Legal education has evolved over the decades from being a singular means to an end to just one step in the process. Many years ago, to become a lawyer a person simply got the education. Then upon graduation, employers would come knocking, handing out jobs and benefits. Now the roles have reversed: it is our responsibility to convince employers to take a chance on us. It is no longer enough to earn a J.D. and pass the bar exam. Surprisingly, there is still a lingering expectation, despite the recession and debates about how legal education is losing value, that law students will graduate and “magically” land a great job. We must understand that our legal destiny is largely within our own control.
Each student entering law school needs to not just know but fully understand that we get out of it what we put into it. Granted, that concept is simple and seems obvious, but I’m not sure many students truly grasp it. Drawing from my own experiences and observations, here are some suggestions for putting this principle into practice:
Grades: Law school is hard! The most important thing is to always put 110% effort towards our grades. (One caveat: Performance in law school is not the only definition of living a fulfilling life. More later on balance and holding on to sanity during this journey.) Grades are one of the most visible defining characteristics of a law student, and the outside world, legal or otherwise, will place a heavy emphasis on grades. So, this means: do your reading, ask questions, study with others, and consult trusted mentors to help you with success strategies. Although some people may have more of a natural inclination for understanding the law, that is not a free pass for others to simply give up on excellence because of having different strengths. The Law School Curve makes life interesting and difficult when it comes to grades, but always giving your best efforts will keep you from ever wondering if there was more you could have done.
Get Involved! Extracurriculars such as moot court, trial team, and law review are valuable in so many ways. These activities not only “look good on a resume” but provide practical skills that will be useful later. I’ve had the privilege of competing in two moot court competitions so far. The skills and confidence that I have gained from these experiences are invaluable. Panel interview for a big law firm? Bring it on! In this same vein, internships and externships are equally as valuable. They give us real world experience that shows potential employers that we are willing and ready to tackle hands-on application of what we are learning in the classroom. This is an area ripe for us to take control of our futures. If you are interested in working for a firm or externing with a government office that is not currently affiliated with your school, ask your career services office for guidance on initiating contact. Don’t wait for someone else to get the ball rolling because that person will then have the advantage of impressing a potential employer.
Networking: Everyone knows someone who can help shape our futures, sometimes in the most unexpected places. I have stumbled upon amazing opportunities simply by striking up a conversation with someone new. I highly recommend carrying business cards. Don’t be afraid to let people know that you are in law school. You may be speaking with someone who has a relative or close friend who is the hiring partner at a firm. Also, always keep in mind that, as a lawyer, your name and reputation are all that you have. Act professionally and courteously at all times. You never know when you are making an impression on your next employer.
The key is to take active control of your law school experience—you have the power to make it a good one!
This post was authored by Amanda M. Fisher, J.D., Savannah Law School ’15.