Guest Blogger: Anita Western, Law and Technology
Anita Western is a 3L at Michigan State University College of Law with a trustee scholarship and a passion toward the issues that arrive at the intersection of law and technology. Prior to law school, she earned three bachelor’s degrees in Criminal Justice, Spanish and Political Science. Anita works for BARBRI Bar Review as a marketing intern, where she partners with the Director of Social Media and… Read More
Law school success doesn’t come easy. It takes a great deal of hard work and determination. But when you land your dream job, you’ll realize how rewarding the experience truly was! Though I am a 3L, I still vividly remember my first year of law school. It was incredibly rigorous, but I made lifetime friends and professional relationships that I am forever thankful for. I also like to think that I gained a little bit of knowledge along the way as well, which is why I’m here writing for you. Back then, I didn’t understand how important the following five things are. I wish I had learned them earlier in my law school career, and my hope is that they are beneficial to you today.
Your 1L grades are the most important
I know grades are never anyone’s topic of choice, but in law school they’re incredibly important. Unlike undergrad, law school has an independent “curve” for every class as well as a “class rank” where the students are ranked according to their GPAs each semester. The curve grading scale contributes to the infamously competitive atmosphere within law school. Professors will grade each exam and then rank the exams against one another, adding to and subtracting from the initial grades so that the overall grade distribution matches the school’s specified curve (usually a “bell curve” or “normal distribution”). This means the exact number of As, Bs, Cs, etc. is predetermined and students’ grades must be made to fit into those allotments. Students tend to loathe this grading scale because they can be pushed down a letter grade. For example, if only 10 Bs were allotted and the professor graded 12 exams as Bs, the lowest 2 Bs will become C+s and so on. This grading technique is tough, but most professors offer “participation points” that will be applied to your final grade, so participate early and often in class!
Develop healthy habits & find your balance
This is law school. It is an experience unto itself. In undergrad, free time seemed to be in abundant supply. In law school, there never truly seems to be free time. There are always more assignments to read and work to be done, not to mention social activities in which to participate. It’s easy to fall into the regimen of fueling yourself up with coffee and/or Red Bull to stay awake, ordering pizza because you don’t have time to cook and spending all-nighters because there aren’t 25 hours in a day (unfortunately). Of course, you will absolutely run into nights where all of the above are necessary, but you always have to think of how this will affect you. Mental health is just as important as physical. It’s crucial to set boundaries for how you will let law school control your life. Keep the cheat meals to a minimum, set study goals so you aren’t pulling an excessive number of all-nighters and commit to time dedicated for relaxing. Whether it’s Netflix, working out or simply hanging out with friends, make sure that you devote time to clearing your head of all stress.
Preparation is everything, read for every class
I know this task may seem impossible at times, but it’s incredibly important. Even on the first day of class you will have readings, and professors will expect you to be prepared. Showing up to class and expecting to “wing-it,” or hoping to sneak by without being fully prepared would be a disservice to you, the professor and your classmates. Your job, right now, is to be a student of law (unless you’re a part time student, in which case you would have two jobs). You are here to be “zealous advocates” for all those whom you will represent in the future. The only profession in which it’s acceptable to perform 30% of the time is baseball. If you happen to be unprepared for a class, which happens to us all at some point, and get the double-whammy of being cold-called, then you should say, “I’m sorry Professor, but I’m unprepared today.” Professor Stromwell, who removed Elle Woods from her class for being unprepared in Legally Blonde is not someone you will come to face in law school. Your professor may berate you, but they’re human too. They will move on. Fair warning though, you may be on call for the entirety of the next class — depending on the professor. Classmates and professors alike appreciate your honesty and respect you for not wasting their time trying to power through something you are not prepared for. Be present. Be prepared.
Utilize your resources to build a brand
The minute you step foot into law school, you are building yourself as a future lawyer. Your words, actions and attire speak to your character, whether an accurate representation or not. This goes for social media as well. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter provide you with an ability to build a virtual identity as well. Be sure to consider your postings on social media. The people you interact with daily are your potential opponents, co-council, judges or employers. Your brand is something that will follow you through law school, interviews and your future career. Also, don’t forget to take time to come out of your shell and introduce yourself to the people in your section (this will come in handy for final exam study groups) and attend law school sponsored events to meet new people.
Get to know your campus and school before school starts
Where is the law school located? Is there a bus that will take you to your building or do you need to drive or find alternative transportation? Do they have parking? Do you need to purchase a parking pass or pay by day? Find your classrooms and research the organizations you’d like to get involved in. Doing these things before classes start will remove a great deal of stress, as everything happens so fast in law school. If you’re unsure of what organizations would be a good fit, attend luncheons and events that different organizations host during your first month of school. There’s no shame in just testing the waters, and having a few free lunches while doing so. And, don’t hesitate to reach out to the e-board members of organizations that peak your interests. They’re there to help.
What Every Law Student Really Needs to Know: An Introduction to the Study of Law by Tracey E. George is a good read before you start school.