For most of us, the first year of law school could be distilled down to a single word: survival. We had to survive our first day, our first recitation, our first midterm, our first exams, and our first grades. Being a 1L is akin to being taken out to sea and then unceremoniously thrown overboard without a single useful thing in your possession to help you survive. You know nothing about your new home, the Sea of the Law. You don’t know how deep the water is. You don’t know the currents. You don’t know where the sharks are.
Most importantly, you don’t know where land is.
After a while, a piece of driftwood called “Civ Pro” or “Con Law” bobs along and you grab it. It helps keep you afloat. It saves you for a little while. Then you begin to see others in the water. Some go under the waves and never reappear; others simply splash about; still others form small groups and use their individual pieces of flotsam and jetsam to fashion makeshift rafts; finally, there are a handful who swim confidently off on their own.
As your 1L year wears on, you begin to adapt to your new surroundings. You begin to learn a bit about the tides. You acquire a taste for raw fish and seaweed. You finally spot a small islet in the distance and make for it. After months at sea, you return to dry land.
Welcome to 2L Island.
Once you are on this island, your perception of your struggle immediately changes. The Sea of Law is no longer your foe but is a resource. What it yields can now sustain you while you are on the island and you can begin to exploit those resources as you plan your next move to return to the mainland. However, you are not alone on the island. Most of the swimmers and the raft makers that got thrown into the water with you have soggily made their way onto the beach as well. There are even a few old grizzled islanders around who speak a strange language, but they still manage to help you get on with your life. Those are the law professors.
Getting off 2L Island is just as challenging as getting to it. It is outside the usual shipping lanes and there are only limited opportunities to be rescued. Some insist that the only way they will return to the mainland is by way of a large and luxurious cruise ship, but they soon realize that 2L Island is surrounded by a dangerous reef. One must grab the attention of the big ships and then find a way to get out to them.
There is also a flotilla of smaller ships which are designed to come closer to shore. They are easier to access, but their accommodations are less plush than on the liners and often one has to assist the crew with a greater variety of tasks.
Of course, some islanders decide that they will build their own boats and will leave that way. Then there are a very special few who decide that they will simply stay on the island and help the next batch of castaways.
Yet, regardless of which method you choose to leave 2L Island, you will certainly be asked by the captain of any passing boat a slew of questions. What did you do while you were there to make you worthy of being rescued? Did you build a tower to make it easier for the huge ships to spot you? Did you dredge a channel to make it easier for a larger boat to get past the reef? Did you build a dock to make the island more welcoming and secure for new visitors? What did you do to marshal the marooned to make 2L Island better? Why should the limited space on my boat be given to you?
Today’s hypercompetitive legal marketplace demands that 2Ls cultivate experiences that show that they have more than just a solid understanding of the law. They must also demonstrate that they have the confidence and skills that will allow them to counsel clients, persuade judges, convince juries, and confront adversaries.
Put another way, they must present themselves as leaders. This can generally be accomplished in two ways. The more obvious of the two mechanisms is academic leadership. Excelling in class rank and sporting a gaudy GPA are traditional hallmarks of academic leadership. Closely related to those are grading on to law review or winning mock trial or moot court competition. However, these accomplishments only evidence excellence at an individual or, at best, a small group level.
A less conventional path to leadership runs through the law school’s work outside the classroom. Through clinical and volunteer programs, 2Ls may become leaders in their community by meeting the unmet or underserved needs of our citizens. Clubs and social activities also provide 2Ls with the chance to lead like-minded students and make the law school environment a more pleasant one. Yet there is one road to leadership that frequently goes underused: participation in the organized Bar.
The American Bar Association’s Law Student Division and various sections are terrific resources for 2Ls to develop their leadership skills. The Section of Litigation in particular welcomes 2Ls to join their committees and get involved through writing and editing. There are also opportunities available for those who want to present programming at the Section’s Annual and Regional Meetings. The Section even boasts its own ocean liner: the ground-breaking Judicial Internship Opportunity Program (“JIOP”). JIOP gives nearly 2,000 2Ls the opportunity to spend their 2L summer with federal and state judges throughout the country. More information on JIOP can be found here. These opportunities give 2Ls the chance to collaborate with leading attorneys, judges, and law professors as peers and immediately trade on those experiences as they enter the legal marketplace. The Section of Litigation helps turn 2Ls into leaders. It is akin to being invited to the captain’s table.
Answering the questions from the captains will be key to whether you get to sign on to a seaworthy craft as you embark on your 2L summer voyage back to the mainland. Your personalized blend of academic achievement and leadership skills gives you a solid advantage; the Section of Litigation could be an important factor in how you leave 2L Island.
Stephen J. Curley is a commercial litigator. He is a principal of Law Offices of Stephen J. Curley, LLC, in Stamford, Connecticut, and of counsel to Brody Wilkinson P.C. in Southport, Connecticut.