What I Wish I Knew Before Law School

What I Wish I Knew Before Law School

Hello, World.

By now you’re probably well acquainted with the phrase “hindsight is 20/20.” I recently chatted with a co-worker, and he asked me if I was gearing up to return to law school. I made the joke I should be but wasn’t quite on the “I’m ready to go” train yet. He laughed and said he missed school, but then said, “maybe it’s our nature, but as humans, we tend to remember experiences much fonder than they actually are.” I laughed and returned to stapling my copies of client documents. However, in the time between that conversation and now, as I write this, I cannot help but think he’s right. I sort of loathed one of my previous jobs, but after ending my time in that position and having a little distance from it, I realized it was the best job I’ve had and it was a huge learning experience. I’ve had this experience of being totally unsure about something, almost to the point of dislike, the whole time the thing is happening, but then I love it by the end.

The experience is like reading a book that has a very slow middle. The beginning gets you interested and grabs your attention enough to keep going, but the middle has you doubting whether you’re using your time effectively, then suddenly the end delivers and you’re so happy you stuck it out! Well, my first year of law school followed this same trajectory. You can read all about my 1L experience here. As a blogger, the questions I get emailed about the most often are how to prepare for law school. How to prepare for law school is a hard question to answer sometimes because everyone is different. Some people adjust so well to law school and some people (myself included) find it excruciating at first.

I am here to offer my advice by exploring aspects of law school I didn’t expect. I want to look at law school somewhat candidly and explain what I wish I would have known. I will say, I don’t think knowing any of the things I plan to discuss would have changed my mind about law school, but it would have eased my transition from undergrad to law school.

ONE || You’re surrounded by the best and the brightest. Law school attracts type A people, so be warned that you will be surrounded by a lot of people who have been hard workers and highly successful for most of their academic career. Therefore, because you are no longer the smartest or most hardworking in the room, things can get competitive. I picked a school that I didn’t perceive as very competitive. Everyone seemed friendly and I felt like it would be a great place to learn the law. My school remains mostly non-competitive, but just remember most law students are a little competitive by nature, so the competition rears its ugly head in various ways, and doesn’t’ always come in the form of academic competition.

TWO || It’s okay to study alone. I spent the first semester of law school buying into the idea of a study group. Study groups work for some people, but they don’t really work for me. I prefer to learn on my own then review with people. I don’t ever rely on others to learn information then teach it to me. I have friends who did study groups and loved them, but it’s completely okay if this method of study doesn’t work for you!

THREE || Some people are rude. This is by no means law school specific and I’m not implying I was ignorant to this fact before law school. However, I think I assumed (I know, bad idea) that by the time people got to law school they would be nice or at least have the grace to be kind. Stress can turn some people into different versions of themselves, and sometimes that means they become a little mean. If you’re new to law school and you notice someone being rude for no reason or they make you feel uncomfortable, unhappy, or inferior, just go ahead and run in the other direction. You don’t have to be friends with everyone. Treat people with respect, much of law school is working to build a professional network, but if you know someone isn’t your cup of tea, spend minimal time with them. One of the toughest adjustments for me in law school was how polite, but not friendly people were. Yes, everyone was polite, but Californians are pretty friendly people so I wasn’t used to people coming off as regularly uncaring or disinterested.

FOUR || Law School habits vary and it’s unclear which are good and which are bad. I used to have a bad mentality about school. I thought I knew how to do things best, and if someone had a different way of studying, they weren’t going to do as well as me. This mentality ended in high school, but it still astounds me how many people don’t have to study or work hard and still excel. I’m someone who always has to spend a few extra hours studying something. Once I “get it,” it’s committed to memory and I won’t have to re-learn it, but the learning process hasn’t been something I’ve just floated through. You may be tempted to get annoyed by people who you feel aren’t studying enough, but just know everyone works a little differently and it’s not your concern.

FIVE || You’ll probably feel unsure more than you feel sure. Very few students feel sure all the time. Maybe the top 10%-ers feel like they have a firm grasp on law school, but most students feel tired, unsure, and laugh at the utter misery that is law school. Now, when I say misery I don’t mean law school is miserable. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s tiring. Yes, it’s a lot of work. However, most law students bond in the sort of amped up agony we endure in a semester. When you’re walking to class and groaning about the huge cup of coffee you need or how complicated a case was or how tedious a writing exercise felt. Law school is hard but part of the bonding experience is bonding over how hard law school is.

SIX || Forming strong relationships with professors may require work. This may vary based on law school, but at my law school we have blind grading, which means how much you participate in class won’t affect your final grade. The blind grading aspect allows many students to fall victim to the social media browsing in class or falling behind on the reading. While cold calling is still a factor, most students only participate when they are called on. If you raise your hand a bunch, you risk being deemed a gunner. It’s really a lose lose. However, there are ways to build relationships with professors out of class. If your professor offers semester lunches, sign up for one! If you have questions, go to the professor’s office hours. Seek your professor out outside of the classroom. I think becoming a person, and not just another face on the seating chart is the best way to ensure you’re building rapport with the professor.

