Law School For Dummies
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Law school is a major challenge — especially the first year — and a major opportunity. Knowing how to make yourself a standout applicant gets you into the classroom, where you can make use of techniques to get the most out of all three years of law school. You'll also need to look for appropriate jobs during the summers. Then, you may find that the lawyerly life isn’t for you and look for alternatives to a career in law.

Qualifications of the ideal law school applicant

If you’re considering going to law school, you know your reasons for applying, but you may not know what law schools look for in a candidate. For a law school admissions committee, the ideal applicant has the following credentials:

  • Has taken a variety of challenging courses in college and scored well in them

  • Has a well-thought-out reason for wanting to go to law school

  • Has excelled in extracurricular, service-oriented, or work-related activities

  • Writes a dynamic personal statement that reveals an intriguing personality to admissions committees

Elements of a great law school application

The application process for law school can be nerve-wracking. You have to present yourself in your law school application in a positive, engaging fashion without straining the admission committee’s credulity or interest. An effective application does the following:

  • Contains a sparkling personal statement

  • Is submitted on time and free of all typos

  • Shows off your personality

  • Enumerates all extracurricular activities clearly and succinctly

How to survive your first year of law school

The first year of law school, or 1L as it’s called, is the most brutal. To make it through your first law school classes, you need grim determination and a sense of proportion.

Successful survival tactics include:

  • Attending and absorbing everything during orientation

  • Making sure to balance study and leisure time

  • Finding upperclassmen to befriend for advice and outlines

  • Not letting your reading load pile up

How to survive law school exams

Law school is hard — everyone knows that. And, possibly the hardest part of law school are the exams. You need to know what to expect and be able to adjust when the exam covers something you didn’t prepare for. Some tips for getting through law exams include:

  • Make sure your outline is up to speed

  • Give yourself plenty of time to study

  • Understand the types of questions you may encounter

  • Practice hypotheticals to increase understanding

  • Snag a dedicated study group

  • Take and review many practice exams

Tips for finding summer jobs during law school

It seems that every aspect of law school is fraught with competition and consequence — including the summer jobs you work. Summer job-search strategies that work for law students include:

  • Always tailor your cover letters and resumes to the potential employer — avoid mass mailings.

  • Try to find work in an area of interest, at least during the summer, between your second and third year.

  • If you can’t find paid work in your preferred area of practice, consider doing an externship for course credit at a nonprofit, governmental organization, or court.

  • Research your interviewers before your initial and call-back interviews.

  • Don’t search for a particular job just because that job is the “in thing to do.”

How to make the most of your second and third years of law school

After you survive 1L — the first year of law school — you don’t get to relax exactly, but you do get to catch your breath and glance up from your books to consider the world around you and your place in it. Some options available to you in your second and third years of law school include the ability to

  • Choose electives based on personal interest, bar courses, and graduation requirements.

  • Pursue extracurricular activities that help narrow down your area of practice options.

  • Maintain a network of contacts on whom you can call for advice.

  • Investigate areas of practice that interest you by informational interviewing and joining local and state bar associations.

How to choose the right extracurriculars during law school

Law school offers more than just studying books and briefs. You can choose extracurricular activities while in law school to enhance your studies and to help you prepare for the type of law you want to practice. Options for extracurriculars include

  • Considering whether you have time to devote to a law journal/law review.

  • Deciding whether you want to hone your advocacy and public speaking skills in a moot court competition.

  • Gaining legal research skills (and a valuable contact) as a research assistant for a professor.

  • Joining a club to discover more about areas of practice and get involved in leadership.

Choosing an alternative career path with a law degree

You put in the time, money, blood, sweat, and tears necessary to make it through law school, but find that you don’t really want to be a lawyer. Rest assured that you’re not alone. Many law school graduates find fulfilling careers far away from courtrooms and law offices.

Points to ponder as you decide your next job move include the following:

  • Decide whether you want to find a job that’s related or completely unrelated to the legal field.

  • Figure out why you don’t like law (if you don’t) and use that knowledge to avoid future job mistakes.

  • Do self-assessment exercises to figure out where your strengths and talents lie.

  • Reach an understanding that not wanting to practice law is okay.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Rebecca Greene, JD, is a May 2003 graduate of Indiana University School of Law?Bloomington. A contributor to the American Bar Association?s Student Lawyer magazine, she also wrote for Peterson?s Law Schools.

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