Top 10 Tips for Succeeding in Law School (Part 3)

machineHere’s part 3, the final installment, of the top 10 law school success tips that I’ve collected over the years.

Tip #7: “My grades do not define me as a person.”

This should be your mantra during law school. I’ve heard this from almost every law student I’ve talked to. Your grades do not reflect what kind of person you are. They also do not reflect how much you know or how smart you are. Stay away from negative people who want to look “better” than you. Hold onto who you are as a person and as a human being. You cannot measure a person’s worth by their grades in school.

Tip #8: Ground yourself in a community outside of school.

So many law students have told me that the thing that helped them mentally and emotionally during law school was having some kind of community outside of school. It could be your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend, kids, relatives, mentors, friends who aren’t in law school, an organization you volunteer at regularly, etc. It should be a community that you feel comfortable in and that you interact with on a weekly basis. Your community will be a constant reminder of who you are as a person, not just as a law student.

Tip #9: Get practical legal experience and skills as soon as you can.

Many law students have admitted to me that law classes aren’t their favorite part of law school. What they really love is taking what they learned in class and putting it to use in the real world. The sooner you can get involved in a clinic, internship, or moot court where you can learn and develop real-world legal skills, the better.

Tip #10: Rage against the machine!

One of my clients was 15 years older than most of his classmates when he started law school. He had a wife and child and years of experience working in different jobs. It had been a long, winding road to get to law school and he didn’t take any of it for granted. He gave me this honest piece of advice to pass on to my students.

There is a “machine” in law school and it’s very hard to resist. The machine wants you to get high grades, get a job with a big firm, make lots of money, and make your law school look good. The machine wants you to believe that this is the only way to be successful.

Rage against the machine! Remind yourself of what you really want in life.

Do not let the machine dictate to you what kind of lawyer you should be, who you should work for, or what success means. You, and only you, can decide this.

Last but not least, the META TIP: Safeguard your reputation at all times.

From the first day you step into law school, to every day that you go to work, to the evenings when you’re kicking back with colleagues at a happy hour: act with professionalism at all times. Some law students and graduates forget this and they make careless mistakes that can cost them their reputation for years to come. Avoid this by treating yourself and others with respect all day and every day.

I hope these tips help you in your journey through law school and beyond.
Good luck, everyone!

If you found these tips helpful, make sure to read Part 1 and Part 2.

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Top 10 Tips for Succeeding in Law School (Part 2)

study-tentHere’s part 2 of the top 10 law school success tips that I’ve collected over the years.

Tip #5: Experiment with different ways of studying.

A 2L told me that after taking detailed notes throughout her first year she decided to zoom out and focus less on the details. Now, she underlines important concepts in her textbooks and then writes them in her own words in the margins. Writing out the concept in her own words is crucial to her learning and has improved her grades as well.

This same student—who made Law Review by the way—also writes her own long outlines and then edits them by writing the case on a notecard. She writes the case out several times, each time condensing it down. These condensed note cards are what she then memorizes for her exams.

A 1L told me that he got involved with a club at his law school right away. He met some great students and got access to the club’s database of outlines. Some were good and some were not. The good outlines provided him with models to learn from. There is not just one way to outline. Find the way that works for you.

Another 1L told me that some professors push students to be in a study group. She tried this for most of her first semester but found it more productive to study on her own. She did just fine on her first semester finals. Try a few study groups to see if it works for you. If it doesn’t work, it’s okay to study on your own. Find the technique that works for you.

Another method a 2L shared with me was writing your own practice exams by looking at old exams. The first time she takes it, she does it open note. The second time, it’s closed note. Then, she takes her exam to her professors’ office hours and asks for advice. Many professors gave her tips on how to improve her answers and she was much better prepared to take her finals. Which leads us right into the next tip…

TIP #6: “The more you ask for help, the more helpful people are.”

This is a direct quote from a law student. Don’t wait until you’re in trouble to ask for help.

Ask early. Ask often.

For some classes, being engaged and asking questions in class and in office hours can bump up your grade just a little bit. Every bit counts. During your first year, take time to visit your professors, student services staff, and career services staff. People like to help people who take the time to get to know them.

A 1L told me about how he messed up his first semester of law school because he didn’t ask for help. He felt lonely and depressed being thousands of miles from home. He isolated himself. The end result? Poor grades for his first semester.

