Law Student Don’ts: Mistakes to Avoid as a Law Student
I’ve spoken often about how weird law school is and how common culture shock can be—and that’s because not only is the Law a foreign concept but the process of law school itself is also really weird. And it can be easy to stumble, especially when you’re new or when you’re not event sure of what are the expectations.
In fact, that’s how I feel I went through law school—one stumble after the next and thankfully I never fell flat on face enough to not get back up, but it doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be that difficult. You shouldn’t feel like you’re fumbling in the dark to figure out your next steps or what’s expected. So, I’m sharing some mistakes I wish I had avoided when I was in school for you to avoid now. This is mostly for the new law student, but I think the lessons apply event to upperclassmen, who maybe have taken a few hits and need a reminder of their potential now and again 🙂
One. Don’t be too grateful. I know, how can one be too grateful? Well, there’s nothing wrong with being appreciative but I started my first year in 1) such awe that I was even admitted and getting to work on a life long goal and 2) in such a relief that I was even admitted because I could barely afford the deposit, that I felt OVERLY grateful to be there. Almost like they had done me a favor letting me in—and frankly I bet there was some internalized doubt at work as well within those feelings. And that gratefulness turned into a “don’t make waves” situation. Inconveniences, inappropriate comments, unfair policies, etc. were harder for me to speak up about because I felt that I should just be happy that I was there. That type of thinking is such a disservice—mostly to yourself because you are viewing yourself in a negative light. It’s a disservice to classmates who may benefit from your advocacy. And frankly it’s a disservice to the school who had various reasons for selecting you, but one of those was because of the value you could bring to the school. Acting like a dutiful helper or being too nervous to speak up isn’t good for anyone. Yes, it’s great when schools help you out with financial aid or take you off a waitlist, but that shouldn’t dim your brightness or make you feel like you should be silent.
Two. Don’t be overly confident. I know, I just said don’t dim your brightness but don’t add extra wattage either. It is SO easy to think you’re hot shit (you are) but then to fall prey to that mindset where you don’t have to go above and beyond because you think you got it. A word of advice, in law school, no one’s got it! There is an intense pressure to look like you’re not a try-hard, that you don’t need to study, that you’re naturally gifted. And for so many, that is what undergrad was like. But law school is not that. Lawyers are not born, they are made. You have to put in the work, and when folks act like you don’t need to read your cases or take notes in class or whatever else the cool kids don’t do, DON’T LISTEN! Believe in yourself, but mostly believe that you have the drive, the will power, and determination to put in the work needed to succeed in law school.
Three. Don’t be too quiet. Introverts, I’m sorry, I know it’s hard to live with extroverts who won’t stfu. But, hear me out, avoiding networking events or extracurriculars only hinders you. No, you don’t have to be a part of everything, but you should aim to feel comfortable in networking events and you should make connections with classmates as well. I know for some who are having really tough experiences you may think you’ll never talk to these folks again, but the legal community is small and it’s important to have those connections. If being outgoing is more a struggle, commit to attending one or two networking events so you can get the feel for it and find one extracurricular to spend time on. This won’t drain your energy as much and you’ll still be able to build community and your professional network.
I made so many more mistakes than these but regardless of how many you make—hopefully not as many if you follow these tips :)—the important part is recognizing when an approach is not working for you and recalibrating so you can do better. It’s never too late to re-adjust and make the most of the remaining time you have in school.