Law School Do-Over: 7 Things I’d Do Different

jedi-law-student

Randall’s how to succeed in law school is a nice broad post on exactly that, and you should read it.

But here’s my personal take on law school success. It’s the law school do-over, written as a kind of internal monologue, and most of it is framed in the negative: no, stop, and don’t. It’s not for all law students, but it’s what I would do if I had a law school do-over, and if you’re headed to law school or working your way through now, remember this:

Being a law student does not make you a Jedi.

  1. Don’t believe your own hype. Believing your own hype—I’m a law student! I’m going to be a lawyer!—is step one toward eventual disappointment. Work hard, be proud of what you’re doing and what you’ve accomplished, but there are a lot of law students and a lot of lawyers. Not to disappoint your future self, Chris, but one day you’ll write a blog post called life as a loser law grad (although it has a happy ending).
  2. Stop speaking like a lawyer. It’s only after you got out of law school that you realized how lame and pretentious law students sound. You once told your eminently smart and capable father that law school was harder than business school, even though you never went to B-school and can’t add. Shut up, Chris.
  3. Stop writing like a lawyer. Don’t you think that brief would go better if you weren’t so bent on writing like someone shoved a Latin text up your behind? Andy’s post went viral for a reason: Ignore what’s taught in grammar school. Please don’t confuse those first horribly-written opinions you read as a 1L—or any of them for that matter—as the type of writing you should be doing as a future lawyer. It’s barely comprehensible and it makes you hate law school right out of the gate. Learn to write well. Plain, conversational English is king.
  4. Stop dressing like a lawyer. Truth be told, you’re not going to dress up all that much, so you’ve got that going for you. There’s plenty of time to wear a suit, anyhow. Be comfortable. Law school is about learning, not looking good. Be bold. Wear the skinny tie, Chris. When the law prof docks you in mock trial, she’s going to blame it on lack of skill, anyway, even if it really was the skinny tie that did it.
  5. Burn your casebooks. OK, don’t burn them, but do sell them back. And don’t buy any until you feel a compelling need. One, they’re too expensive. Two, they’re too expensive. Three, you can probably get by without them if you’ve got the “guidebooks”—Gilbert comes to mind—and if you need to get from point A to point B, a guidebook tells you exactly what you need to know and how to get there. Smart law students buy only what they really need to learn the material, not what everyone tells them they need. Plus, there’s always Google.
  6. Skip the laptop in class. That laptop is nothing but a distraction. The web, gaming, chatting, reading blogs, etc. are a time-suck. And contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need to write down every single word that comes out of the law professor’s mouth. Rather, you need to listen. Sit back and listen. Relax. Take infrequent notes. Absorb the lecture, not the screen, not the keyboard.
  7. Argue less. Or not at all. What, a few law school classes and suddenly everything is a chance to argue? There’s more power in keeping your big trap shut than there is in letting it fly. Save it for someone who cares. Save it for when it actually matters. Being a law student does not equip you with the negotiating power to argue for double meat on your Chipotle burrito. Like some kind of Jedi.

(image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/spikestitch/3520649300/)

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  • Amanda

    *Differently

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

      Headline over grammar. The -ly bothers me.

  • http://consumerlawyer.mn/cgi-sys/suspendedpage.cgi Randall Ryder

    I’m glad you found the long lost Skywalker. He’s apparently been protecting a conference room all these years.

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

      That’s where Han Solo got nabbed, after all.

      • http://consumerlawyer.mn/cgi-sys/suspendedpage.cgi Randall Ryder

        Dang Boba Fett.

  • B

    Should be called: “How to Barely Get By and then Write an Anti-Law School Blog Post”

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/andymergendahl/ Andy Mergendahl

      “B” is too modest to reveal that he’s already made partner at Skadden Arps. At the age of 16. But not too modest to assume Chris “barely got by” and try to mock him for that. So, so clever.

      • B

        Your comment assumes I was saying he barely got by- I was saying that the article should be called “How to Barely Get By…” because if anybody actually follows this advice, they are going to get absolutely humiliated in every 1L class. I’m sure he didn’t actually follow this advice because he doesn’t seem like an idiot. Unless it’s a school that doesn’t use the Socratic method, in which case it shouldn’t be called law school, any legitimate professor will expect you to be able to find specific passages from the case. And if you don’t have your laptop open, you can’t follow along on Westlaw or Lexis. I’m sure the author is intelligent and is probably doing fine as a copyright lawyer, and I’ve heard lawyers say “oh you don’t need a casebook,” but this simply isn’t realistic. It is possible for a 2L or 3L, but not for a 1L. I’ve seen professors berate students for having supplements out in class. You cannot just go to class and absorb everything a professor says. The benefit of having a laptop out is that at the end of the semester you can edit your notes down to an outline without retyping your notes- something you don’t have time to do from handwritten notes. It’s fine to support your friend’s article, but this is very harmful advice for law students.

    • http://consumerlawyer.mn/cgi-sys/suspendedpage.cgi Randall Ryder

      What part of this is anti law school?

      • http://lawyerist.com/author/andymergendahl/ Andy Mergendahl

        That occurred to me too. Answer: none. Anti self-absorbed law student? Yes.

        • B

          “Anti self-absorbed”…that makes a lot of sense. If any 1Ls actually read this (which I highly doubt), scroll down and see my comment below for real advice. One more thing to add: study groups of 2-3 beat out groups of 4+.

  • http://windycitytrialgroup.com/ Denny Esford

    Great article. Want to scare the hell out of a law professor, and most practicing lawyers? “Well yes, my client has directed me to try this case, he has the money, and at 42, that’s why I went to law school (at night while working full time) in the first place.” =)

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

      Bing, bing, bing. What do we have for him, Johnny? Denny Esford actually gets it.