Feeling down, he met with his adviser and explained what was going on. He got matched with a professor for weekly tutoring sessions. He started meeting with professors during office hours. He reached out to his classmates and made some friends. He got involved with a club. His grades, attitude, and outlook changed for the better. He said his second semester was a “complete 180” from his first semester. All because he asked for help.

More law school success tips coming next week. Subscribe using the box at the bottom of this post so you don’t miss a single tip. If you missed Part 1 of these tips, go here.

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Top 10 Tips for Succeeding in Law School (Part 1)

Desk-old-fashionedI love hearing from my former students and clients. I enjoy connecting with them again, seeing how they’re doing, and hearing what law school life, or the lawyering life, is like. More often than not, they convey tips and stories to me to pass on to new law students.

Many thanks to Val, James, Travis, Ray, Ali, and all the law students who have shared their advice with me!

Here’s part 1 of the top 10 law school success tips that I’ve collected over the years.

Tip #1: Do not underestimate your time.
However long you think it will take to do that assignment or study for that test, triple it. Especially during your first year, it will likely take longer than you think to study, prepare for class, and do your homework. Treat your first year in law school like a full-time job. Put in your 40 hours a week (classes, reading, homework) in order to stay on top of your studies.

Tip #2: Show up, but do not take on.
During your first year, do not volunteer for anything unless it only involves showing up. Do not become a club officer, take on a job, organize a fundraiser, or anything like that. Do not take on. Participate. Engage. Meet people. But do not take on more work.

Tip #3: Find people you can trust.
You shouldn’t go through law school alone. Take time to get to know your classmates in your first year section, in your cohort, and at your law school in general. You can’t pick who will be in your classes but you can choose who you want to spend time with outside of class. Make friends with people that are supportive and positive. Find at least two or three people that you can trust for good notes when you’re sick and can’t go to class, and for going out or just commiserating with when you need a break. They will help you when you need it and you will help them in return.

Tip #4: Buy study guides.
Consider buying an E&E, Gilbert’s and Acing for each of your 1L courses. They are not a replacement for taking notes in class or writing your own outlines, but they can be essential to your academic success. As one student says, it’s totally worth the money.

  • Examples & Explanations (E&E) fleshes out cases. Examples with answers. Good, solid explanations.
  • Gilbert’s study guides are all outlines. Clear explanation of rules. Find the guide that corresponds with your class’s textbook. Great for Property.
  • Acing is also all outlines. Their checklists are especially helpful for studying for exams. Great for Civil Procedure and Contracts.

More law school success tips coming next week. Subscribe using the box at the bottom of this post so you don’t miss a single tip.

Book Review: “Three Degrees of Law” by Harlan York

Three-Degrees-of-LawAfter being a prelaw adviser for 12 years, I get the following question a lot.

“Do you have any books you’d recommend to someone who is thinking of going to law school?”

Now, I finally have my answer.

Three Degrees of Law by Harlan York should be read by every person thinking about becoming a lawyer.

Yes, I truly believe that.

I’ve read a lot of dry, boring books about law school and lawyering that drone on and on. Because of this, I don’t often look forward to reading prelaw guides or books about the legal profession. But this book was different.

I read it in two hours and am getting ready to read it again–yes, it’s that good. This book is a fast, insightful, informative, and motivational read that reveals all kinds of helpful tips for exploring the legal profession, what it’s like to be a lawyer, and how to be the best lawyer once you start practicing.

I love learning through stories and anecdotes, and this book is full of them. There are many great tips throughout the book, and three of my favorites include “Thrill is gone” (page 26) where Harlan relays his father’s advice for tough times, “Slowing down and saving time” (page 85) where Harlan gives his advice for how slowing down can improve your career and life in numerous ways, and “Fight for your right!” (page 107) where Harlan uses the story of Rocky Balboa to explain how fighting the good fight is not necessarily about fighting for your client, it’s about fighting for you.

If you’re thinking about going to law school and becoming a lawyer, you owe it to yourself to read this book.

If you’re already a lawyer and are looking for ways to improve your mindset and practice, you should read this book.

If you know someone who is a lawyer who could use a shot in the arm–a pick-me-up to get them back on track–get them this book!

After you read Three Degrees of Law, post your comments below. I’d love to hear what you thought of it and if there were stories and anecdotes that you particularly enjoyed.

