Law school is a transitional time. It’s several years of preparing to cross from being a student to being a professional.
In a short period, we go from being a regular human who doesn’t understand jurisdiction to a lawyer who knows the proper Bluebook rule for italicizing the ‘.’ after the Id. These years go by so quickly, and most of that time, we spend it struggling to understand the black-letter law, learning how to think like a lawyer, and trying to dodge cold calls.
But something else is on the horizon: We’re about to be lawyers. We’re about to be responsible for a lot more than a botched cold call—we’re about to be responsible for clients. The reality and the weight of that responsibility is important to keep in mind as we do such things as applying and studying for the bar exam.
Here are a few areas for you to begin thinking about now to help reduce that mental burden and help you make your way toward being a professional in the legal field.
TAKE CARE OF THE BASICS. This is a must. This includes the dreaded Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam. The MPRE is required in all states except Wisconsin, nor is it required in Puerto Rico. The idea behind the MPRE is to make sure you’re aware of the established standards of professional conduct for lawyers. This test is a prerequisite to the bar exam.
Know how to apply. The MPRE website is the best place to start. If you still don’t understand how to apply, ask someone within your law school administration.
Additionally, the MPRE website will give you instructions for your specific state. Each state sets own its own acceptable MPRE score.
PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR GRADUATION REQUIREMENTS. Your school will have specific requirements for different sorts of classes. Does it focus on classes that will help you pass the bar exam or maybe doctrinal classes that will give you a foundation for the theory behind the exam? Look at these requirements, and plan ahead.
The semesters you have left will pass by quickly. With careful planning, you could even graduate early. However, you may not want to graduate early.
Law school is already a fast and frantic time. Slow down and savor the experience. Most of us will never have a chance to pore over casebooks and really think about the doctrinal implications of the law again.
You may also have a writing requirement for graduation. These writing requirements can be long and may be satisfied in several ways— maybe you can use a law review note or an independent research project for a professor. But find out what’s required and whether you’re on track to meet it.
THINK BEYOND LAW SCHOOL. You’re no longer just trying to survive as a 1L—you’ve beaten that yearlong hazing ritual. Now, as a 2L, it’s time to start looking beyond law school.
Where will you apply for jobs? What do you want to do? Are you sure that what you want is what you need?
By now, you may have a sense of what you want to do. Are you called to be a public defender, prosecutor, or maybe even do BigLaw? Lawyers are diverse in what they do; they may be litigators or transactional lawyers, they can be client-facing or working in a cubicle. At the beginning of our law school journeys, we all had a vision of what being a lawyer meant, but now we know a little more—even if we don’t know everything. You can find your way in the legal profession, even if it will take some time after you graduate.
If you’re interested in a fellowship, start looking at this year’s requirements so that you can plan for next year (and avoid that last-minute crunch). This will give you time to prepare references, writing samples, and whatever other specific requirements that the fellowship application might require. Public interest fellowships are everywhere—and often in unexpected places. Almost every school has a list of potential fellowships.
Yale Law School has a list of those fellowships also open to all law schools. It’s important to walk through the process. Take the Yale Information Society Project fellowship as an example. Here’s how to approach it:
First, note the deadline (it was February 2020 for this year; the 2021 deadline will likely mirror this year’s timeline).
Look at what you need to include in the application itself. For example, for this year, applicants needed a one-to-five-page statement about their interest in the program that included their career goals and experiences.
You should also include a resume, transcript, and legal writing sample.
Next, you’ll send that information to a specific person who screens the applications for whatever the fellowship is looking for in its applicants. Remember, fellowship application requirements will be different.
This is just an example of one. Having walked through one fellowship, you may want to reach out to people who successfully got that fellowship before you apply.
Also keep the date in mind, and create a calendar. Work backward from the deadline, and this can help you set up a timeline for when you should start working on these applications.
This means that should you hope to apply, you’ll need time to write and revise a statement about the program. Never underestimate how long that will take. Give yourself plenty of time.
If you have time (a big if in 2L), make an early practice application. According to experienced 3Ls, the worst part about the application process was getting started. Get over that hurdle now so that you can be prepared to hit the ground running in 3L. You’ve already seen what goes into an application, and maybe you’ve even written up an application. You now know how to do it.
Knowing what you plan to write, what your resume looks like, where you want to apply, and the deadline will give you a leg up when it comes to the most difficult and time constraining part—asking for recommendations. It’s difficult because you may struggle to find people. It’s time-constraining, too, because your recommender is probably a busy person.
Starting off with a fellowship application is analogous to such other applications as those for clerkships.
