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Positives You Can Take From Law School

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Everything has a negative and positive side to it and law school is no exception. Whilst understanding the pros and cons of law school you will find that there are areas where the positives and negatives become blurred because they seldom exist alone without some sort of tradeoff.

Friendships Formed in Law School:

We have already emphasized the high-stress nature of obtaining a legal education. Under such conditions, it is typical human nature to form alliances against a common enemy. During law school, that "enemy" may be perceived as the faculty of the school or even fellow students who stand between your current ranking and the ranking you wish to obtain. This may sound like you will not have a single friend with whom to share the law school triumphs and depressions, but that is anything but true. A law student's greatest source of help and support is the same source of his or her greatest competition and anguish-fellow classmates.

We will be honest with you and admit that there are going to be students attending your law school that you should not associate with because they have goals they will try to obtain at any cost. But the vast majority of your fellow students will probably feel like we hope you do, that cooperation and sharing positive experiences, some not even law-related, are large parts of the law school experience.

From the first day of class, you will automatically be drawn to some students because they exhibit a personality to which you can relate. You undoubtedly experienced this occurrence while attending high school and as an undergraduate. It is with these students that you will form friendships, create study groups, enjoy meals, and socialize. All the while, you will be aware that you are in competition with one another, but that will be secondary to the friendships themselves. The law school friends you make will last since the friendships were formed under trying times. You will have proved your worth to one another and shared a unique common experience. Later, you will be able to count on your friends for advice and support.

Don't be too surprised if many of the friends you make are faculty members. Sure, they probably pushed you in class and demanded your best, but maybe that is why you admired them and performed at a higher level than you thought possible. We have all had favorite teachers during each of the various stages of education, and law school will be no different. We would encourage you to attend some of the faculty and student mixers; every law school is bound to have at least a few. It is at these functions that you can get to know your professors outside of class in a more relaxed setting.

Thinking Logically and Analytically:

During the entire duration of law school you will be told that the objective of your legal education is to teach you to "think like a lawyer." What is this mode of thinking, and what will it do to your mind? Hopefully, you will exit law school without too much mental damage. What professors mean to convey by the term, "thinking like a lawyer," is the necessary development of an organized and thorough mind-set-a way to examine facts and neatly organize them into areas of importance, recognizing arguments that can be made to advance either side of a given argument. This "much-sought-after" mental ability is developed through a combination of untold hours of Socratic teaching, briefing cases, and practical oral and written exercises.

A successful attorney, whether or not a litigator (that is, one who appears in court actions), understands that most cases involve a very structured debate format. Maybe that is why debate classes are so favored as prelaw courses. An attorney presents his or her client's arguments from the perspective that most favors that client's point of view. This presentation is made while recognizing that opposing counsel will tell a much different story. In other words, a case must be developed favoring one's own client while preparing for and negating arguments made by the opposition. An attorney must be able to anticipate any points that will be made and defuse them. The ability to see both sides of an issue and prepare for potential actions often wins the case (debate).

How long will it take you to develop this ability to think logically and analytically? Although there is no correct answer to this question, it is true that the more you strive to develop this ability, the better at it you become. Some lawyers master it very early in law school, while others are still struggling with it years into their profession.

Good Work Habits and Time Management:

You have heard of Puritan ethics, where hard work is its own best reward and you toil from sunrise to sunset. Well, law students, and later lawyers, have their own version of this concept. Unfortunately, the toil begins at sunrise and continues far past sunset. When you graduate from high school and enter undergraduate school, you learn that you need to apply yourself academically a lot more than you have been accustomed to. It becomes tougher to gain benefits, such as good grades, than it was before.

As compared to your undergraduate studies, you would expect law school to be tougher, but not a huge leap from the expectations placed upon you during college. You are in for a surprise if that is your perception. Law school is much like a military boot camp for the mind, and will expect far more from you than you thought you could possibly give. Each professor will place demands on you that seem almost impossible to fulfill. But somehow you get through-not without some moments of extreme doubt-but you do pull through. As a footnote, we realize that all we have discussed in this section seems quite negative, and you might especially think so when you are experiencing it firsthand. However, by going through this ordeal you emerge with a remarkable ability to concentrate, to continue working until the task is complete, and to expect more from yourself than ever before. This ability to work, and work hard, is best learned by being forced to do it. Once learned, this asset will help you throughout life-in law-related activities and other endeavors.

Since there are so many competing demands on your time, it is imperative that you learn to manage it in an efficient manner. For whatever reason, effective time management seems to spring forth out of necessity. You have multiple assignments due and the usual amount of reading and briefing to complete. What do you do first, and how much time do you allocate to each task?

Every law student handles time management differently. Some just move from project to project placing more time and effort on those activities likely to assist the most in obtaining a good grade. Others carefully budget each hour of the day for various activities and religiously follow a set routine. Regardless of your approach, you soon learn which method works for you and which does not. Once mastered, this ability allows you to work at a higher level of performance in all work areas.

Knowledge of the Law:

Upon completion of law school, students know an incredible amount of law. Since it is law that holds a society together, by establishing acceptable standards of behavior and expectations of citizen conduct, those who best understand the law can assist society to achieve a higher level of fairness and justice.

All areas of our lives are heavily regulated and this scenario certainly is not going to reverse itself as the years pass. Law students are taught that all citizens are expected to know the law, with the phrase "Ignorance is no excuse" heard frequently during the course of their studies. People are given access to all laws, old and new, and they must, as good citizens, keep current regarding what is expected of them. In reality, the general populous is aware of not even a handful of laws. Consequently, they need a guide to lead them through the maze of regulations they may encounter. It is the attorney's understanding of the law that gives him or her power and the privilege to be sought out for this leadership role.

Even attorneys cannot remain current in all areas of the law. However, in the process of obtaining a legal education, they have also acquired the ability to do legal research and interpret the law, thus allowing them to remain current even as the law changes. Since attorneys sell their time, which is, in reality, their expertise (given the ability to update their knowledge, combined with the proliferation of law), they enjoy almost guaranteed, continuous societal demands for their services.

About Harrison Barnes
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Harrison Barnes does a weekly free webinar with live Q&A for attorneys and law students each Wednesday at 10:00 am PST. You can attend anonymously and ask questions about your career, this article, or any other legal career-related topics. You can sign up for the weekly webinar here: Register on Zoom

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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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