5 Secrets to Surviving Law School
By Alyssa Pronley
Between the LSAT, the application process, difficult classes, and fear-provoking professors and classmates, law school can be traumatic.
Below, a current law student and a practicing attorney, who have both survived the process, provide five secrets you can use to make it through law school alive:
Decide if law school and spending the time to apply is right for you
The application process is long and tedious. Because law school is a major commitment of time and money (at least three years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt upon graduation), the first step is deciding if law school is the right place for you.
Loyola University Chicago professor and attorney, Michael Walsh, 48, says, “Be sure that law school is where you want to go. Nobody should go just because they don’t know what they really want to do.”
If you are certain you want to apply, it is essential to take the time to put together the application that gives the best impression of you. Emily Koza, 23, a second year law student at DePaul University Law School in Chicago, says that your resume and personal statement are critical. “Craft an effective resume and personal statement,” she says. “The personal statement is one of the most important pieces of your application so you should take the time to make it stellar.”
To look at the specific steps of the application process, visit the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) website. Along with perfecting your personal statement and resume, you’ll need to send your transcripts and letters of recommendation to the LSAC and fill out applications to schools on their website.
Don’t assume typical study tricks will work for you
Once in law school, there are hundreds of pages of reading required each week. There are difficult concepts you’ll have to absorb while completing this reading. Also, professors tend to call on students at random to ask you about these concepts. Because of these aspects, it will be different from any type of class you have ever taken, and you will probably have to adjust your study habits.
However, it’s not a one-size-fits-all type of situation. Walsh says, “Focusing on questions [professors ask] gives you a chance to learn to think like the professor thinks about the material, especially where you notice the questions are consistent throughout the course, and ferret out the concepts that he or she thinks are important.”
Some people will focus less on the classes and spend more time working through the concepts in outlines or with other people. But, Koza mentions, “Outlines aren’t for everybody. Neither are study groups. Figure out what works best for you and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing.”
You can decide what works best for you by finding the best time of day and method of studying that makes you most productive and sticking with it.
Don’t try to be intimidating, but don’t be intimidated
Students who go to law school often have type-A personalities and comparable levels of confidence. However, it is important to realize that it does not always pay to be loud and opinionated when dealing with professors and other students. On the other hand, don’t be frightened by people who do this. “There are people who will try to intimidate you,” says Koza.
But, as long as you are confident in your own methods and ignore the intimidation tactics you will be just fine. Walsh adds, “Like with everything else, you need to be yourself. In a short time you will likely find people whose company you enjoy as well as a few whose company you don’t.”
Don’t be the person who tries to answer every question and intimidate the rest of the class. Koza explains, “Arguing and talking too much in class gives you a reputation as a gunner. Give other people the chance to talk.”
What is a gunner? Watch the video below from the All About Law School website, creators of the DVD with the same name. The video provides testimonials from actual law students who tell you what a gunner is and why you should avoid becoming one. According to the video, a gunner is the person constantly raising their hand in every class in order to show how intelligent he or she is and taking up the class time of other students.
Do your best in class and network to get a job
The ultimate goal of going to law school is to get a job in a law-related field. In order to do this, succeeding academically and networking are important.
The United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics says that competition for job openings for lawyers will continue to be competitive in the coming years. However, they also say, “Employment of lawyers is expected to grow 13% during the 2008-18 decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations.” The Bureau says this growth will be due to an increase in population and because of that an increase in business transactions and legal disputes.
Also, according to the Bureau, students with “superior academic records,” typically from highly regarded law schools, will have the best opportunities for these jobs.
(See what else the U.S. Department of Labor has to say about being a lawyer, including the nature of the work, training and average earnings.)
Walsh agrees that academics should be important, saying, “Give it your best shot at doing well. Law school grades have a big hand in determining your short term future. The better you do, the more opportunities are likely available to you.”
Law school is also a giant networking opportunity. It’s important to put yourself out there. Also, remember that professors are there to teach you. “Professors are there to help you, not to fail you,” Koza says. Law school professors often have great connections and can help you if you are looking for a summer job or internship. Take advantage of this!
Balance your studies, activities and rest
Many law students don’t realize it’s important to get away from their books every now and then to rest. But to truly relax, students, especially in their first year, shouldn’t overload themselves with jobs and extracurricular activities if they can help it.
Walsh says that focusing on law school is important. “If you can afford to go to law school without holding a job that first year, you should do it and just give yourself on opportunity to focus on the material,” he explains.
Law students have a tendency to get so wrapped up in their schooling that they forget there’s a life outside of classes. “But it’s important to take some time away from all that studying so you don’t go crazy!” says Koza.
According to Walsh, the activities you do pursue should be enjoyable. “The focus should be on what makes you happy or excited about the law or being a lawyer and pursue extracurriculars that embellish that feeling. Law school doesn’t have to be an abandonment of your previous self, so if you like to cook or play volleyball, do that too.”
- written by apronley on September 29th, 2011
- posted in Writing for the Web