Okay, I could give even more items of things I wish I had known, but I think I covered the areas I was most surprised by in law school. I expected cold calling, I expected it to be hard, and I expected to meet people I really liked. While you cannot anticipate every curve ball law school will throw your way, I hope the areas I covered will offer a bit of insight into what’s coming.

Callie leigh

Law School Process Spotlight: Sam

Hello, World.

Today is the third installment of the Law School process series. I hope that for those of you going to law school, you find the series helpful, and I’m hoping to do a kind of check in with the students featured in this series after each member’s been in law school for a little while! I like to give information about each guest writer so that you hoping to go to law school see the activities people who have been accepted do in their time at college.

IMG_3546.JPGAnyway, let’s get to today’s guest of honor. Samantha, I call her Sam, is someone I’ve sort of known for a while, but we’ve become fast friends because she’s lived with my best friend for the last two years. At Saint Mary’s, Sam participated on the Debate Team, where she was nationally ranked, and is a History Department Representative, where she plans events and helps recruit history majors. Sam is currently finishing her thesis on The Crusades, which she will be presenting in May. Sam is a very driven woman, and interned for the District Attorney for Washoe County in Nevada, her home state. So, Sam has a great post for you today about her law school journey, which went slightly unexpectedly for her!

“My mother has this saying; God always gives us signs, whether it’s a post it note or a billboard. When it comes to big decisions, I tend to need a billboard to know that I’ve made the right one. My law school journey has been that way, although the post it notes were there all along. My name is Samantha, and this is my law school journey.

I have wanted to be a lawyer since I was a freshman in high school. In my English class, we read a short story about this woman who lived by herself in an old plantation mansion, and the townspeople thought she was rather odd. To summarize the short story, the woman dies and when some people go in to clean her house, they find the skeleton of a person, presumably a man that had disappeared several years before. Our assignment was to either prosecute or defend the woman. My group, the prosecution, chose me to represent them to the class, and we ended up winning. In passing, someone said to me, “You’d be really good at this.”

From there, I did all I could to set myself up to become a lawyer. I debated in high school and in college. I attended the National Youth Leadership Forum on Law and Criminal Investigation. I chose to attend Saint Mary’s College of California because I believed the education I received there would set me up for my career better than my other options. Once I started looking seriously at the process, I realized I had a lot to do. More than I had initially thought. There was the LSAT to study for, a list of schools I wanted to go to made, edited, made again, and edited again. In the meantime, I was an intern at the Washoe County District Attorney’s Office the summer between junior and senior year. I absolutely loved the job and the people I met. I had an inkling before that I wanted to be a prosecutor, and working there confirmed it.

I took the June 2015 LSAT the first time. I did not do as well as I had hoped. I was really disheartened by the results, but I picked myself up and took it again in October. Although the score was not nearly as high as I had hoped, it was enough of an improvement to satisfy me. I opted to study myself rather than taking a class. The first time I used Kaplan, and their method simply did not work for me. The second time around, I used the Powerscore prep books, which were more thorough and worked better for me. I would suggest to anyone planning on going to law school to get a head start on studying and taking the test so if you have to take it again you have the time to do so. I started studying for the LSAT about three months before I took it the first time. That felt adequate to me, especially since I was able to utilize time off during the summer when I did it a second time. The amount of time another person needs to study depends on them, so gauge it based on yourself and your goals.

As far as the actual application goes, I did not find them to be super stressful. I had no problem asking for letters of recommendation and putting together a resume. I struggled more with my personal statement. At the end of the process, I had two personal statements that I used depending on what each school required. This really worked for me. The essays were very different but each played to my strengths and I was happy with them once I submitted them.

I do think in the end, I applied to too many schools. Fortunately I had fee waivers for all but two or three, but the additional LSAC fees add up. I should have cut schools that I knew I wouldn’t go to even if I got in. I had a lot of schools on my list that didn’t have programs I wanted or that I knew I wouldn’t get into but applied anyway. You have to have at least a few of those, because if you don’t try you’ll never know, but you should keep that to two or three schools.

As far as where I’ve ended up, the post its were there all along, even if I was hesitant to acknowledge them. Michigan State was one of those schools that sent me a lot of emails and snail mail, so I figured I may as well apply. It was the second acceptance I got, after Creighton University in Nebraska. Typically law schools will send you an email, but I got a phone call from the dean of the law school before I had even bothered to check my email. I was surprised, but not unpleasantly so, especially when I got my acceptance packet with scholarship information. At that point, Michigan State became a contender. As the weeks and months progressed, I got mail from Michigan State. There were catalogues full of things Michigan State could offer me. Not only did they have more clinical programs than I could possibly choose from, they also have alumni connections in all fifty states and several federal bureaus, including the Justice Department. The clinical program attracted me, because I want a hands on legal education that will prepare me for practice. I decided it would be in my interest to go to an Admitted Student’s Day.

