wonder what you were thinking - going to law school! Crazy! Everyone I've talked to about this subject has gone through feeling this way at some point during their first year. It is OK.

Take advantage of career workshops, speakers, receptions, all of the extracurricular opportunities you can manage and still do what needs to be done. It is so useful hear from lawyers in your community about what they do, what their path was, what advice they have, and you never know who you will meet that might be able to help you out later. For those who don't know what they want to do when they get out of law school, these are great ways to become familiar with some options.

Grades matter, but they really are not everything. There is more to life than your GPA. For many of us, this is the first time we experience not being at the top of our class. In a class of formerly A students - suddenly we are divided into A, B and C students. It's a forced curve and it is reality. It's going to be hard for a while. Ultimately, it will be OK. After your first legal job, no one will care what your GPA was, at least, that's what I'm told :)

Lawyers like to help law students. Most are very willing to do informational interviews, or less formally, have coffee or lunch, with a student who wants to talk with them about their field of expertise. This is a great way to get relevant advice, figure out what a typical day is like for that person, and maybe even make a connection that will help you land a summer or full-time job. Your career services folks, and your professors, can usually provide a list of people or even make introductions for you.

Make friends.

Share notes - especially when you miss a class.

Don't worry about the "right" way to do a case brief, or any other notes. Figure out what works for you.

Try not to play too many online games or surf too much during class. It is really distracting both for you and the people behind you.

Have fun. This is just 3 or 4 years of your life, and it is an opportunity most people never get. Enjoy it!


Casey said...

(additional advice from the wife)

...and if you have a partner and/or kids, make sure you set time aside for them. Big trouble looms when you don't find, can't find, refuse to find (whichever is your particular case) time to reconnect and re-engage.

Trust me - it's easy for you to take your partner/family for granted while in the throes of law school and all the excitment and whatnot. Make sure you don't. I will repeat that: Make sure you do not.

You may be tempted. People may encourage you to do so by saying "You have to do what is best for you." "Put yourself first." When you have a family, you have to work out how to get your needs met while still staying engaged with your family. It's tough - I won't kid you. But if you love your family, you'll make it work.

If your partners need to vent, talk, whatever - send them my way. I've done this for three years already and it isn't easy - nor fun - nor pretty. But there is strength in numbers and heck - just reading about other people's struggles sometimes is all it takes to realize that you aren't alone and it will be ok. Eventually.

Good luck. It's a brave new world to be sure.

Dakota said...

My Wife is absolutely correct and I meant to add a whole section on that very topic.

There is no way your partner can understand what you are going through, nor can you understand what they are going through, especially if that person is left at home with the kids. You have to make time to talk, to try to understand each other, and to connect.

As a student, everything is new and exciting, and sometimes you may be overwhelmed with school work, and it will be easy to get caught up in your own world. Well, pull your head out and look around you. It will be worthwhile.

Monogram Queen said...

Not law school but... i've found it is hard not to be competetive and to realize I might not get the grades I did years ago.