It’s that time of year again. Scores of idealistic new students are flinging themselves into the gaping maw of the nation’s law schools. Whether they’re signing on to become the next heartless corporate lawyer, a defender of the public interest… before shifting to a heartless corporate lawyer, or just trying to eke out a few more years of school during a recession, we’ve got another bumper crop ready to draw out oppressive levels of loans.
In light of this occasion, the law-minded on social media spent the last couple days handing out 1L advice. Here’s the essential collection.
Our own LawProfBlawg offers an interesting strategy that’s more useful than it might appear at first glance:
You establish yourself as literate, confident, and witty, three qualities that set you up as the counter-balance to the cadre of gunners that will spend the next semester eroding every other student’s basic sense of self-worth. You are the smart person who isn’t stuck up, making you a prized commodity among the class. You can add your own twist on this, but the point is strive to be the smart person who isn’t a gunner because that’s who people will want to work with and study with.
What’s a gunner, you ask?
Well, Ian Millhiser wrote a thread too long to embed about how you should “make work your default state.” The weirdest part of this is that his reasoning is that “Credentials like grades, law review, a senior editorial job on the law review, & clerkship matter a ridiculous amount in the hiring process, ” and yet, he’s also the first to admit that he went to law school to be a high flying Supreme Court litigator but abandoned that plan when Alito was confirmed. Because that’s the unfortunate truth… credentials are valuable to a point and then someone is going to appoint an ABA non-qualified judge to the Ninth Circuit anyway. Credentials are absolutely important to a point, but you simply can’t sacrifice everything at the altar of law school chits because eventually you’re going to realize that a healthy proportion of successful legal careers are going to fall on people who broke all those rules.
Which is all a long-winded way of saying…
That’s not to say that it’s not important to do well in law school. It’s just… well, here’s the thing:
This is more straightforward good advice. You got to law school because you’re good at school. Unless you’ve gone to one of the diploma mills we traditionally label “TTTs” or third-tier toilets, in which case you got to law school because you can draw one of those turtles. But assuming you’re in the former camp, trust what got you here.
This isn’t to say that law school is just like college — it’s not. But you’ve weathered every academic challenge because of your talent, not because school was handing you Tee Ball material all your life. Adapt your approach to law school not the other way around. Law school taught me to outline and that fit great into my existing scheme. It also tried to teach me to IRAC things, which I found stupid, so I ditched it. And it all worked out.
A variation on the prior theme. Adapting to a new setting requires some experimentation. The absolute worst thing someone tried to tell me was that “exam prep starts day 1” which is lunacy. You definitely have time to figure out how you’re going to tackle the exam.
For some people it’s lifting. For me it’s booze. The point is: stick with your regimes.
The gap between well-adjusted people in my class and the rest ran right along the “did you read Scott Turow’s One-L this summer?” fault line. There’s a lot of sepia toned memories of law school being a non-stop nightmare in these books and it really doesn’t have to be that way if you don’t let it.
I even got involved in the advice game to share this:
There will be dudes in sweatervests that will go to unsavory lengths for professor approval. Steer clear of them because they could kill you.
But if I were to offer some more sincere advice, it would be to explore what different legal jobs are really all about. I became a litigator because I knew what that job entailed. But if I’d really understood what a trusts & estates lawyer, or a capital markets lawyer, or an ERISA lawyer actually did, who knows what would’ve happened?
This is also good business advice. Whatever path you take out of law school almost inevitably runs right back into networking. Being the sharpest hermit in the class may work if, I don’t know, you’re a tax lawyer, but everyone else is going to need some connections on the way. I know people I can call up at firms, in the government, in academia and they’ll take my call because I didn’t contribute to their anxiety in school. That’s huge for me as a journalist, but it would be just as important in private practice.
Here’s another one on that wavelength:
But maybe the best way to close is with the best piece of advice.
Some of this stuff is good. Some is bad. Take what you want from it and discard the rest.
Good luck and above all remember to email firstname.lastname@example.org whenever you see something wild at your law school (you’ll be anonymous, so don’t worry about that).
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.