The editors of The 10-Q thought it may be helpful for new students, or those who may know new students, to have a few tips on how to handle the first year of law school, from the perspective of students with a business-law trajectory. The advice is broken down into two sections—school work and personal/social advice.
- Your first year of law school is difficult, but know that on any given day, a pretty good number of your classmates find it challenging, too. The key is to maintain focus, learn every day, and never let them see you sweat.
- Treat law school like a full-time job, because it is. If you are leaving a job to enter law school, then maintain the hours you kept at your job. If you just graduated from college and have never held a full-time job, then make sure you hit the ground running. Wake up early, have a plan for the day, and work until you complete it (regardless of what you may have heard about law school, there is such a point when you are finished for the day).
- Your reputation matters from Day 1. Yes, law school is competitive but do not be the jerk. Those in your classroom may be your competition, but they’re also your future colleagues. Do not burn bridges. It’s a small world in the legal community, and word gets around.
- There is no alternative to actually doing the assigned reading. You will find countless sources of supplemental information on the Internet, which can enhance your learning, but not until you read and understand the primary sources—the judges, statutes, etc.—can you grasp what you need to know.
- Listen, Part 1. This cannot be stressed enough. Your professors want you to learn and succeed. Believe it or not, sometimes they have useful things to say. If you understand what they say, great. If you don’t (and nobody understands everything), then do something about it. Re-do the reading, go to the professor’s office hours, ask your classmates, ask upper-level students, Google it, or even ask another professor. There is no single right way to learn the material, but the wrong way is to wait until the final exam to figure it out.
- Listen, Part 2. Often, the most important observations come not from professors but instead from students. You should listen to your classmates at least as carefully as you listen to your professors. This can be difficult, in part because some student comments will be more useful than others. Careful listening means developing the ability to sort the wheat from the chaff.
- Do not stress about cold calls. Yes, you will be called on in class, sometimes unexpectedly. And you will have to speak. In front of the class. Most faculty do not seek to embarrass or disparage you. The goal, instead, is for the entire class to learn. While your answers in class have no bearing on your final grade, if you are struggling to answer questions then it may be a good idea to discuss the material with your professor at office hours.
- Keep an open mind, Part 1. Whether you’re radical, liberal, conservative, libertarian, or just plain indifferent, it’s a good idea to see an issue from all perspectives. As you can imagine, there are judges and politicians who fit into all of the foregoing categories. You are going to read cases that you fundamentally disagree with. You cannot develop an effective counterargument unless you first understand the other side’s position.
- Keep an open mind, Part 2. Think about exploring the world of business law. It may not sound as exciting as areas of law you are more familiar with, but business law still has theory, doctrine, philosophical debates between judges, and its own nerdy drama. Plus, it’s what most lawyers end up doing for a living—and they learn that it can be fun, interesting and rewarding.
- Pursuing business law is not necessarily antithetical to doing good. You’re not “selling out.” As counsel to corporations, you have the opportunity to make sure companies are good corporate citizens. Good business lawyers help to make good corporations.
- There is sometimes a steeper learning curve in business law courses because law students must learn both business and legal jargon, but don’t be discouraged, because almost every student is learning business and legal jargon from square one.
- If your contracts law class does not click with you this fall, take heart. There is more to business law than what a single class can reveal. Business lawyers confront a large range of matters, from employment law, to torts, intellectual property, bankruptcy, and securities. Did you come to Temple to be a criminal lawyer? You may notice that white collar crime is a booming industry—and an important aspect of business law.
- The business law community is not monolithic. It can be quite diverse, and is becoming more so as clients demand greater diversity among lawyers in all dimensions. Many attorneys think about the in-house route and business law – whether you actually practice in that area or not – is invaluable in understanding a for-profit or not-for-profit’s legal needs, as well as business goals and objectives.
- Law school is stressful. The best way to deal with this stress is to maintain balance: keep up with your school work and stay involved with activities outside of the classroom. Whether it’s going to the gym, volunteering, trying the latest restaurant, binge-viewing Netflix, or hanging out with friends, make sure you take time for yourself.
- If you know that you did all of your work during the week, don’t stress out because someone is Snapchatting pictures of the library on Saturday afternoon. Law school does not have to eat up (all of) your weekends. Most weeks there is plenty of time from Monday-Friday to complete your work.
- Get involved in one or two extracurricular activities. Temple has tons of really interesting clubs where you can learn, meet new people, and make a positive impact on society from the day you start law school. Just make sure these activities don’t eat into your study time.
- Ask for help. If you are feeling overwhelmed, and your usual solutions don’t help, the Law School and Temple University have plenty of support. The Dean of Students and your professors all want to see you succeed, and can help you get the help you need (confidentially). There is no shame, and much benefit, in asking for help.
Most important, your first year is a marathon, not a sprint. Slacking off or sprinting ahead in September will make for a difficult December. Keep in mind, it’s usually the students who consistently show up and work hard every day who succeed, not the person rolling into class 20 minutes late.