I started law school a decade ago. At the time, the post 9-11 economy was on a major decline and law schools across the country were seeing a huge surge in the number of applicants. Hundreds of thousands of college grads were seeking a J.D. and I was one of them.
Do I regret going down my chosen path? Not at all. But would I change things if I had the opportunity? Absolutely!. If I could go back in time, I’d give the following advice to myself and to all law students, at Harvard or elsewhere.
Play Nice With Your Classmates – One Day They Will Be Your Opposing Counsel
The cut-throat atmosphere of many law schools brings out the worst in people. This is unfortunate but understandable. You’re constantly stressed. You’re worried about the attrition rate. You’re worried about passing the bar. You’re worried about getting a job.
It’s very easy to start seeing your classmates as enemies and treat them accordingly. But this is a big mistake. Be nice to your classmates because one day they will become your colleagues, referral sources, and even opposing counsel. Being nice in law school will help guard your reputation and will pay off in spades long after you graduate.
Discover Your Lawyering Personality
Take all the classes that pique your interest. Take advantage of internships and summer associate positions to discover what type of law practice fits your personality best.
You may think that I’m crazy to say this. You may be thinking that law grads should consider themselves lucky to get any legal job in this economy.
But realize that most lawyers who hate their job feel that way because it does not suit their personality. Trust me, I am speaking from experience.
My first job out of law school involved many administrative hearings and depositions. I was in an adversarial position day in and out, and I hated stepping into a court room knowing that someone would win and someone would lose.
Clearly, I neglected my lawyering personality, which is geared more towards transactional law and counseling clients. It was only when I switched to a position that optimized my personality, that I finally started to enjoy practicing law.
Stay true to your lawyering personality and look for a job that best suits it. Doing this may just put you in a small minority of lawyers who actually love what they do.
Fill Your Rolodex
With so much competition for legal jobs these days, how do you guarantee one after you finish law school? Start seeking job opportunities while you’re in law school.
A great perk of being a law student is your ability to join many local and national bar associations for free.
Take advantage of this and attend bar association events in practice areas that interest you. It’s a great way to meet local attorneys and it will give you an advantage when searching for a summer associate or an attorney position later on.
Reach out to attorneys you admire and ask them for an informational interview or lunch. This may seem daunting, but trust me, most attorneys love to talk about themselves and their practices.
And they’ll likely pick up the lunch tab – a great bonus for a starving law student.
Look for a Mentor
You should realize that successful professionals aren’t born that way. They got to be at the top of their game because they had a mentor. Someone who believed in them. Groomed them. Pushed them to be better.
Look for a mentor in your summer associate position, a local bar association, or other local attorneys. Having a good relationship with a mentor is invaluable to your long term success.
Nurture it by meeting with them regularly and asking lots of questions. Then listen and follow their lead.
Get High Teched
Lawyers are creatures of habit. I still know law firms that use WordPerfect, and gasp, typewriters.
To differentiate yourself, learn the latest technology and tools. Attend legal technical trade shows (which are typically highly discounted for law students). Sharpen your researching skills while you have free and unlimited access to Westlaw and Lexis Nexis.
Get certified in these programs and put your new credentials on your resume. Once you start practicing, these skills will become your secret weapons to becoming the next superstar associate.