Law school classes are officially under way. And for 3Ls, the countdown to the end of their law school careers has begun. Oftentimes, 3L year is best described with one word: coast. Many want a more laid-back schedule after two grueling years of Socratic Method. And while two-year law school programs have yet to become a reality, many have floated the idea of limiting law school to just 1L and 2L years.
But as of now, law students are locked into three years. And with law school’s hefty price tag, it’s an extremely expensive year to waste. More importantly, the third year of law school provides opportunities to better prepare yourself for real practice and the bar exam. Read on for some advice on shaping a useful third year of law school.
It is tempting to fill your 3L schedule with “fluffier” classes or ones that fellow students have deemed “easy.” While there certainly should be room to pursue classes that genuinely interest you, thinking about the end game is also important. And by end game, I mean the bar exam and your future career. When selecting classes for your 3L year, take a look at the different subjects covered on the bar exam. For example, “Law and Literature” might fuel your passion for reading, but learning about Trusts and Estates may save you hours of stress during bar-exam prep. In fact, you may even want to focus on a subject that is particularly difficult for you—better to trudge through it with a professor by your side than to try to learn it in a few weeks before the bar.
In terms of your career, consider classes that will give you greater insight into your chosen practice area. If you already have a job offer, you may want to ask one of the associates or clerks about any classes they wished they had taken before joining the firm.
One of the biggest critiques I’ve heard about law school is that it doesn’t provide the practical skills needed for practice. I’m not convinced that is entirely true—I think it depends on the individual law school experience and the opportunities that students embrace. Take a step back while planning your coursework and consider what skills you would want a junior attorney to possess if you were his or her employer. For example, if you ran a litigation boutique, you would likely want your juniors to come in with impeccable writing skills, exceptional research abilities, and some real-world experience with discovery, motions, and advocacy. Third year of law school is the perfect time to gain experience like this (or analogous experience in other areas like Corporate, IP, Trusts and Estates, etc.)
The first place to look is the clinic program, which provides students with opportunities to handle real cases under the supervision of professors. Internships are another wonderful way to gain class credit and get your feet wet in the real legal world. Some law schools have a pro bono requirement and expect law students to complete supervised pro bono work. Nothing is quite as useful as taking the lead on a real pro bono matter, and having an experienced attorney’s support allows you to learn and grow through the process. And finally, take advantage of the opportunities at your school that will strengthen the skills you need for your profession. If legal writing will be part of your day-to-day, aim to be on the editorial board of a law school journal or load your schedule with classes that are writing intensive. Perhaps you know that corporate law is for you—get involved with negotiation competitions offered by some schools. Moot court is another great option for those wishing for stand-up experience in their career.
Don’t Play Favorites
I had a professor in law school that I adored, and I would’ve taken her classes every semester. But I realized that an important aspect of career development is my network. Each semester, I tried to take classes from a variety of professors. Mixing up your instructors will give you different perspectives and open up your mentor options. Take advantage of office hours and the few minutes after class to talk to professors and develop relationships with them. This practice is especially useful during 3L year when you’re preparing for your career or searching for a job. You never know what opportunities professors may have access to, people they may know, or useful advice they might have. And you may just learn something from them too.
Talk to Career Services
If there is any resource within law school that I think is underutilized, it’s the Career Services department. The office has career experts waiting to guide law students with countless resources at their fingertips. If you’re planning your 3L classes and are curious which ones may be most useful in your future career or in attracting potential employers, make an appointment with Career Services and gain some of their insights. They know what kinds of resumes shine and also what makes for a successful practicing attorney. So take some time and talk through the classes that will bolster you as a candidate and attorney.
The third year of law school is an opportunity to grow yourself as a future attorney. Take advantage of this time and think carefully about the coursework that will put you ahead in your career.
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