How to Succeed in Law School

Law school success can be defined in many ways—graduating, getting a job, good grades, creating lifelong relationships—among other key accomplishments. The most successful graduates focus on all of the above.

If you are applying to law school, or in the middle of it, put yourself in the best position to succeed.

Tips for grades and exams

Perhaps the key to a successful academic experience is winning the law school mind game. Much of the mind game, however, involves allowing yourself to think about things outside of law school. Keeping law school in perspective will help you excel.

Once you delve into classes, place an emphasis on effectively managing your time. Reading all twelve pages of the dissent may score you gunner points, but will it help with the exam? Doubtful.

Everyone has their two-cents on how to master exams and you get can rich with all of these tips on how to master law school exams. My two-cents? Sometimes the obvious answer is correct—but always look for red-herrings. The best defense against both is showing your work. Regardless of your answer, if you can show how you got there, you are bound to do reasonably well.

Make the most of the experience—do not minimize it

Law school is not Las Vegas—what happens in law school does not stay there. Your professors might become judges one day—and they will remember that you slept through class everyday. Your classmates will become co-counsel, opposing counsel, and referral sources after law school. Do your best to make friends during law school. The more people you know, the more it will help your legal career.

You will undoubtedly need references during and after law school. Professors are the logical choice, so make an effort to get to know them. This involves more than asking a question after class. Not only can professors help you learn their material, they tend to come in handy during job searches.

Grades are just part of the equation. If you do not get straight A’s, there are plenty of other ways to make yourself an attractive job applicant.

Develop practical skills

One way to move past bad grades is to acquire practical skills and practical experience. Law schools are trending towards more practical classes, but you need to make a concerted effort to develop practical skills to compliment your logical reasoning.

If your school offers trial skills or trial practice—take it. Immerse yourself in clinics. Taking a judicial externship instead of ancient european law will be much more helpful in the long run.

If you end up working as a law clerk, make the most of the experience. Show up everyday like it is a new job interview and take advantage of opportunities—rather than shying away from them.

Make yourself stand out

Your GPA is one line on your resume—you need more than that to stand out in this job market. If you can create a niche within an area of law—go for it. Independent research and writing classes are a great way to delve into an area that is not covered in class. If you are on law review or a journal, write about a hot-topic in an emerging area of law.

Another option is to pursue a concentration in an area of law. It does not make you an expert, but it definitely helps during your job search.

The goal is to walk into an interview and demonstrate that your knowledge of a particular area will be an asset to a firm—an asset that not many new graduates possess.

If you can make good on at least some of these ideas, you can give yourself an advantage over your classmates—get to it!

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mar00ned/195201007)

  • Chris

    I am interested in (1) where Mr. Ryder went to law school and (2) how he did in law school.

    Thanks.

  • MC

    University of Minnesota Law School, J.D. 2009, magna cum laude, Dean’s List 2007-2009

    I am interested in (1) your inability to google.

  • JD

    MN Law School is TTT. Can you render any worthwhile advice for T-14 students?

  • Chris

    My questions were not intended to be provocative. I am unsure why anyone would feel the need to be defensive about a simple question the answer to which, frankly, has now added credibility to Mr. Ryder’s blog advice. I assume that the creators of this blog intend for it to reach more than just a clique of lawyers who most frequent this site. If so, the question I asked served the purpose of assisting new visitors in determining whether this site is of good quality (which I have found to be the case) or not.

    I will in the future keep my questions to myself.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/aaronstreet/ Aaron Street

      Chris,
      The problem with your question is the assumption that the validity of ideas depends upon the credentials of the person presenting them.
      -Aaron
      (JD 2004, cum laude, University of Minnesota).

  • http://calebshreves.blogspot.com Caleb

    Don’t get snizzy, Chris. That answer was funny!

    Go drink some four loko.

  • http://feeds2.feedburner.com/caveatemptorblog/rss Randall Ryder

    @ Chris—asking questions is the best way to get answers—so I am glad that you asked. I will say, however, that I hope you read the post in its entirety. “Success” in law school is defined by much more than grades. I am proud of my academic achievements, but my efforts at acquiring practical skills and developing relationships is something I am even more proud of. Arguably, it has made me more successful as a first year attorney.

