Getting through your first year of law school is an achievement you should be proud of for the rest of your life. The good news is that it gets considerably easier from here. After your first summer—which you’ve hopefully spent at school, an internship, or a legal job—you will enter your second year of law school far more prepared to deal with the pressures of being a law student. You can also start making some choices that will help you prepare for a career in litigation.
The first thing you should expect is a considerable lessening of intensity in your law school career. While this has obvious positive effects—less stress, more free time—it also means that the close camaraderie of the first year is gone. You won’t be in as many study groups because not all your friends will be taking the same classes. You also won’t be isolated from the rest of the school, and many of your classes will be a mix of second- and third-year students. And, because you’ll have more going on in your life than law school, you’ll also need your own motivation to get to work.
Most law schools have at least a few more requirements after your first year, but aside from those, you’re left with a bewildering array of choices for your remaining classes. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do after graduation yet. Many students don’t make up their minds about their careers until their third year, after they’ve taken enough courses and seen enough of the legal profession to make an informed decision. So you can take that criminal procedure course as well as that corporate finance course without worrying that one of them will be wasted. What elective classes you take is entirely up to you. But in your academic schedule, as with most of your career, it helps to be organized and plan ahead. You simply won’t be able to take all the classes you want, so it helps to have some idea of what your interests and skills are. Here are nine questions to consider:
Are you taking enough theoretical courses?
You might feel that you’ve overloaded on theory, but in truth, theory is the foundation for success in your practice. Courses in legal thinking and jurisprudence can sharpen your abilities. “In interviews, people are still going to ask about theory,” says one litigator. “They want to know that you have a solid foundation in the basics.”
Are you taking enough skill-oriented courses?
Litigators who know what general litigation documents look like have an advantage over those who don’t. Drafting classes, for example, will give you an idea of what kind of papers you’ll be preparing as a lawyer and how to execute them properly. Courses in negotiation, mediation, and advocacy can also provide practical skills you might need in your career.
Are you taking enough clinics?
In your second and third years, you can get academic credit for clinics and internships with government agencies and public interest organizations, often doing real legal work for real clients. This is often your first opportunity to work with real lawyers and figure out where you want your career to go. Many schools can help place you in these positions. “I don’t think there’s anything more valuable than a clinic,” says one federal prosecutor. “Everybody should try to take one.”
Are you fulfilling your requirements?
Unless you want a particularly dry last semester in law school, you’ll need to take your requisites early. The most prominent requirement for nearly all law schools is professional responsibility, which reviews the ethical questions a lawyer faces and the attorney’s obligations to society at large. As part of your application for admission to the bar, you will be tested on this material. “The [Multistate] Professional Responsibility Test is a joke,” according to one junior corporate attorney, “but you’ve still got to take the class and pay some attention.”
Are you preparing for classes that you want to take in the future?
Some courses have prerequisites. If you want to take advanced trial advocacy and argue mock trials in front of real lawyers, then you’d better have taken beginning trial advocacy!
Can you live with your schedule?
If you’re absolutely not a morning person, don’t force yourself to take 8 a.m. classes unless you’re really passionate about the subject. And if you hate final exams, arrange your schedule to have seminars or other classes that require papers instead of exams.
Are you satisfying your curiosity?
If you’ve always wondered about entertainment law or what it takes to be a children’s rights advocate, then this is the time to find out.
Are you working with professors you enjoy?
A good professor can make even the driest subjects come alive. If you enjoy your class discussions, look forward to office hours and find that a professor’s lectures make complicated issues clear, consider taking more classes from the same professor. Plus, “professors are great references,” notes one large firm partner.
Are you preparing for the bar exam?
OK, it’s years away and not particularly pleasant to think about. But take a look at what subjects are covered in your state’s bar exam and see if you’re preparing for at least most of them. You’ve already had a course in property, but what about trusts and estates? You might naturally be inclined to take a course on evidence, but maybe you should think about a class in corporations as well. “There are many classes I wish I’d taken before the bar,” says one litigator, “but they just sounded boring in school, so I skipped them. You can get by, but I think the people who actually took wills and trusts had an advantage.” You can actually—and will likely—take a private course after law school just to cram for the bar exam, but it never hurts to prepare in advance.
The above was adapted from the Vault Guide to Litigation Law Careers.
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