In this article, we are not discussing personal attributes like “leadership skills” or other soft skills and abilities that define the success of a person throughout his/her career, but some common factors that affect how law students individually engage with the law school as an institution. Worrying about the job market, or what else you could have done, is inconsequential if you fail to succeed in your primary role of a law student. This article mentions some individual factors you need to watch in order to make most of your time at law school.
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‘Engagement' is critical to law student success
When we talk about law student ‘engagement' with the law school we are not only talking about academic investment, motivation, and commitment, but also the psychological connection, comfort, and sense of belonging that the student feels towards his/her institution, peers, teachers, and administrators. Engagement with the school can be affected by how a student views and accepts the pressures of grades, the eccentric behavior of others, the acceptance or rejection by groups and individuals, and myriad other things. A student cannot change most of these factors, but he/she can change how he/she views or perceives de-motivating factors and thus can increase his/her chances of success.
‘Person'-centered variables that affect law student engagement
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Research has shown that how law students individually engage with their institutions or curricula depends largely upon three factors and individual differences with respect to these three factors. These are:
- Competence beliefs
- Concerns and expectations of bias around social identities
- Perceptions of and coping with contextual stress
The three factors mentioned above are critical for success as a law student. While in broad categories minority and gender bias can affect groups, individuals can break out of the situation and forge ahead if they could recognize the roots of their problems and learned to handle contextual stress.
Analyze your personal beliefs and tweak them
It is natural for individual law students to create belief systems around perceptions of individual abilities and personal characteristics vis-à-vis benchmarks or peer standards established in the law school eco system. Our personal belief systems provide the framework upon which we understand and value interpersonal experiences as well as academic experiences. Whether we see the system biased for us or against us, or whether we perceive something as stressful or not, depends largely upon our individual belief systems. Personal belief-systems determine whether we would withdraw and disengage in the face of academic difficulty, or re-invest and increase our efforts to cope with setbacks and failures.
So, tweaking our individual belief systems can spell success or failure in law school. To clarify, let's say many, if not most, of us believe that we are born with a certain IQ or level of intelligence and that ‘quantum' of intelligence is immutable and unchangeable. Holding such beliefs can prevent success, in as much as, such a student may conclude his/her natural abilities are not up to the task. On the other hand, if the same student believed that intelligence and the application of intelligence is something that can increase with time and use, they may not give up, even when faced with insurmountable odds, and just pile up efforts and keep going.
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Bonita London, Geraldine Downey, and Shauna Mace, "Psychological Theories of Educational Engagement: A Multi-Method Approach to Studying Individual Engagement and Institutional Change," Vanderbilt Law Review 60, no. 2 (2007)
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Harrison Barnes is the legal profession's mentor and may be the only person in your legal career who will tell you why you are not reaching your full potential and what you really need to do to grow as an attorney--regardless of how much it hurts. If you prefer truth to stagnation, growth to comfort, and actionable ideas instead of fluffy concepts, you and Harrison will get along just fine. If, however, you want to stay where you are, talk about your past successes, and feel comfortable, Harrison is not for you.
Truly great mentors are like parents, doctors, therapists, spiritual figures, and others because in order to help you they need to expose you to pain and expose your weaknesses. But suppose you act on the advice and pain created by a mentor. In that case, you will become better: a better attorney, better employees, a better boss, know where you are going, and appreciate where you have been--you will hopefully also become a happier and better person. As you learn from Harrison, he hopes he will become your mentor.
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