  • Ethan Beattie

    Numbers 6 and 7! Nailed it!

    • http://lawyerist.com/author/chrisbradley/ Chris Bradley

      Thanks, Ethan. Good to see you here. I hope you’re doing well!

  • Karl Erich Martell

    I graduated 20 years ago next month, and I very much enjoyed your take on how you’d do it differently. Agreed with most of it, too! One thing I’d add for myself is that I’d try to enjoy the readings more. Hey, thanks for an interesting reflection.

  • Leslie MacKenzie

    #6 – I had a professor in grad school who gave us a printed copy of his lecture at the beginning of class and then told us to put it, and our notebook, under our chair so that we could pay attention to what he was saying. Brilliant idea.

  • James

    As Winston Churchill said, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

    Dear Lawyerist,
    I feel that you must get rid of this column or it will be the death of you. The author of this column does not need to publish his articles right now, he needs to pull the weeds out of his mind that have overtaken his good sense!

    He should get to work on reminding himself that there is no one like him on this earth, and that anything is possible in this world if he is willing to assert himself and face failure head on – again and again until he is immune to it’s sting!

    Then, he can pick up the pen and begin writing again – and he can take a stand against this defeatist mentality that has become somewhat of a popular fad. But unlike the popular fads in fashion or music – this defeatist mentality will leave you standing in the unemployment line or collecting welfare!

    The opportunity is out there for those who will go after it. And the more who go after it and begin working to build our nation’s economy to new heights, the faster the mindset and confidence of our nation’s people will turn around!

    I’m afraid that the Lawyerist.com will have a tough road ahead if this column is allowed to continue in it’s present form…. not to mention the harm it is undoubtedly doing to those readers who are most susceptible it’s influence!

    Best to you,

    James

    • B

      Good to see someone other than the author’s friend sees the negativity in telling students not to use case books (and then not use a laptop, thus not even using Lexis or Westlaw to read the case when the Prof goes over it), not to practice arguing/debating (aka advocacy), not learning to dress like a lawyer (aka professionalism), etc. Want real advice? Read The Bramble Bush, get to know your librarian, avoid the law school prep books, avoid tls.com, limit 1L extracurriculars, limit your supplements to E&E and Emmanuels and don’t carry them around (and actually answer the E&E qustions), some Professors will bump your grade just for meeting with them a few times, don’t jump to the conclusion on your exam- set up initial argument/rule application, then knock it/them down 1 by 1 with exceptions, master Bluebooking, realize they purposely give you more than can be humanly accomplished to toughen you up, practice essays, try to get professors old exams, get sleep, and read Legal Writing In Plain English before your first internship, and make sure to take Lit Skills. Most importantly, enjoy becoming a Jedi.

      • Andy Mergendahl

        “B”, enjoy the kool-aid. That artificial grape flavor covers up a lot of cyanide.
        Everyone else, please read these 2 books and 1 blog: Failing Law Schools (Tamanaha), The Lawyer Bubble (Harper), and every word of insidethelawschoolscam.blogspot.com
        Do it for the children you might like to be able to afford to raise (some day).

        • B

          Kool-aid: “Oh yeah!” See everyone, authors’ buddy just cited 3 anti-law school sources. What is it that they say? Oh yeah, case in point. Boom goes the dynamite.

          • http://lawyerist.com/author/samglover/ Sam Glover

            What are you even talking about?

          • Andy Mergendahl

            Chris and I have never met. We only know each other by our mutual writing on this blog. So we are not exactly “buddys.” Thanks for assuming facts not in evidence, though.
            And, uh, 3 “anti-law school” sources written by 2 current tenured law professors and 1 current adjunct law professor who is also a 30-year veteran biglaw litigator. How “anti-law school” are they, exactly? Maybe just anti-bullshit? But perhaps they have downed the kool-aid and you are the voice of reason. The mind reels.

  • andrea Monk

    I am a grad two years out. There are basically two ways to get a job: 1. Your grades are great, say, top 25% or better, you love to write and research, you love the Bluebook, you don’t really like going to court, and you could see yourself working in a big firm. You, dear reader, will get the big bucks. You should answer the ads on job boards like Symplicity, because you have a decent chance of getting them. 2. You are an extrovert, you love and go to any and all networking events and are great at “cocktail chatter,” you do everything fast, fast, fast – which means you can join 3 clubs, work 2 internships and avoid academic probation simultaneously. You will get a job in a small firm or start your own, and have absolutely no problem with a court appearance your first day.

    If you don’t fit one of these models, GET OUT OF LAW SCHOOL! There’s no shame in it, but there is shame – and stress- with getting out, being unable to get a job as your loan interest piles up – and finding that non-legal employers will not hire law school graduates. (We’re litigious and cause trouble!)

    I

    • Guy

      Forgot two things: (1) having family attorney, family friend, or family client who will hire you (sort of covered it under networking), and (2) using a certified legal internship or other externship to establish a foothold and using it to get a full time position.

  • Lionel Richie

    I am reading this on my laptop in evidence. guilt consumes me.

  • Lara

    I’m a 1L and only #6 really applies… but I find my laptop extremely useful during class. I love typing notes and being able to easily create an outline from them weekly, and ask classmates questions (occasionally.. not all class long) to clarify a point the prof is making. Love law school, I enjoy the subjects despite initial apprehension, and got a 3.85 my first semester. I know its a hard ride and harder after to find a job, but hopefully I can set myself up for success right out of the gate (law review, small business clinic, judicial externship, ect). That would be my advice for incoming 1Ls, as an experienced and successful one myself. Hopefully it continues.