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by Trevor Hayes | March 10, 2009


In Vault's new column, One L, Northwestern Law School 1L Trevor Hayes gives you the skinny on life in the law school trenches. This is the fifth in a series.

As with anything new, eventually the novelty wears off. What had first seemed so odd, and sometimes ominous, is now merely commonplace. The metamorphosis transpires and, before you know it, the strange and the new has become the norm.

I was reminded recently, while giving tours to prospective students and answering e-mails from them in my role on my law school's admissions committee, of just how mysterious law school had seemed only a few months ago.

In the first weeks of school the professors seemed scary and the law seemed so enigmatic. Even though we knew classroom performance had no direct impact on grades, the fear of public failure drove us to read every word of the assigned readings and prepare for each class meticulously.

Now that the fear is gone, so is the prime motivator. When once it seemed blasphemous to hear a student come to class who wasn't prepared, it now resembles college when you frequently overhear a classmate walk in and ask what we were supposed to have read.

While the newfound comfort is welcome, the numbness of the monotony has become the chief enemy -- replacing the menacing professor. (They really aren't so menacing, but it takes the first weeks of class to reconcile reality with the visions ingrained by Scott Turow's One L.)

Now people are passing regularly when called on in class. Combine that with the horrible weather, which can completely suck your motivation, and the biggest challenge in this second semester is self-motivation.

Drumming up the necessary motivation is a foreign skill to many of us, those with work experience and without. In both undergrad and the working world, there are deadlines that force you to keep up. In the working world, many of us had such heavy workloads that a lack of motivation wasn't even an issue. As a newspaper reporter, I always had new stories to dig up and sources with which to keep in contact. So the lack of hard deadlines temporarily derailed my treat-school-like-a-job strategy. Moreover, keeping your job may be the best motivating tool there is.

I struggled early in the semester with this malaise and with the temptation to take a breath after the fight of the first semester. I guess it is just a struggle for balance. It's not that there was so much work last semester. It was just the unknown and the fear that taking a weekend off could be detrimental. The workload was actually not so heavy -- most weeks it was like working a full-time job.

Differentiate yourself

The other big change this semester is that I've focused on doing something special with just a couple of extracurricular activities instead of spreading myself thin on several. ~

I don't know how well it will help when on-campus interviews (OCI) begin next fall, but I am hoping the extracurriculars will help my resume stand out.

The Media and Entertainment Law Society I co-founded with two classmates is hosting a daylong hearing regarding the Federal Communication Commission's proposed changes in regulations regarding cross-ownership of media outlets in a single market.

There is nothing special about the group of us who are doing this; we just had an idea and decided to put it in action. And, we thought, who's more likely to land a job -- the person who merely attended classes or the one who took the time to do something really innovative?

There are so many opportunities to do something like this to enrich your education, break up some of the monotony and hopefully make some invaluable contacts.

An example. Last weekend I attended the annual conference of the American Bar Association's Forum on Communications Law in Scottsdale, Ariz. And it didn't cost me a cent. I was one of two students who won a scholarship to the conference based on an essay contest. There are numerous such opportunities and most students don't take the time to search for them. The dearth of competition makes the likelihood for success all the greater.

So instead of just spending my time learning about contracts or property -- two subjects that don't exactly stimulate me -- I was able to learn about the cutting edge of the legal niche that I hope to work in upon graduation. And I was able to meet scores of practicing attorneys in the field. I made sure to grill them on the best ways to break into the industry and what I should do now to make myself stand out. The common answer from the practicing attorneys was that just by being there I was doing the best thing I could to break into the industry.

Hopefully when I am job hunting next year, instead of being a another faceless resume, or another face in the rushing river of half-hour interviews during OCI, I will be the person they had dinner with, played tennis with or sat next to during a conference. Of course, getting to know these people on a social level could be a detriment; it won't help me at all if they've heard first-hand how bad my jokes are or seen my horrible backhand up close.

Law school grades seem like a crapshoot, and it's easy to feel like the system is in charge and you're just along for the ride. One thing you can control in building your resume is making sure you participate in meaningful extracurriculars and networking. Whether this works out well for me is yet to be seen. I guess I won't know how effective it has been until next year. But for the time being, it is a lot more fun than the comfortably numb monotony. And at least I got a free weekend of sun in Arizona.

Trevor Hayes is a first-year law student at Northwestern University School of Law and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is just now learning that books can be used as more than doorstops.


Filed Under: Education|Grad School