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Law school is extremely competitive. It's one of the few places where students are hesitant to help their friends for fear their friends might end up with a higher class rank at the end of the semester. Students have been known to steal books from law school libraries to prevent other students from completing assignments on time. They have also been known to unplug their phones during finals week(s)-there may be two weeks of finals-so other students cannot ask them questions about upcoming finals.
Also, students participating in study groups have been known to prepare two sets of briefs-the correct set for themselves and the incorrect set for other members of their group. On rare occasions, upper-level students have been known to give first-year students misleading information. One industrious soul even created erroneous outlines and left them scattered about the law library for others to "find." The list could go on ad infinitum.
Class standing ranks second behind getting into a particular law school, as to priority of advancement in the legal profession. If a student is not in the top 10 percent of his or her graduating class, it is much more difficult to land a job with a large prestigious law firm.
By looking at a student's resume, you can see where that student placed in his or her graduating class. The resume will read as follows: top 10 percent, top 20 percent, top 30 percent, top 1/3, top 40 percent, top half. If a student does poorly in law school, the G.P.A. or class rank may be omitted entirely.
In essence, students are forced to be highly competitive in law school these days because rivalry for any type of legal position is extremely intense. Not only are students competing with other students from their own law school, but they are battling with students from other law schools as well.
Since law schools are highly competitive, a prospective student's first priority should be top undergraduate grades and top LSAT scores to gain entrance into top law schools. Students, who have excellent undergraduate grades and excellent LSAT scores, have the luxury of being allowed to be more selective as to their choice of law school. Law schools with national reputations may be better than those with regional reputations unless a person is planning to practice in a particular locale; then the regional school is possibly better for two reasons. Regional law schools may emphasize state law; also, potential employers may be alumni of that particular school and may tend to hire "one of their own."
The second priority should be top grades at a top law school. The best of all possible worlds is to graduate at the top of the class from a prestigious law school. However, as mentioned previously, there is only so much room at the top; that is, there is a top half and a bottom half. The second best alternative, then, is to graduate from the bottom half of a prestigious law school.
The third alternative is to graduate at the top of a regional law school. Finally, the fourth alternative (not exactly a pleasant thought) is to graduate from the bottom half of a regional law school. What is important, however, is that you graduate!
Exams are given to first-year students at the end of their first semester. By January or February, students who rank at the top of the class are receiving invitations (along with second-year honor students) to interview for summer associate positions. In the past, law firms have been known to fill associate positions from this pool of summer associates. However, as supply continues to exceed demand, many summer associates no longer enjoy automatic full-time employment upon graduation from law school.
Highly Motivated Students:
The admittance ratio for law schools varies greatly from year to year, but there are consistently more applications than positions available. Since admission standards are extremely rigorous, only the best and the brightest make it into law school, with some of the most intelligent students who achieve the highest LSAT scores being accepted into multiple law schools. As a result, law schools, like airlines, tend to overbook to account for those students who may choose to attend elsewhere.
Not only is it difficult to get admitted into law school, but once accepted, students must compete with other exceptionally brilliant students. Students used to making As and Bs in undergraduate courses may suddenly find themselves making "gentlemen Cs" or possibly even Ds, and those who were always at the top of their classes may find themselves in the middle or even bottom half of their law classes. The pressure to excel that has driven those students to law school may be the very pressure that drives them over the edge physically or emotionally once they get to law school.
There is a saying, however, that may be of slight comfort to some: If those who make As become law professors and those who make Bs become judges, what do those who make Cs become? Rich!
Entering students need to take advantage of every opportunity afforded them to learn the ropes of a particular law school. They should attend any sessions the law school offers on how to study, how to briefcases, and how to prepare for final exams, among other topics. At some schools, second-year law students are assigned as mentors to first-year students to help them learn the ropes and to answer any questions they might have about law school.
Since knowledge is power, you should become as knowledgeable about your particular law school as you can. Read the law school catalog as to course offerings, advanced courses that are required, prerequisites for advanced courses, and other relevant information. Talk to school administrators if there is something in the catalog that you don't understand. Check with career services to become familiar with its interviewing policies, schedules, and other important considerations. Ask questions of other students, but listen with only one ear. If two independent students (two who are not friends) tell you the same thing, you can probably believe it. Participate in school activities to the extent your class schedule and work, if any, permit. Anything (within reason) you can do to increase your competitive advantage among the best and the brightest is not predatory but mere self-preservation because in law school, it truly is survival of the fittest.
Social Life: Slim or None:
There is quite an adjustment between college and law school. The less stressful that adjustment can be, the better. For those with spouses and children, the possibility of a move to attend law school can be somewhat traumatic-the spouse having to find a new job, children being relocated to new schools, and other factors that must be considered. However, there is also that sense of security offered by family members that single students may not enjoy. Much can be said about the moral and financial support as well. Irrespective of marital status, it may be best to attend law school in familiar surroundings-around family and friends. Some people might disagree, stating that friends and family will detract too much from study time. Of course, there's always the law school library.
Speaking of the library, this may well be where you spend most of your time- studying. In most law libraries, talking is discouraged except in the foyer. However, rules are made to be broken, and a lot of time can be wasted visiting with friends (even in the foyer). Although socializing is very important and worthwhile, you need to carefully allocate your time to maximize your law school investment. In the library, students need to determine where it is most conducive for them to study, and then spend their study time there.
Law libraries have study carrels with doors for upper-level students that are quite effective for those who are not claustrophobic. Your home can also be used for study purposes, but sometimes it may not be the most productive. It's best to separate play time from study time; otherwise, it can equate to taking your work home with you from the office. For those resigned to studying at home, however, an answering machine is an inexpensive and useful way to screen calls and minimize distractions.
The study of law is equivalent to a full-time job, and then some. Students are strongly discouraged from working their first year. Even second- and third-year schedules may prevent some students from working. There is very little time for anything except study and sleep-and very little of the latter. However, even though the study of law can be a full-time job (with no pay, of course), it is highly recommended that students maintain a healthy balance in their lives.
Other law students will become like family due to the time spent with them in classes, in the library and even discussing the law outside of class. You should plan social activities with those students around the law school. Attend law school functions to the fullest extent possible. You are there to learn about the law both in the classroom as well as outside of class.
These are just a few of the ways to experience the legal community firsthand. It's analogous to learning to drive. You can read about it until you are blue in the face. The learning, however, comes through actually experiencing it. So it is with law.
However, grades are the single most important concern so don't overload your social calendar to the detriment of your grades; there has to be a balance. Law firms look at a person's interpersonal skills to determine how well one relates to others. If you shut yourself away in the law school library (or your home), study your heart out, and finish at the top of your graduating class with little or nothing besides an excellent G.P.A. on your resume, there is a very good chance you will be turned down by law firms. Why? They want a well-rounded individual-someone who can relate to and work well with others.
Go to a movie every now and then. Go shopping, or if you don't have money for that, just go for a walk. Students can handle only so much of a good thing, and law is no exception. You will be in law school for three years and it can either be fun and educational or like a prison sentence-something to endure while counting the days until graduation.
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Hi, I’m Harrison Barnes. I’m serious about improving Lawyers’ legal careers. My only question is, will it be yours?
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison is the founder of BCG Attorney Search and several companies in the legal employment space that collectively gets thousands of attorneys jobs each year. Harrison is widely considered the most successful recruiter in the United States and personally places multiple attorneys most weeks. His articles on legal search and placement are read by attorneys, law students and others millions of times per year.
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