Today I’m very excited to have Evelyn, who you likely remember from my series about the law school admissions process and my eight-week check in for 1L year series. Evelyn and I lived in the same residence hall our freshman year of college and we’ve been friends since! While we always stayed in touch, it was the process of being RAs and applying to law school that really bonded us. Today Evelyn is sharing a post all about what happens we attempt to take our education into the workforce. She’s answering our questions about which skills actually transfer and which do not. She’s also addressing the areas that actually need to be unlearned once we thrust ourselves into the “real world.”
The navigable challenges of entering a new professional sphere:
The woes of law school stack up during your first year and then subside once you’ve made it past 1L. After a challenging 9 months, you’ve made it past the most difficult of the 3-year legal education experience.
But it doesn’t end there – most rising 2Ls are advised to seek a summer job, called an internship, externship, or clerkship. These jobs are usually a mix of legal skills and administrative work to get students acclimated to the profession and give us an idea of what practice area we might want to pursue. It is a good practice round for the following summer, where many students are on the hunt for a summer internship that will lead to a full-time offer.
For some students, typically those with a family legacy in the law, this is not their first exposure to the legal profession; however, for the vast majority of first generation law students, this is a first encounter in the legal field, a new kind hurdle after 9 months of studying for yourself and not professional work to be delivered for the sake of a team. It is a shock for many of us, but as my internship at Prysm Inc. (a company based in San Jose, California) comes to an end, I can speak to my experience and what I learned about transferring my skills to a new profession.
A lot of your skills are transferable …
The most common fear I heard among my peers entering the working world for the summer was that we would have no idea how to do the work our advisors tasked us with. After taking a year of Contracts, for example, I realized I had not seen an actual contract in class once! But many of the skills I learned in previous professional spheres transferred to my job as a legal intern: organization information, communicate to various individuals, effectively displaying findings … everything I learned as a resident advisor in college or as a sales intern at Infoblox came out in one way or another. While these are very basic skills, they can easily be applied to reading contracts with precision, recording gathered information about our business in a concise manner, and seeing overlapping interests across departments.
… but a lot of your skills are not.
Not quite something that a student wants to hear, but something we hear all the time: what we learn in school is not always transferred to the work place. Don’t get me wrong: a lot of the concepts I learned in my classes, especially Contracts, helped me identify issues that I needed to solve at Prysm. But in terms of the day-to-day skills I used in school, like reading cases and talking about them in class, none of that was proper training for the working world. Specifically, being in a law school environment is not exactly good preparation for needing to work with others. In law school, despite what the school preaches, the environment fosters working for your best interest. In a firm or company environment, while you work for your reputation as a professional, the end goal is to better the entity; therefore, we have to unlearn our selfish tendencies and relearn how to work with others and their various agendas. The best preparation will probably come in my remaining two years of law school, where we will have less doctrinal classes and more classes geared towards experiential learning.
Usually your paranoia is unfounded.
When I began working at Prysm, I was constantly worried that nothing I produced made sense. Was I looking for the right answer? Did I even know the direction to head towards? And sometimes, I really did not need to do the hours of research I did to get to the correct answer. After all of the hours of research that went wasted, I realized I was paranoid for no reason and tried to approach each question as if it were not a law question and simply a task I needed to complete. As a result, I was able to focus on producing a solid work product and not overthink my task. In the end, lawyers are just another brand of professionals, and lawyers all started as students just like us. My boss was forgiving when a task took me some time, or when I had tons of questions, and that was the kind of advice I was hoping for as an intern.
And common sense goes a long way for your professional reputation and know-how.
This is something I remind myself of often. Practicing good common sense and grounding yourself is extremely important because, believe it or not, it’s not something everyone has. This point translates to both professional work and reputation. One day, as I was ordering lunch to pick up, I realized I should ask my coworker, who is not quite my boss but also someone I work under nonetheless; my boss was extremely busy that day, but my coworker and I had been corresponding all morning. This gesture opened the door to us getting lunch weekly, and now she advises me on my law school concerns, trusts me if I ever cannot work normal hours, and has gotten me involved in work outside of law school and my Prysm internship – like volunteering with TechWomen (Side note: Prysm is one of many companies that hosts professional women from MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa to shadow professional women here, a cause that I feel connected to but would have never known about had I not befriended her.). Furthermore, I notice my boss often commenting on me asking for more work when it comes up. This was not something I noticed myself doing, but once it was pointed out, I realized I often follow up with current and old tasks. To me, this makes sense – when I hand a task back to my boss, and it is out of my hands, I often wonder where it goes or if it needs more work. But this practice was observed by my boss, and I’m realizing the positive implications of something I considered commonplace.
Overall, my experience at Prysm Inc. has been positive and has confirmed my interest in working in the business legal realm. Best of luck to all the law students finishing up their legal internships – and get some rest before we are back to the school grind soon enough!
Thank you, Evelyn, for your words of wisdom about getting your first job in the legal realm. It’s so interesting to hear how law school transfers to work. So many attorneys I’ve talked to said we learn to lawyers when we start working (aka law school doesn’t teach you to be a lawyer). I found Evelyn’s point regarding competition in law school, and how that impacts our ability to work in a team once we land a job especially poignant.