Top 5 Reasons for Choosing Work Before Law School

Tatum Lindsay 2015Today’s blog post comes from Tatum Lindsay, graduate of Mount Holyoke College, and a former student pre-law advisor.

In April 2015, The Crimson ran an article profiling Harvard Law School’s class of 2010: only 28% of current students have no post-graduate experience at Harvard Law School. In other words, over the years, Harvard has deliberately grown the number of admitted students with post-graduation experience. One reason for this may be that those who work before attending law school experience higher rates of professional success because of better employment options available to them, and they may also possess a refined vision of their careers.

After reading this article and struggling with this very issue as a recent college graduate, I reflected on the reasons why I decided to take time off between undergrad and law school. Here are my top five reasons.

  1. Refine My Focus.
    I have always been interested in copyright law. In fact, I wanted to pursue copyright law even before considering attending law school. Recently, I moved to Egypt and secured a fantastic opportunity to work at the American University in Cairo at the Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) as a researcher. I have been working on a series of papers and projects related to censorship and privacy issues in addition to copyright law. Through my job, I learned about the tangible effects of various copyright laws and access to knowledge issues in Egypt and the Middle East and North Africa region. Gaining international exposure to issues in copyright law and having the opportunity to reflect on the topic in an unusual setting cultivated my commitment to studying law and I am confident that going to law school will be the best path for me.
  1. Develop an Application Strategy.
    I am from the pre-law advising camp that encourages prospective law students to attend law school only if they are sure they want to be attorneys, not simply for a terminal liberal arts degree or a “high-paying” career. I wanted to be a lawyer for sure, but after having a purely academic experience at my job, I am now carefully considering all my options after graduation. Thanks to my work experience, I am actively exploring law schools that specifically have a track record of graduating students that go on to clerk or who return to academia.
  1. Get a Job After Graduation.
    I am excited about the prospect of sharing my experiences living and working abroad with my future law school classmates, professors, and future clients. The valuable perspective I’ve gained from my job informs the way I approach problems. I’ve also developed relationship-building skills, among other ‘soft’ skills, that will take me beyond “by-the-book” skills. Gaining this experience in a professional setting has allowed me to become more marketable after graduating law school. My job has also allowed me to build an international network that I will be able to utilize throughout my career.
  1. Take Smarter Risks.
    Moving to Egypt was a huge risk for me. I didn’t understand Arabic and I hadn’t confirmed the details of my job until I landed in Egypt. Also, I should mention that I never really traveled abroad before. Taking some time off allowed me to clear my head and clean my slate. I actively sought out ways to contribute, experiment, and learn at my new post. I know that law school will always be there. The best choice for me now is to take some risks with my career and apply later when I am sure I’d be putting my best foot forward. For me, that meant building my resume and gathering experiences that made me better at calculating and understanding risks.
  1. Get into law school.
    If you’re a recent grad like me, you may not be able to change your GPA, but you can change your LSAT. These two numbers are king for getting into many law schools, and, if you can score big on least one of them, why not go for it? Taking time off between undergrad and law school allows you to devote the time needed to do as well as possible on the LSAT. If you can’t allot enough time for LSAT studying because you work long hours, that’s OK! Just extend your study schedule until you get the score you’re aiming for. Remember, the LSAT and law school will always be there. Things that won’t always be there are tremendous once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to travel, new jobs, or the opportunity to move to a new city. All of these things can add a compelling, unique dimension to your resume, and subsequently, your law school application. Law school admissions committees are eager to hear about your post-graduate experiences, whatever they are.

In the end, I hope you will help yourself tell the amazing story of you by taking time off after undergrad. By taking time to recharge and evaluate your goals, you can tackle the law school admissions process with renewed and focused energy!

Tatum Lindsay is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College where she worked as a student advisor counseling students interested in applying to law school. She lives in Cairo, Egypt, and works at the American University in Cairo as a researcher at the Access to Knowledge for Development Center studying access to knowledge, intellectual property, and human development in Egypt, the Arab world, and Africa. You can find her on Twitter at @tatumlinds.

Thanks, Tatum, for sharing with us your reasons (all great ones, I might add) for working before attending law school! If you liked Tatum’s article, make sure to follow her on Twitter.

Have questions or comments about taking time off before going to law school? I’d love to hear from you. Post your questions and comments below and I’ll respond.