June 14th, 2008include("adsense.php"); ?>
My youngest brother, Jason, will matriculate at Washington University in St. Louis Law School this fall, and I compiled the following advice for him as he sets out on his legal education. As the eldest of three sons, I sometimes say that I’m the guy who ended up beta-testing life–making mistakes so my younger siblings don’t need to. There are benefits and drawbacks to this, as there are to everything, of course. In any event, I hope the material after the jump is helpful:
- It’s never too early, nor too late, to get involved and network. Volunteer at CLE events, consider doing writing competitions, do informational interviews, and talk to strangers. A rudimentary degree of competence in schmoozing will help you a lot, and it’s the sort of thing that’s only earned through practice. (As Prof. Wagstaffe said to my class, most of your cases will come from people you have talked with in the past week.) On a more immediate note, getting a job, as I said, is largely a matter of luck. But you can make yourself luckier if you know more people–someone who knows fifty people will be ten times more likely to get a job than someone who knows five. You can manufacture luck, but it takes some time.
- Similarly: consider joining bar associations as a student–not just the ABA, but local, regional, and practice-area groups as well. There are zillions, including the Half-Norwegian (on the Mother’s Side) American Bar Association. (This is particularly applicable to Jason and me, as we are half-Norwegian (on our mother’s side), although past presidents have had ancestry ranging from half-Norwegian (on the father’s side) to African to Italian to Danish-Swedish.)
- Sign up for Bar/Bri your first year–you’ll lock in that year’s tuition (and yes, it does go up every year–not by a drastic quantity, but hey, you need that money a lot more than Thomson does), but more importantly, you’ll also get their 1L and upper-level outlines, more on which later.
- Course outlines, hornbooks, and study aids, whether commercial or prepared by other students, can help a lot. One of the downsides of law school in the US is that they make you get the principles of law from cases that you read, and for every plain-spoken O’Connor or methodical Posner, there’s at least one inscrutable Frankfurter or some long-dead judge who clerked for Moses and must have gotten paid by the dependent clause. While it’s important to learn how to interpret legal opinions, these resources can help give you a roadmap to understanding the really opaque ones.
- A corollary: one of the best times to read outlines isn’t after class or while preparing for the test (although they can help then), but before the class, so you know what’s coming.
- Another book worth getting: Guerrilla Tactics For Getting The Legal Job Of Your Dreams, by Kimm Walton (aka the Job Goddess, and not without reason). This is the book that made me finally appreciate networking.
- Also: Glannon’s Examples and Explanations for civ pro is basically a must.
- Also also: Academic Legal Writing, by Eugene Volokh. Excellent advice for, well, academic legal writing, including the law review writing competition and your journal note or seminar paper.
- Speaking of legal writing and research, are you confused by the array of books you use in researching legal issues? I think someone made a Field Guide to the Law Library for that a while ago.
- A book not worth getting: Black’s Law Dictionary. If you must have a paper law dictionary, I think Barron’s puts out a good one that is substantially cheaper. However, Google and Wikipedia will be happy to enlighten you on the occasional obscure term for free. In the unlikely case that you need a really detailed definition, the law library will have a copy of the desktop version of Black’s, but I haven’t really needed to use any of ours (although I sometimes flipped through them while avoiding real work because I’m a word nerd).
- Some folks like making flashcards. I haven’t, but I’m trying out Genius now, and it’s pretty cool.
- Legal exam writing is unlike any other form of writing known to humankind. Your school will probably offer a workshop on this–Hastings had an outfit called the Academic Support Program that did it. Go to those workshops. Virtually everyone in your class will know the material, most people will be able to issue-spot well, but the presentation is what turns a decent exam into a great one. It took me far longer than it ought to have to realize this.
- Stay on top of things. It should go without saying, but even the most diligent people have been caught out by this one.
- It’s just law school. There are things in this world worth killing yourself over; the law is very, very far from being one of them. I’m not trying to scare you off–people with JDs do a lot of cool things–but you don’t get to, much less through, law school without being at least a little obsessive, and carried to extremes, this character trait can make you very unhealthy indeed. Hard work and a balanced life are not incompatible, and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is deluded, or at least somewhat confused.
As I said, I hope this is helpful. If anyone in the audience has anything to add, please do so in the comments.
Entry Filed under: Law