Once I got to Lansing, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm. As I arrived on campus, I thought to myself, ‘I will be really happy here.’ The people I met were very nice and very interested in what I had to say. I learned more about the clinical programs and about the internship opportunities the career center sets each MSU Law student up with. We had the opportunity to speak to students, and none of them had a single complaint about the school. At that point, I was sold. A few days later, I received word from MSU that I had been accepted into a specialized Research, Writing, and Analysis class on criminal law. I was also offered and did accept direct admission to MSU’s Geoffrey Fieger Trial Practice Institute, an intensive program undertaken in the 2L and 3L that prepares students for litigation and trial work. In the 3L, we will be trying a real civil and criminal case. At this point, God had given up on the post its and was slapping me with billboards. Michigan State was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

As much as I’ll miss the closeness of Saint Mary’s I’m ready and excited to start the next phase of my life in Lansing. It’ll be an adventure for me to go to a school about ten times the size of my undergraduate institution. My friends and family were very supportive during this process, and I’m thankful that I had them during the days of waiting and uncertainty, and I’m glad to have them still now that things are set in stone. They are all very supportive of me and of my goals. I can’t wait to start my coursework and get my foot in the door in terms of internships and career opportunities, and I’m proud to be a Spartan.”

Thank you, Sam! I think we can expect great things from Sam as she pursues a career in criminal law.

Callie leigh

Law School Process Experiences Spotlight: Evelyn

Hello, World!

Over the past few months, I shared bits of my experience with the law school process, and now that I’ve chosen where to go, I don’t have much more insight than I already offered. BUT, I was trying to come up with some ways to incorporate more voices into my law school advice, and it dawned on me: my friends are applying to law school! So, I have four friends who offered to share their stories with law school admissions. So, first up in this mini-series is Evelyn, who I’ve known since our first year in college and who is one of my close friends! She’s the Class of 2016 Valedictorian for our college (whoop whoop!), and will be giving a speech at commencement. She is also an RA, Editor-in-Chief of The Collegian, our on-campus newspaper, and involved with Middle-Eastern Cultural Night. But, I’ll stop bragging about my awesome friend and get to it.16107_10206586685921911_1553833941847463793_n.jpg

Here is what Evelyn had to say about the law school process as she experienced it:

“The law school application process is both daunting and nerve-wracking for undergraduate students – but once it’s over, it’s such a relief. I personally knew I didn’t want to take a break from school in fear of losing my momentum to go on to law school. So, I started out my senior year with the LSAT in mind. Looking back, that stage of the process feels like years ago, probably because of all the heartbreak and doubt it caused me. When I took the LSAT the first time, I did not do as well as I had wanted to, and I began to think my investment in the process was a lost cause. I wish I hadn’t lost so much hope in myself, and my advice to anyone applying is to know that your best efforts will be worth it to a school. Later in the process, I felt that my application was evaluated from many different angles and that I was given a fair chance. The choices I had to choose from ended up being what I deserved and what was right for me.

Both ends of the application process are stressful, the LSAT and decision, and the latter’s difficulty was definitely unexpected for me. I thought it would be very clear to me which school I would choose, and it wasn’t. I liked a lot of different things about my top contenders. It came down to what mattered most for me, and I learned it was practicing in California. Right now, I am committed to Santa Clara but am waitlisted at UC Davis. As a very decisive person, it’s hard for me to know I can switch to UC Davis at the last minute, but I know it could be the best decision for me in the long run. Regardless, both are phenomenal options. Law school decisions are a strange time because we are so young yet making huge decisions about the direction of our future. Sure, this might have been the case for undergrad, but it feels more real at the age of 21.

Law school will work out the way it’s supposed to; this, however, is easier said than done. Many who apply to law school are type-A planner-type people. The possibility of it not going as planned in daunting. But the reality is there’s always a way. Many law students transfer after their first year, usually into a higher-ranked institution. Others take a year or two off to enter the workforce, which could prove beneficial to their application. And many learn it’s not the right path for them. Your biggest challenge in any application process is to trust you’ll actually survive it. But once you do, you’re onto your next adventure.”

I wanted to include this photo of Evelyn in New York at Central Park while visiting St. John’s School of Law because we all, as in our friend group, thought that the school would be the perfect fit for Evelyn, and when she actually got there she quickly realized it wasn’t, which is 100% okay. I had a similar experience at the undergraduate level with one of my top choices, and that’s why I continually stress the importance of feeling comfortable where you choose! Feeling at home should not be forced! Like Evelyn said, law school works out how it’s supposed to!

Thank you to Evelyn, who took time out of her busy schedule during one of the most hectic times of the year to write something up for Bottled Creativity!

Callie leigh