By Rebecca Ann Naeder, Allen & Overy LLP
Law school is challenging. I remember that well. Law school is also very stressful. I remember that, too. And I remember thinking during my first year of law school – “Wow, if law school is this difficult, I can only imagine what being a lawyer will be like.” But looking back on my time in law school, I can tell you that that is the wrong mindset to have. Instead, you should think of law school as a trial run for your future career. Embrace law school, get involved, and you will be able to develop a great arsenal of skills that will help you when you enter your future career.
The best piece of advice I can give any law student is to really get involved in law school. I know the emails, the announcements, and the fliers are annoying. And I know that you already have enough on your plate with studying and homework. But it is so important to really get involved in law school. By joining organizations (including journals or Moot Court), taking an externship, doing pro-bono work, or participating in a clinic (or all of the above), you can develop important skills that lawyers use every day.
You’re probably already thinking, “What is she nuts?! When does she want me to add this into my already packed schedule?” But that is exactly the point; the more you get involved, the more important managing your time well will be. Imagine the time management skills you can develop if you are carrying a full course load, conducting pro-bono work with a non-profit organization, writing a brief for Moot Court, and writing a note for your journal. Of course that is a huge amount to juggle. But image how good at time management you will be by the time you graduate from law school. Then, when you start your career, and one partner is asking for a memo, another is asking you to review thousands of documents, and a third is asking you to write sections of a brief all at the same time, you will already know how to manage your time and get your work done.
And taking on additional work through Moot Court, an externship, or a clinic is not like taking an extra class throughout the semester. You will not be sitting in class learning a legal theory first developed in the 18th Century that really has no bearing on what lawyers do on a day-to-day basis. Instead you will be developing first-hand legal skills like research and writing or getting up on your feet and arguing – real-life lawyer skills. And then, when you are given your first research assignment, at your first job out of law school, you will be really prepared to dive right into the assignment because you already have those skills down pat.
And then do not forget about all the people you will come in contact with by getting involved – all the other law students on the journal, your clinic manager, your externship supervisor, etc. All of those people become part of your network. Now I know that you are probably sick and tired of hearing about networking, but it is so, so, so important to build your network in law school. Of course law schools market networking as a way to get that oh so valuable first job out of law school, but building your network is much more important than that. Building your network is about meeting people across the legal industry. That way one day when you are representing a client, you know the attorneys on the other side. Or one day when your client needs a referral, you know who to send him or her to. Networking is about building contacts across the legal industry – a very valuable skill that you can begin developing right now.
You can gain all of these great skills by getting involved in law school, but signing up to an email list-serve or attending a pro-bono training are not enough. You need to really jump in with both feet. Don’t wait for the right moment or the right pro-bono case or the right Moot Court prompt. Say “yes” and continue to say “yes.” Because in your career, you are going to have to say “yes” a lot. You will have to say “yes” to assignments you might not want to do, or clients you do not love, or colleagues that rub you the wrong way, but part of doing your job well is saying “yes.” Once you start working, and you say “yes,” and continue to say “yes,” you will open yourself up to bigger and better opportunities. And learning to say “yes” begins in law school.
I know that all of this is something you have probably heard a million times since law school orientation, but take it from me – these skills are so valuable to have. I truly believe that a lot of my success in my career comes from the skills I learned while I was in law school. For example, in my externship, I learned great research and writing skills because part of my position involved constantly drafting motions. In Moot Court, I learned how to think on my feet, and in my pro-bono work, I learned how to address a judge. All of these skills have made me into the junior lawyer I am today and have helped shape my career.
Rebecca is an associate in the Litigation Group of Allen & Overy’s New York Office. Rebecca’s practice focuses on internal and regulatory investigations and complex commercial disputes.
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