Whether you’re becoming a full-time law student or simply getting ready to take night classes, law courses are a serious undertaking. It’s important to think carefully about and be prepared for the classes themselves, and there’s another whole range of concerns you may need to think about for issues beyond the classroom. Law school is a no joke, and it’s not for everyone. It can be very worthwhile though, and you should do your best to take advantage of your time and get the most possible out of your experience. Here’s some guidance for you as you begin your journey toward becoming a lawyer
Choose classes wisely
Law school is a special time specifically set aside for you to explore. There are so many laws and so many different fields of law that you’re never going to learn all of it, so this is your chance to follow your interests. If you already think you know what kind of work you want to do, go ahead and take those classes and try to find an internship or clerkship over the summer so you can get a real taste of it.
But even as you follow a track you’ve set for yourself already, take the time to explore other things. You don’t have to limit yourself or put constraints on your legal career before you even start. And if you come in to law school without any idea of a specialty or focus, that’s all the better. Follow your whims and see where your passion leads. Sign up for a specialized internship, even if you haven’t started a related class yet! And remember, the specific population of people you work with in a given law field should be just as important to your decision-making as the actual content and complexity of the law. This is your chance to explore.
Taking pro bono seriously from the start
Every board-certified lawyer in the United States is encouraged and expected to do at least 50 hours of pro bono legal work free of charge every year. “It’s easy to look at your occasional charity cases as just a way to check off that box, but it has the potential to be so much more than that,” says Laurence B. Green, a dedicated attorney serving the community of Pittsburgh. “Doing pro bono work gives you the chance to give back, connect with your community and even to learn about some areas of law that you might not ever learn about otherwise.” And there’s no reason to wait until you’re a fully-fledged lawyer to start.
Take time while you’re still studying to get out of your comfort zone and volunteer. Not only will you get valuable experience in different fields of law that will help you make decisions about paths for your work and pro bono choices in the future, but you’ll be able to grow as a person. Connecting to community is important for your health and for your formation as a humane, professional lawyer. If you build this habit now while you’re still studying, you’ll be better prepared to carry it forward into your practice. You might even discover a passion for a particular field or population!
Take care of yourself
Law school can be stressful and overwhelming, even for the most well-prepared students. It’s essential to find outlets and healthy methods for staying healthy and centered that work for you. Even with the crushing expectations and constant competition, you need to find ways to manage and limit stress. A lot of it comes down to knowledge of self. Everyone functions differently in different situations, so you need to find out what works for you to reduce stress and help you stay rested and sane. Don’t hesitate to get help if you’re not sure you can figure it out on your own.
Make sleep, exercise and eating your priorities and schedule your work around them. You also need to make time for short breaks to give you a chance to breathe. A 10- or 15-minute break for walking, stretching, calling a friend or having a healthy snack can do wonders for your productivity and well-being. Seeing friends and staying involved in the community can also help give you energy to keep working and it will give you a valuable sense of perspective.
What do you expect?
When you come to law school, it’s important to carefully consider the expectations you bring with you. Some people carry expectations about what things will be like after law school that may or may not be realistic. Nothing is a sure thing, and your work and compensation will depend on your luck, your location, your specialty, and how much time and effort you’re willing to put in to build your practice. You have to be realistic, and the people who are most likely to succeed are those who are in law school because that’s where they want to be, not because they’re hoping for a big salary.
You also need to check your own expectations for yourself in law school. For many students, law school is a more competitive, rigorous academic environment than any they’ve experienced before. Even if you’re used to studying hard and getting top grades every semester doesn’t mean that’s everything you should count on seeing in law school. The most important thing, however, is to not let this discourage you if you start getting grades much lower than what you’re used to. You’re not in law school to show off how smart you are already. You’re here to learn and grow. If the first grades you get back are disappointing, that means you have an opportunity to get to work improving yourself and fighting your way back up.