  • Kenshiro

    My number one bit of advice for success in law school is to choose a different career and get the hell out of law school. There are a ton of easier ways to make money guys, like being medical marijuana grower in California. It’s still illegal to use weed freely there, medical weed is like the new gold rush, only, you know, cool: http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2010/11/11/why-prop-19-failed-and-what-will-happen-now/

  • Joel Anderson

    @MC You should have used this. http://lmgtfy.com/?q=randall+ryder

  • Susan Gainen

    In addition to Randall’s very excellent advice, I urge law students and prospective law students to consider the following very interesting circumstances.

    A growing number of law students come to law school, treating it as random graduate school which will allow them to keep their options open. Without having decided to become lawyers, they have not:

    1. talked to lawyers about what they do;
    2. begun to catalog “legal skills;”
    3. sought any understanding about the precision with which those legal skills need to be employed;
    4. committed to deciding what to do with the beginning of their careers, and
    4. committed to exploring the avenues that might lead to productive, gainful employment after law school.

    The “keep your options open” strategy that precludes exploration and experimentation needs an update. When students believe that law school is a professional school that should give them a running start at their first careers, “wishin, and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’” that an option will appear wastes valuable time. It is the difference between the standing long jump and the running long jump. (Thank you, Loyola Law students who helped me parse these activities.)

    There is no point in fretting that you don’t have a plan. You would not berate yourself for not speaking Urdu. You would go to Amazon, click on Rosetta/Urdu and get started. The solution to having no plan is to make a plan.

  • J786

    Unless I’m misreading, the University of Minnesota is ranked 22nd this year by US News & World report.
    http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/rankings

  • Quincy Porter

    I’m a freshman in college and I want to be a lawyer someday. But I don’t know what course of study I should get my degree in. I’m interested in foreign languages, and business administration or just business. Can anyone give me some good feedback and/or advice that could possibly help me be on the correct path to becoming a lawyer.

    • Craig

      Hi Quincy,

      If you’re going to law school, you want to make sure that you have some solid skills. They will help with law school. And, if you get to law school and decide that it’s not for you, you still have something to fall back on. Business is good. A double major with a BS in business, and a BA in a foreign language is smart. In addition, be sure to pick up some philosophy and some economics. Business law is helpful for creating a foundation for later law school classes, and you’ll probably be able to find some upper division Constitutional Law classes that will be helpful, if the professor is worth anything.

  • MariaD

    Thank you very much, Mr Ryder. and for everyone who posted helpful comments. It has been 4 weeks since I entered law school here in Manila and as a working student, it is so hard to adjust! I have to work to get into law school, and work more to (hopefully) finish it. I never had any problems working when I was in college but law school is so different. It’s like I have 4 jobs all at the same time! There are days when I wish I had 40 hours a day to finish everything but of course that will never happen. Thank goodness for my undergraduate friends who keep me alive when I feel down. Sometimes when I feel really tired, I just close my eyes and will just be gobsmacked to find out I have “wasted” 3 hours because I snoozed. This is such a different world but at the end of the day, I know it’s going to be worth it someday.

  • Tortfeazrrrrr

    Telling someone to double major is ridiculous. If you are good at everything, become an English major, and learn to write well. It will be the main thing you do as a lawyer, and scoring one of the top grades in your legal writting section alone is enough to make you not curve out at a decent school.

    Double major though–why?

    The only reason I could imagine for anyone to double major is if they wanted to take the patent bar, so they wanted a degree that would let them, but first they got an undergrad degree in something fluff that would let them get a high gpa… graduate to lock in lsac gpa– then get a second undergrad in something that will let you sit for the patent bar.

    honestly the above is stupid. take your classes to allow for patent bar post jd. before you will end up in a competitive program so instead of having a 3.9 gpa from some soft science, you will have a 2.7 to a hard scuence and you will end up at a crappy school.

    BTW: why in the world would anyone study foreign language in college? My gardner speaks 4 languages, but he still makes minimum wage.