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Top 5 Tips for Incoming Law Students

OK, I see a lot of people on #lawtwitter and elsewhere posting tips for incoming 1L law students and for reasons I can’t explain even to myself I’ve decided to chime in. As an adjunct professor at two law schools for the past 12 years, including having taught the 1L Writing Class for 8 of them, and having practiced for over 30 years and hired and trained many young lawyers, I want to add this two caveats: 1. I was the first in my family to go to law school, so I had no guidance or idea of what law school was when I applied and when I got in. These tips are for like-situated folks. 2. I went to a lower tier law school. These tips are not for those going to any Ivys or top tier law schools – those who got you there by whatever means necessary and available can give you advice. I’m writing for my people.

  1. You don’t know now what kind of law you will practice or even want to practice. You may think you do, and you may have an idea of what you want to do but its really your second year classes and internships or jobs that will guide you to what kind of law is right for you and what will keep you interested and energized for decades. In your second year, take a class in what you think you might like and see if you do. If the professor is a practitioner, talk to them about what life in that practice area is like. If not, try your best to find a practitioner who will mentor you or take you on as an intern. Sometimes the best internships are the ones that show you what you definitely DON’T want to do as a lawyer.
  2. Yes grades matter but so do a lot of other things. I’m sure every new law student knows that they should get the highest grades they can, especially the first two semesters. What’s important to know is that if that doesn’t pan out for whatever reason, its not the end of the world or of your law career. The saying among my group of friends who didn’t get Law Review level grades were C = JD. Keep your eyes on the prize, you are there to become able to practice law, not collect gold stars. Also, law school grading is very different and you’ll have time to improve, or not. The point is do not let the grades define you. Keep your head up and keep working towards building your career.
  3. Don’t let the gunners fool you. There will always be people bragging about how much studying they did or how they prepped for an exam. You do you. I still remember two gunners in my law school who were talking about how they went home every night and typed up and categorized their class notes or were reading through Black’s law Dictionary (in their spare time) just to learn the terms in cases. Both never graduated. You got into law school people, you know how much it takes to prepare yourself; you’ll learn which classes or profs give you the most trouble. Plan accordingly, try to stay up to date on the reading and adjust as necessary.
  4. Don’t just go to class, join something. If an area of law interests you and there’s a club or society for it, join, if not, start one. If there is an affinity group that represents you, like a LALSA, BLSA or LGBTQSA, join it. Its great access to upper-class students who can help you with outlines, advice on profs, and general mentorship and provide some much need camaraderie. More on that in point 5.
  5. Find your people. When I started law school, I figured my social life was over. But slowly and surely over the first few weeks, after I dropped out of several study groups (I loathed study groups as a phenomenal waste of my time – but see point 3 , you do you) and stopped worrying about how come everyone else seemed to know the answers and I didn’t, I met my tribe. Like-minded, nice people, who enjoy a drink after school, laugh, party on weekends, are not pretentious etc. We not only all got through law school, we had a blast. Finding that all of us had done drama or played an instrument or both, we started an annual show called Law Revue making fun of the profs and the school, we hung out, played board games in the lounge, and most importantly supported each other. By the way I’m talking about like 5-8 people. Sure we had other friends both in and out of law school, but our core group was always our priority. We had folks who were on Law Review and others who barely made it through, but no one cared or judged. 35 years later, we’re still family.
    Conclusion No one can try to condense all that happens in a 1L year and prepare you. My point is that too much stress and emphasis is placed on the various “brass rings” that all lead to a Big Law job that may pay you well but that you are just as likely to hate and frankly just as likely to not get anyway. I turned down Big Law summer associate position for a paid government job that paid a third of what I was likely to make. I love what I do and have loved all my 35 years of practice so far. Sure I’ve had ups and downs and highs and lows, but I find value and strength from what I do and from having made the choices that were right for me. And that’s the best advice I can give – have confidence in yourself and rest in the knowledge that no one’s situation is exactly like yours. There’s no cookie cutter path for law school that works for everyone. You can and will make it through on your terms. And if you need advice or guidance feel free to reach out.

Follow me on Twitter @oscarmichelen

email me omichelen@cuomollc.com

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