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They’ve been there: 18 of your peers share the most important lessons of law school

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Footsteps
Following in their footsteps: Those still knee-deep in law school and those who’ve graduated share what they learned about how to succeed.

Whether it’s your third year or you’re a fresh-faced first-year, hearing advice from your fellow law students is always helpful. Because let’s face it, sometimes the best advice doesn’t come from professors, but from your peers—those who’ve walked in the same shoes you’re now standing in.

Here, members of the 2019–2020 Law Student Division Council, along with other law students across the country, offer their advice to you, their fellow law students.

The best part? No matter where you are in your law school career, you can apply these tips to your journey.

Always remember to take care of yourself

Do what you can to find your balance in life. Find the one thing—or more—you can do to completely take your mind off school or work, such as exercising, cooking a meal, or going to a favorite outdoor spot. Law school is a lot of work, and it feels like there’s never enough time. But you need to take care of yourself to succeed.

Don’t be afraid to give your loved ones a call. They’re proud of you and a key part of your support system. Even a short conversation will brighten their day—and yours!

—Michaela Posner, 2L,
University of California, Irvine School of Law
and law student at-large, ABA Board of Governors

Protect your time, your mind, and your “no.” These things are like unmined diamonds: valuable, costly, and difficult to find more of.

—Conisha Hackett, 3L,
The University of Mississippi School of Law
and ABA delegate of diversity and inclusion

Don’t let the pressure get to you. Take it one small bite at a time. Also, don’t compete with others because it can ruin law school and isolate you from your friends.

—Candace Roach, 3L,
Creighton University School of Law

Have an initial discussion and be up front in all of your relationships about expectations while you’re in school. Then as the routine of your first year pans out, make sure to frequently check in and adjust expectations so your relationships don’t suffer.

—Natalie Hollabaugh, 2L,
Lewis & Clark Law School

If you’re a full-time student, don’t attempt to hold a job— at all. Not even part time. Not even a flexible option. You need every precious, spare moment for your own self-care. Your understanding will improve. You’ll learn a lot of new words. You’ll figure out what study techniques work for you. Your reading speed will get faster. Trust the process.

—Alisa McAffee, 2L,
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, William S. Boyd School of Law

You have the power to impact others’ lives

Being a lawyer is a huge responsibility. Your knowledge has the ability to either damage someone’s life or help it. Pick wisely! Also, be genuine, be kind, and remember to take care of yourself along the journey.

—Johnnie Nguyen, 2L,
University of Colorado Law School
and 2019–2020 chair, Law Student Division Council

Your reputation is as valuable as your grades. Be kind to others, be professional, and don’t be afraid to make some friends. The law community is small, and you get the wonderful opportunity to start shaping your place in it right now.

—Zachary Faircloth, 3L,
SMU Dedman School of Law
and ABA director of legal education

Don’t be a wallflower: Networking is big

Being a law student is just the beginning of your professional legal career and legal reputation. Get involved as much as you can by building your local, national, and international network. You never know which interaction or opportunity will be the one that makes the difference to your professional career and personal life.

Make sure to be nice to everyone, all the while maintaining your confidence and self-worth. At the end of the day, everything will be OK, so be sure to take care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally because you’re your biggest asset.

—Ayat Nizam, 2L,
University of Detroit Mercy School of Law
and 2019–2020 vice-chair, Law Student Division Council

Network the heck out of your time. Your grades are what they are at this point, so go network. Cold call people you want to meet and write them letters. It works! Go to every state bar CLE, the bar conference if your state has one, and state administrative board hearings. Ask questions of people who write interesting articles. The legal community in any area is small and hard to break into. Find the sponsor who’ll help you. Judges are great at that.

—Sam Laffey, 3L,
University of Wyoming College of Law

Don’t limit your experience to the four walls of your school. There are so many opportunities that exist outside of school. The ABA provides numerous opportunities, such as scholarships, clerkships, fellowships, internships, and leadership positions. Join the ABA and be an active member of the various sections and divisions that interest you. The ABA consists of lawyers from nearly every practice area, and I’ve found that it’s the best organization for a law student, or young lawyer, to find mentorship and to further your interests. Also, don’t let anyone box you into their version of how to become a successful student or lawyer; carve out your own path.

