Monday, August 8, 2022
In the next few weeks, a new class of law students will flock to law school campuses for orientation and the start of classes. If you are one of those new students--welcome! Over the next few weeks, you will be inundated with advice on how to survive law school. Allow me to chime in with advice gathered from a decade plus of teaching and attending law school twice--one as a student and once as the spouse of a law student. Because this blog is focused on appellate advocacy, I will give a few tips too for students interested in an appellate career. I am going to post 5 tips this week and 5 more next week.
#1—Read the syllabus, the course website, and emails from your professor. Before your class starts, you should carefully review the course documents. These documents should give you valuable information about the course, and your professor will expect you to be informed on what they contain—like due dates and formatting rules. These course documents are similar to court rules, something that you as an attorney will be expected to know and follow when handling a matter.
#2—Go to office hours. Chances are really good that your professors are a cool group of people with vast legal experience and connections. You should get to know your professors by visiting them in office hours. Ask them questions about the course, ask them questions about the practice of law, ask them questions about their careers. These visits will provide you will valuable information about the course and about possible legal careers. It will also help your professors write you letters of recommendation since they will know who you are apart from the in-class experience.
#3—Go to cool events on campus. Is there a judge coming to talk to a student group? Perhaps an alum is giving a talk on their niche practice area? Maybe a court is hearing oral argument on a case. Whatever it is, try to go to these events. Not only will you likely get free food, but you will also learn something new. When I was in law school I got to meet the Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox and his wife of 70 years. He was being honored with a portrait unveiling and the whole Harvard Law community was invited. I was surprised that few students attended, but I am glad that I went!
#4—Recognize that you will probably suffer from imposter syndrome. Unfortunately, at some point during your 1L year you will probably suffer from imposter syndrome, meaning you will think that you only got into law school by some sort of lucky (or maybe unlucky) mistake and you are not worthy to be a law student. Imposter syndrome stinks but is also very prevalent. I had (sometimes still have) it. I suspect that most law students do too. Law school is hard and overwhelming, especially for first generation students. I would encourage you to talk to a trusted mentor about your feelings, and maybe even some close law school friends or faculty if you feel comfortable. You will be surprised what you hear!
#5—Understand that the amount that you talk in class rarely correlates with good grades. I am not telling you to not participate in class—you should participate. But please understand that those students who talk all the time (we called them gunners) do not have their #&*$ together any more than you do. Nearly everyone in your class is struggling to adapt to law school.