Sunday, July 8, 2018
Law students are the "cream of the crop" out of undergraduate, graduate, and employment situations. Typically they have been very involved in student or community organizations; often they have held multiple leadership positions at once. Many worked part-time or full-time during their studies. Some had additional family responsibilities while studying: elder care, child care, marriage.
In short law students are "doers" in their pre-law-school lives. They have juggled a variety of experiences while getting A and B grades in school. Often they tell me they "never had to study" to get those top grades. Many tell me that they studied under 20 hours per week; some tell me that they studied under 10 hours per week. They also tell me they wrote papers the night before and never studied more than a couple of days for tests. When academic pursuits come easily, it leaves lots of room for other pursuits.
Most law students enter law school with the impression that they can continue their high involvement in activities and still get the highest grades. However, a more cautious approach is probably the wiser approach - at least the first semester. Here are some of the reasons why over-involvement may be less than optimal:
- The cohort in the first-year class is different than the past cohorts in most classes. Remember all of you are from the "cream of the crop," and consequently the outstanding level of intelligence and achievement of your new classmates is likely different from the past. Law students were accepted to law school because they excelled in their prior lives.
- Law school is different than other educational experiences and will require new learning strategies and study skills for success. All first-year students find the fall semester an adjustment as they face different expectations for classes and exams.
- The pace of learning is faster in law school because more material that is dense and complex is covered in a semester. On top of preparing for class, law students need to synthesize the material and practice application of that material to new fact scenarios to prepare for best exam performance.
- Legal research and writing courses require lengthy projects using different analysis and writing skills than previously acquired. Even excellent writers previously have to retool their techniques because legal analysis is more precise and concise. A well-written legal writing project can take consistent work over several weeks with multiple drafts.
We want new law students to get involved in the life and organizations of the law school so they feel part of their new environment. However, here are some tips for entering law students to help them make wise selections regarding their level of involvement:
- Attend any student organization fairs that your law school holds to find out more about the variety of student organizations: purposes, events, requirements for membership, time commitments.
- Attend sessions that may explain community opportunities for your involvement: pro bono clinics, volunteer opportunities, service organizations, local bar organizations.
- Consider any school requirements on your time as a law student: required pro bono hours, mandatory extended orientation meetings for first-year students, supplemental study group-tutoring sessions.
- Consider your personal interests and career goals that may match student organizations or community opportunities: oil and gas law, criminal defense, immigration law, homeless populations, animal abuse, diversity.
- Consider time commitments that you already have outside law school: elderly relatives nearby, spouse/partner, children, pets, religious services, national guard service.
- Weigh all of these factors and look for balance in your commitments in all areas of your life; determine your priorities for your time - both academic and non-academic.
- Become involved in one or two activities that are good matches for you; focus on being a member who regularly attends meetings, social events, and speakers. You will get to know other students (especially upper-division students with whom you have no classes), feel more connected to the law school community, and have several items for your resume.
- Possibly consider being on a committee for an organization, but probably avoid being a committee chair or an officer during your first semester. There will be plenty of time in future semesters to take on positions of leadership.
- If you choose a "heavy-hitter" commitment such as Student Bar Association or class officer, be even more aware of not stretching yourself too thin your first semester.
Get involved in law school life, but make academics a major priority while you acclimate to the different demands of law school. (Amy Jarmon)