—Ashley Baker, 3L,
Southern University Law Center,
2018–2019 ABA delegate of communications

Start early, start small, and ask for help

Go to office hours. Participate in class. If your school offers free counseling services, use them. Don’t feel obligated to say yes to everything. If you’re coming fresh from undergrad stress, it’s not like that. You don’t have to be involved in 9,592,819 clubs.

Think the best of your peers and support them. You’re in this with them. If you don’t know something, or feel dumb for not understanding something, you’re not dumb because everyone else is probably just as confused.

—Skylar Young, 2L,
UIC John Marshall Law School

Start early. Don’t wait until the last minute to study just because the test is at the end of the semester and you feel like you have plenty of time. You don’t. Familiarize yourself with the material before the semester begins or the first week, if possible, by talking to upper-level students who can be your mentors and pass on their outlines. Constantly study and review the material via notes, outlines, and study aids throughout the semester. And build on the concepts, separate from your preparation for your class readings.

—Whitney Johnston, 2L,
Southern University Law Center

Law school, and life, isn’t about the handful of “big” things you can do or the “big breaks” you have; it’s the handful of small things you do every day: re-reading an assignment, working an extra hour at the office, making an effort to network and build a reputation, meeting with a professor, and so on.

Those small things every day are what lead to the handful of big things. Be willing to do the things and put in the time that most people aren’t, and you’ll succeed.

—Julie Merow, 3L,
West Virginia University College of Law
and ABA delegate of communications

Not sure what classes to take? Let us help!

Take a pre-trial course, even if you don’t need the hours. Unless you’re shooting for that number-one spot, don’t take yourself too seriously and enjoy your time—but still, you know, graduate.

—J. Spencer Young,
Texas Tech University School of Law, 2019

Take classes you want to take. Don’t “just take bar classes.” The bar program you purchase will be sufficient. Do clinical work, get off campus, and interact with actual attorneys.

—John Fortin,
University of Richmond School of Law, 2019

Involve yourself in classes you’re actually interested in, or you’re in for a terrible year. You’ll get better grades and become more engaged with your professors and peers if you take classes you love, not the ones that are expected.

—Sierra R.M. Williams, 3L,
West Virginia University College of Law

But what about the bar exam and beyond?!

Get as much practical experience as possible. It’ll make the transition to jobs easier. Also, figure out what your bar tests on and how many points per subject, then take electives that’ll cover those subjects.

—Morgan K. Blair,
Baylor University School of Law, 2019

Start the character and fitness stuff for the bar exam now—seriously!—especially if you have “application anxiety.” Also, my phone wanted to autocorrect “character and fitness” to “character and anxiety,” and that’s extremely accurate!

—Angela Kershner, 3L,
University of Baltimore School of Law

A professor offers another helpful perspective

I think many law students forget that their professors are there not only to teach classes but also to be a resource for students.

“Resource” could mean anything from writing letters of recommendation or employment to serving as a mentor and discussing nonprofits at the global level to suggesting upper-level courses.

If you feel a connection with a professor, take the time to talk with them after class, go to their office hours, and talk to them at school events. But don’t forget that professors are busy, too, and have faculty obligations beyond the classroom.

I’m always impressed by students who ask me thoughtful and succinct questions about the course material in and after class but are respectful of my and other students’ time by not asking more than one or two questions. If they want to have a longer discussion, I appreciate that they come to my office hours or make an appointment. I see office hours also as an opportunity to get to know students better. I love it when they have questions about careers or want to share their summer legal experiences.

Establishing a professional relationship with a professor is smart and can be a significant resource for years to come. Professors also reap the benefits of such relationships. I’ve relied on former students to help my current students many times.

However, students should always recognize professors have serious time constraints so coming prepared to office hours or an appointment is crucial. For example, if you’re meeting the professor to discuss a draft, a thesis, or abstract, or a paper written for another class, don’t wait until the meeting to give it to the professor—that wastes valuable meeting time.

Help professors help you by letting them know what you’d like to discuss and sending them materials in advance so they can be prepared to spend the meeting in discussion, not reading.

—Kristine A. Huskey, clinical professor of law
and director of the Veterans’ Advocacy Law Clinic,
The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law

Jessica Gilgor Jessica Gilgor is a 3L at Creighton University School of Law. A native of Las Vegas, she graduated from the University of Nevada Reno, where she studied Professional Chemistry and minored in Physics. Jessica was a part-time sports journalist for the United States Bowling Congress during their Open Championships tournament under the tutelage of Matt Cannizzaro and Aaron Smith.