A lot of people will be pursuing judicial clerkships. These are prestigious and important positions. The website OSCAR will also give you access to apply for some clerkships (especially federal clerkships). However, local and state judges may have a more informal process. The way to figure this out is to ask.
GET MORE INVOLVED. Whether you’re a 2L or 3L, you’re now more aware that there are countless opportunities to get involved in law school. It’s going to be a surprise (mostly for first-generation law students) that half the battle is expressing an interest. Being present counts for a lot in law school when it comes to extracurriculars.
Have you participated in a club that you enjoy throughout your law school career? Try to get a leadership position. Don’t worry about having so many positions that you can’t do a good job. Sometimes, the quality of your work is more impressive than the breadth of your work.
WORK TO BUILD BONDS. Now is the time to start building relationships with people outside law school. As a student transitioning into the legal profession, you should start expanding your own network beyond the law school and in the legal community.
But think creatively about how to do this.
There are a few ways to build a network outside of your law school. You can go the traditional route:
- Go to your local bar association networking events; these are usually discounted or maybe even free for law students.
- Try emailing lawyers who practice in an area you’re interested in practicing and offer to buy a coffee or at least request an informational meeting.
- Try going to professors or your career services department, who will often have surprisingly large networks.
However, there are alternatives to these more traditional networking options. Twitter is just one online community to consider. Create a separate, professional Twitter profile and begin interacting with #lawtwitter and #appellatetwitter. These are both thriving online communities with lawyers, law professors, judges, and law students all interacting online.
These discussions can lead to incredible opportunities, including post-graduation jobs. One Georgetown 3L thanked Twitter, and the connections she made on there, for finding her a job after graduation with a nonprofit working on prison reform.
Another nontraditional route is to simply get out there in the community. Start volunteering and doing the work that makes you happy and maybe even helps your community.
This will produce organic relationships. These relationships can lead to unexpected opportunities as people begin to know you and your passions.
WRITE IF YOU HAVEN’T YET. You might want to consider writing a note or law review article. Do you have a passion about something in the law, but you’re not on law review?
Good news: It doesn’t matter. You can write a note and submit it without being on a law review. In fact, that might even produce better work. You can consult with professors freely without the added responsibilities of being on law review.
The first step is to find what inspires you. Next, start writing. One prolific writer and scholar, Brian L. Frye, a professor at the University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law, advises that students who want to publish law review articles should simply write a draft, post the article, and then offer publication to the first taker.
Admittedly, it may be easier if you can co-author with a professor whose interests align with your own. Ask them. Express an interest. The worst they can say is no, and then you can always try to find someone else.
This is a unique and important way to participate in the legal academy without fear. Moreover, if you can post drafts, then you can actually create interest in your own work. Unique thoughts to legal scholarship are important and always sought after.
ADD TO YOUR INTERVIEWING SKILLS. Make sure you also have some experience with interviewing. Students come into law school with varying degrees of interviewing skills. However, there’s a difference between legal interviews and those in most other professions.
From the resume to the interview, the law legal profession is looking for something specific. This is an undervalued skill for many law students. Know how to answer questions and what interviewers are really looking to learn from you during an interview.
Should you get an interview, then you’re probably qualified for the job. At this point, interviewers are probably looking for a culture fit. For first-generation students, this can be particularly daunting. Knowing how to handle those expectations is important.
The easiest way is to get some experience in the interview room. Most interviewers (both regrettably and thankfully) have a list of questions that all seem to mirror each other— you can use this to your advantage. Importantly, before each interview, do more research. Really think about the culture of the potential employer.
BEGIN PREPPING FOR THE BAR. One shadow looms over all law students. It’s the ultimate final exam: The bar exam.
Many states are moving toward accepting the Uniform Bar Exam. The UBE is offered in February and July, but even if your state accepts the exam, you’ll probably need to comply with jurisdiction-specific requirements. These unique requirements can govern who may or may not sit for the exam, educational requirements, character and fitness requirements, and more.
A dwindling number of states administer their own bar exam. Be sure to visit your state bar association’s website to know the specific requirements in your state. The website will also have dates and fees. Warning: These fees can be high. They may also be required years in advance of the exam itself. A major part of this will be the character and fitness application, which is often required at least a year in advance of the bar exam. You’ll also need to pass the MPRE before the bar exam. It’s important to get this done early so you won’t be rushed or subject to late fees.
Becoming a lawyer is expensive. Don’t forget to save and give yourself plenty of time to study for the bar exam. Law students do tend to take on every opportunity they can. But while studying for your final exams, it might be the perfect time to take a step back, find a study aid, and just begin studying for the ultimate final boss: The bar exam.