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The Case for Putting Yourself “Out There”

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People who tell you to put your head down and study, study, study are doing law school wrong.

During my first semester of law school, I was initially startled by the rigor and pace of my core classes. Studying was all I did. I buried myself in my case books, endlessly briefed cases, and did little else.

When the December break came around, I emerged exhausted, uninspired, and relatively unsuccessful. I felt like the drudgery of the semester had resulted in little more than poorly occupied time and a cursory knowledge of the law acquired just long enough to regurgitate it at the semester’s end.

To avoid a dull and difficult repeat of my first semester, I attempted to do something different—I put myself out there. For me, that meant engaging with student organizations, meeting new people, acquiring a fellowship within my school, exploring and connecting with the greater community, and applying for this magazine’s student editor position.

By putting myself out there, I learned so much beyond the topics covered in my doctrinal classes. And I met incredible individuals who have enriched my life and expanded my understanding of the law and the world.

“Out there” is relative

Putting yourself out there in law school looks different to different people. For me, it was opening myself up to other experiences I’d ignored during my first semester and allowing myself to be more social and spontaneous. You may not yet know what putting yourself “out there” would mean.

Here are tips and recommendations to help you find the place that works for you.

Engage in self-reflection. Putting yourself out there isn’t a one-size-fits-all activity. Different people seek different experiences from law school. The place to begin is to engage in some honest self-reflection to determine which experiences you want and how to acquire them.

Who are you? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What do you wish to build upon and develop while studying the law? What unique perspectives do you hope to bring to the legal field? How do you wish to grow academically and personally? What genuinely interests you? Where do you see yourself in the years to come?

Determine where you are and who you are in the moment. From there, think of ways you’d like to develop yourself professionally or personally and avenues you want to explore.

Welcome the opportunity to meet classmates. You can put yourself out there socially simply by meeting
and chatting with students at your school you haven’t yet met. Strike up a conversation before class with the student sitting next to you or the person in line behind you at the coffee shop.

Hard for you to do? Remind yourself that you share a special bond with this person even if you’ve never spoken before.

You both know the boons and hardships of law school and likely both share a passion for the law. You’re both future attorneys.

Talk about a class you have together or ask for a professor recommendation from an upperclassmate.

If you don’t feel like socializing, just give that person a smile. You’re still forming a connection and brightening someone else’s day.

Get outside of your school. Engaging with the world outside your law school is paramount to putting yourself out there since you’ll be a practicing attorney in that that outside world someday soon. Find a community organization to which you can give just a couple hours of your time when you’re available. If you turn to a nonprofit entity, you may also satisfy some of the volunteering requirements most law schools impose. This doesn’t have to be a law-related activity. Any group will do.

Involving yourself in groups outside your school will help you refresh and do something aside from endlessly briefing cases and practicing for oral arguments. Be bold in this endeavor.

Seek out your city’s young professionals organization. If you’re interested in learning more about an organization, attend an event. Bring a friend if you’re not ready to go alone.

If you realize while you’re there that a group isn’t for you, leave at an appropriate time. At least you tried it out and put yourself out there. Eventually you’ll find your niche.

Through this process, you’ll become intimately connected with your community. You’ll also develop a deep appreciation for a segment of your community that you can bring with you as an attorney. You can use these experiences to orient your learning so that you can serve and advocate for these groups in the future.

And you’ll meet a wide variety of individuals you likely never would have met if you’d limited your involvement solely to organizations within the sterile halls of your school. With any luck, you’ll acquire compassion for a wider range of people and find within yourself a more enlightened, nuanced, and complex worldview that you’ll take into the practice of law.

Put yourself first. Putting yourself out there, however, isn’t limited to engaging in public service. Through initial self-reflection, you may find you wish to make changes for yourself socially, physically, mentally, or emotionally. Put yourself out there by putting yourself and your health first.

Physical exercise is incredibly helpful at relieving school-related stress. This is a time for you to focus on yourself, which, in law school, can feel like a luxury. Most law schools give students access to university physical fitness facilities.

Carve a few hours out of your week to work out, attend an exercise class, or play a game of basketball with friends. Alternatively, get outside and go for a hike, or find a hike-and-bike trail for a bike ride or a long run.

Also put yourself out there by working with mental health professionals through talk or other forms of professional therapy. Law school is an incredibly stressful time, and it can be difficult to discuss stress with your loved ones and other nonlaw students. Some law schools provide access to mental health professionals through the university for free or at discounted rates. If you’re searching for a mental
health provider for the first time, start by checking out the resources your school has to offer.

Putting yourself first also requires learning how to say and hold firm on a no. Although it’s important to at least contemplate most opportunities, it’s impossible to say yes to everything. There are just too many opportunities and not enough time.

Say no to prospects that don’t interest you. Don’t take classes that aren’t necessary and that don’t interest you.

Avoid situations that aren’t constructive and enjoyable. And don’t take an internship or job you don’t want simply because it pays well or is prestigious. Doing any of these things will cause more stress than they’re worth—and you probably won’t perform your best work.

Take the all-important weekend getaway. Once a semester, usually directly after midterms, I love to take a quick road trip. I finish all the studying I’d have to do over the weekend ahead of time and hit the road for a brief reset.

By taking a quick weekend trip, you interrupt the often-monotonous and grueling study schedule to do something fun and different. Not a road tripper? Hop on a quick flight to the closest major city, or go camping in a nearby state park. An even simpler option would be to drive to a city nearby with a friend or partner, get a hotel room, and spend the weekend exploring.

Break up your routine and have some fun for a weekend mid-semester. You deserve it, and you’ll return to your studies rested and rejuvenated.

Be your best advocate

Putting yourself out there is different for everyone. The degree to which you’re comfortable interacting with others may be different from someone else’s. I think it comes down to this: Understand yourself enough to know what you want to do and how you want to spend your time.

Law school is all about you. You’re your best advocate. So advocate for yourself by finding your passion and forging your own unique future. Be bold, be strong, and be deliberate.

Find yourself, find your path, and get going.

John Skakun John Skakun is a 2L social justice fellow, Moot Court Honor Society member, and Vice President of Akron OutLaws at the University of Akron School of Law. He is the editor-in-chief of the Student Lawyer editorial board.