Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

A Big Law School Advice Post

I still haven't really gotten used to the fact that I'm not a student anymore. Even for the two years in between college and law school, I felt more like a student taking a break from school than someone who was finished with school. Maybe I'm still a student taking a break from school, but I haven't come up with any good ideas yet for more school (acting school could be fun, except I don't want to be an actor... then again I went to law school and don't want to be a lawyer, so maybe that would make perfect sense...). I liked being able to say "I'm a law student" better than I like having to say "I just graduated from law school." And soon I can't even say "I just graduated from law school" and have to come up with something new to say. I'm really stretching if I'm pretending this is a problem, I know. But there's something nice about having your identity tied up in your status as a student. There's no pressure if you say you're a student. No one expects anything more from you. No one thinks you're wasting your time, or on the wrong path, or anything like that.

So this is the first fall in a while that I'm not going back to school, and the first time I really feel like the whole "being a student in a degree-bearing program" thing (as opposed to the improv comedy classes I'm taking, or the general idea that we're all always students and always learning things and whatever else people like to say about that) is done for me. I got an e-mail from a 1L starting law school this week. She said (and I'm paraphrasing), "Now that you're done with law school, what's your advice to someone first starting out? Is it different than the advice you'd have given before you graduated?" This gives me an excuse to write a really long post giving advice to law students. So I think I'll do that, and see what happens.

For some reason, I feel like it makes some sense to work backwards -- to address things, that if you're first starting out now, that you'll one day soon have to think about, and then explain why you don't need to worry about them yet, or, if you do have to worry about them, what you should do. So here we go:

1. The Bar Exam, and how it relates to course selection. Please don't worry about the Bar Exam yet. You'll take it and you'll probably pass, and the classes you take in school have no bearing on that. The stuff you learn in Contracts isn't the same as the stuff you'll need to know for the Bar Exam anyway. You'll learn all the Bar Exam stuff from bar exam study materials. Don't take classes just because they're on the bar exam. Don't save your notes, don't start taking practice tests, don't think about it at all for about 2 years and 8 months. You're really fortunate to be in a place -- no matter where you're in school -- that presumably has a whole bunch of classes that will be utterly useless to your life as a lawyer or your life as whatever it is you end up being, but that just sound interesting. Take those. Or even better, take the classes taught by the people you want to learn from. 1L year I remember a guy with a beard coming into our Criminal Law class in the spring and introducing the course selection process to us, and telling us that some people choose classes based on the subject, some people choose based on the professor, some people choose in order to create their own "major" composed of classes centered around a certain area of the law, and those are all legitimate ways to choose. I disagree. The best classes I took were the classes with the best professors, no matter what the subject matter was, and a bad professor killed a class, even if it should have been interesting and even if the subject matter sounded neat. The official course evaluations may be helpful, but they're probably garbage. But people know. People at your school know who the good professors are and who the bad ones are. Find out the good ones. Take their classes. Even if they sound boring. Bankruptcy was the best class I took in law school, and I know it sounds dreadful, but because the professor was awesome, it was an awesome class. I swear that's the best way to do it. At least that's the best advice I can give.

2. Finding a job. I had no idea when I started law school that the job hunt would begin so quickly. But a month in, and suddenly we were having resume workshops, session on how to act at a law firm, and on how to dress for an interview. But that's what happens, and really quickly you need to start making decisions that you're probably not equipped to make. I thought people go to law school and become all sorts of things. It turns out most people go to law school and either go work for a firm or go clerk for a judge. And if you're not on one of those two tracks, there's not always a lot of obvious options set forth by the law schools. Law firms get people to try them out because they make it easy. They come to campus to interview, they offer a summer that promises to be fun and exciting and tasty and they suck you in. That's not entirely fair. A lot of people want to work at law firms, and for good reasons. But my advice is to think about it, before you start down a path you don't want to be heading down. Think about what you want to get out of law school. Think about where you want to end up, what kind of career you want to have, and how law school can help you get there. Make active decisions about what you want to do instead of just following the herd. I know that a lot of people decide to go to a law firm for a little while and then leave. Which can work. But make sure you're doing it for a reason, that's all.

3. Law Review. I wasn't on law review, although I did pick up the competition packet. It was heavy. I feel like the reasons to do law review depend a lot on what you want to end up doing for a career, and on what school you go to. It would be dumb for me to say that law review is a bad idea, because in most cases it probably isn't. It's a lot of hours, but people tell me you learn lots of useful skills, get to work with professors, get to work with smart classmates, and it gives you a great line on your resume. If I wanted to do law stuff, I'd have tried out for law review, and been bummed if I didn't make it. Some of my favorite people in law school were on law review. Some of my favorite people were not. I'm pretty useless in this paragraph, sorry.

4. Exams. Take practice exams. That is, get past exams your professor has given, and take those. 1L year I outlined. 2L and 3L year I sort of outlined but mostly just got outlines from friends. There's no one magic bullet. Different things for different exams. I was in a study group for about three hours. Other people find they work better than I experienced. At least try and find a friend who you think is smart and go over exams together. That can be pretty helpful. Supplemental study guides are sometimes useful but usually not as much as outlines from people who've taken your class with your professor. Every professor focuses on different things. So the more generic the material, the less useful I found it.

5. Go to class. And don't play solitaire when you're there, because it's distracting to those around you. Seriously, I really don't understand the people who don't go to class. Especially if you've picked classes right and have good professors. Go. It's what you're paying for. And you'll be better prepared for the exam. I honestly wish they wouldn't have had wireless Internet in the classrooms, and banned laptops completely. I ended up not bringing my laptop to most of my classes 2L and 3L year, and I liked it better that way. You pay better attention. Otherwise I'd end up web surfing. Try it. It'll help on the exams anyway.

6. Honestly, I think a lot of people -- not everyone, but a lot of people -- who are unhappy at law school are unhappy either because take it more seriously than they need to... I mean, you're good at school, or you wouldn't be in law school. Trust yourself... or they don't do anything else besides go to class and study. The reason I enjoyed law school -- most of the reason, at least -- is because I got involved in stuff I wanted to get involved in, like the newspaper and the Parody show and the a cappella group. So I was able to craft a life that I liked living, meet people who liked doing the kinds of things I liked doing, and really have a full schedule that classes were only a part of. Every school has lots of things going on. Take advantage of them. You'll be happier. You'll meet more people. You won't just be stuck in the library. But one thing I didn't do very well, and wish I had, was take advantage of the city I was in. Boston is probably a cool city. I didn't explore it enough. I did a lot of things on the law school campus, but not that much outside of it. It's easy to get caught up in the life of a student and never leave. But if your school is in a city, there's probably all sorts of things to do that have nothing to do with law school. And if it's not in a fun city, go hiking or something. I wish I did more outdoor stuff. Boston's not the greatest place for that, since the winter is 13 months long, but there's still more I could have done. Even though you're in law school, you can still have a life. Really. I promise.

7. Other things I wanted to link to but they don't really fit anywhere above. :) Journals. Legal research. And a law school purity test I thought was fun when I wrote it.

I hope some of this is useful. In any case, good luck. I miss law school already, really. You get to hang out with smart people and go to relatively interesting classes and do whatever you want with the rest of your time without having to feel too guilty about it, since you know in the end, no matter what else happens, you get a degree. What more could you ask for? :)