Life Lessons Learned from Law School

By The Black Fin Team

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Category: #Winning


One of the things that makes us effective marketers for law firms is that we work with actual attorneys on our team. So when we brought up the idea of an article on how to succeed in law school, well… they had some things to say!

Below, we present their tips for climbing that latter and taking the stress in stride.

1. There Is Life Outside of Law School (But Only if You Let Yourself Live It)

If you’re going to law school, this probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard someone tell you to take it easy, keep calm, or look for a little balance in life.

But we’re going to say it again because, frankly, it’s something every law student needs to hear by dinner time every day.

Take it easy. Keep calm. Look for a little balance in life.

Law school will consume every single second of your life if you let it. But it’s completely unnecessary to take that path, no matter how inadequate you might feel when Prof. Barkisworse Thanhisbite grills you on some case you read twenty times and still didn’t understand.

Because here’s a little secret: the kids who spent all night with that case and nailed their in-class inquisition feel every bit as inadequate. They’re also exhausted and unhappy.

When these three years are over, you’ll look back and wish you had memories outside of a textbook. So go make them. We promise you can have fun at some point every single day and still get that Esq. at the end of your name.

2. If You’re Losing Sleep or Gaining Weight, You’re Doing It Wrong

Naturally, people sometimes struggle with their weight or their sleep for reasons completely unrelated to school, and that’s okay. That’s part of life.

But if law school is the reason for your insatiable appetite, bad dietary decisions, or insomnia, it’s time to step back and realize something isn’t working.

You’re likely putting too much stress on yourself, spending too much time in the books, or managing your timely unwisely.

There isn’t a single student in the world who needs to push themselves past the point of sleep or healthy eating to succeed in law school.

3. Don’t Sweat the Students

Lawyers have a reputation for being… well… difficult. When you get into the real world and join a practice, you’ll find that there’s some truth in the stigma, but it’s hardly universal.

But first, you’ve got to get through law school, and your fellow students can be… well… difficult. And the stigma seems even truer while you’re in the hallowed halls of academia.

Here’s the thing: everyone’s a mess inside. Law school is scary and stressful and graded on a curve. The pressure rubs on everyone’s nerves, and it can bring out the worst in anybody.

If someone’s pushy attitude is more than you can bear, remind yourself that 99% of it is just their shtick.

Brush them off, smile, respond with kindness, and keep your eye on the prize. You do you.

4. You’ll All Be on Equal Footing in Under Three Years

What a weird concept! Those professors you fear and admire? They’re lawyers. And in less than three years, you’ll be one too — equal in the eyes of any court.

Heck, you might be up against your professor in court before your five-year reunion! It isn’t unheard of.

Of course, the flip side of this is that your professor could end up becoming a judge, and you’ll be arguing in front of them when the stakes are much higher than they are right now.

Likewise, your fellow students might end up on the other side of a case… or working right next to you in a firm. There are a lot of lawyers in the United States, and yet the profession still seems small.

There are two takeaways from all this:

  1. Keep your confidence. No one in the classroom is any better or smarter than you are. The only difference is education and experience… and that’s what you’re here to get.
  2. Mind your reputation. It’ll follow you for a long, long time. Keep your private life private. Go easy on the alcohol at school functions. Be courteous, professional, and attentive. Some of these relationships will still be a part of your life fifty years from now.

5. Write That Book Before You Graduate

Have you ever wanted to write a book? Spend the summer backpacking across Europe? Now’s the time to do it.

Actually, let us rephrase.

If you’re a 1L, now is not the time to do it.

But if you’re a 3L? Now we’re talking. Look, school is still important, so continue to take it seriously.

Still, your first year as a junior associate in Big Law will be a lot busier than your final year as a student, and you might have even less financial freedom then. You only get one life, and you could spend a lot of it as a lawyer. So go fulfill one more dream before that Big Law journey begins.

6. Test Takers > Gunners

There’s a misconception among law students that gunners get the best grades.

You know who the gunners are. They practically leap to their feet when it comes time for a case recitation, eager to hold up their blindingly highlighted outline for all to see.

But what Joseph and His Multi-Colored Dream Notes don’t know is that book reading and test taking aren’t the same thing.

Most law school finals are essay-based, and the skill they’re testing is issue spotting. Your professors want to know if you can identify the potential legal issues in a hypothetical fact pattern and then write about them competently.

Answers are important, but being able to raise questions matters even more.

So while Joey dries out every highlighter in the Student Union, you spend your study time with test taking in mind.

7. Don’t Get Lost in the Cases. Outlines Are Your Friends.

1Ls tend to get so lost among the trees that they never step back to see the forest.With a few exceptions (Constitutional Law, for example), the cases you read and recite each day aren’t the end game.

With a few exceptions (Constitutional Law, for example), the cases you read and recite each day aren’t the end game.This is where the Socratic Method trips up newbies. Law school’s approach to education is radically different from college’s.

This is where the Socratic Method trips up newbies. Law school’s approach to education is radically different from college’s.What you’re looking for in a case is:

What you’re looking for in a case is:

  • The rule of law
  • The way the court writes about the issues in the case
  • The skill of using reason to apply the rule of law to the issues (not so much the court’s specific rationale for that specific set of facts)

In a sense, you’re learning by immersion, not by memorization. That’s why it’s a good idea to prepare for class with an outline by your side.

Never rely entirely on a commercial outline or summary set. But do use those resources as supplements. They can help you keep your eyes fixed on the big picture.

One other note: if you use another student’s outline, make sure it’s a good one. Remember… they aren’t any smarter than you are.

8. Pay Attention in Those Library Lessons

Some law school programs put a bigger emphasis on legal research than others. But nearly all of them have at least a library day at some point. A funny thing happens then. Students’ field trip instincts kick in, and as they’ve done with a hundred substitute teachers in their elementary days, they tune out.

Ignorance is bliss, but it comes back to bite you in the end. We’re always hearing from partners in big law firms who lament that recent graduates can’t research to save their lives.

Take note of that, because some law schools have jobs just for lawyers who are good at researching.

Researching cases is not an intuitive skill, so seize the opportunity to learn it early on. Part of succeeding in law school is making yourself hire-able.

9. School’s Out for the Summer… Or Is It?

Every law student has an opinion on how their fellow students should spend their summers.

Some will opt for fun in the sun.

Others will sign up for every internship, externship, clerkship, clinic, and summer class they can find.

We knew people who took either approach. And guess what? They’re all lawyers now. None of them regret their choices either.

If you choose an academic or professional experience, you will almost certainly get a lot out of it. Then again, there’s valuable experience in living a little life too.

And then there’s the oft-overlooked middle ground: accept an internship that’ll still let you cut loose or take a trip somewhere. They do exist.

Commit Yourself to Excellence

Above all else, if there’s one rule that should guide you through these three years, it is this: be excellent.

That’s a rule we set for ourselves as a law firm marketing agency. It’s an ethos that our founder, Gerrid Smith, embedded in our business from day one.

Of course, we realize that there are multiple kinds of excellence, and that’s the point we want to drive home here. Be an excellent student. But also be an excellent person. Be well rounded. Be balanced.

If there is a single answer to the question of how to succeed in law school, it’s this: master the mental game.

Don’t let law school get the best of you… go get the best of it.

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