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Overwhelmed? Hang in there Law school is a marathon not a 100-meter dash

Bar & Bench

The beginning of law school can overwhelm the best of us. Law school can be a free for all to showcase their talent, and with people trying to join every society in law school, it is not only overwhelming but frightening at times. De Facto shares a list of things that he wish he had known in his law school years and hopes that this list will help plan your law school years.

It is again that time of the year where fresh batch of bright young minds are just starting their law school life. Getting into law school would have given many of you the illusion that you made it in life. Of course with your parents bragging about your law school entrance test rank to all the relatives, aunts, uncles, all the lunches and dinners that you had to attend after you heard the entrance test results, younger people in the family making you feel like a role model, you trying to use legal jargons with your friends, do naturally give you a feeling that you have accomplished what many could just dream of, and guess what, it is partly true.

But the road ahead is long and unknown, and some of you just started feeling that with few weeks of law school in your blood.

My only goal in the first week was to distance myself as far as possible from the seniors and try and make a few friends. Boy, was I foolish in thinking that I was smart enough to achieve these short term goals! Seniors were like vultures, they could find you in all obscure places which you thought were safe havens. My first day in class was probably the only time in my life where people made me feel like I was the unchosen one (the opposite of Neo in the movie Matrix). I had never ever seen so many eager super duper beavers together in one class trying to respond to questions from professors. And to say the least, it was truly overwhelming. The clarity of thought some of them had was amazing – they could easily join the faculty instead of being a student.

Ability to grasp information and churn some bulls*** was an art that many were masters of.

I had heard of Aristotle and Plato for some odd reason in my life before, but there were people who had read many books by and on such scholars and could interpret their theories centuries after they wrote them with immense clarity.

It was a free for all to showcase their talent, and with people trying to join every damn society in law school, it was not only overwhelming but frightening at times.  Again for the first time in my life I felt like I had no talent, and law school will make you feel that way from time to time – that is just how it is. With all that said, I enjoyed my law school years, made great friends and have such fond memories, I now wish I could go back to some parts of it.

Here is a list of things that I wish I had known in my law school years and sharing with you so that you can consider some of these in how you plan your law school years.

1. Law school is a marathon, not a 100 meter dash

 Don’t let the loud and opinionated ones bother you too much. They are usually the eager beavers who are trying to run a 100 meter dash. The real fighters are usually the silent ones – who have the stamina to run a marathon. They are quiet in the beginning trying to figure out the minefield, their road map, those who have a plan, trying to make long lasting friends and cautious of their competitors. So those who raise their hands all the time in class in the first few weeks will get their hands tired soon and the rest will get an opportunity to express your thoughts. Don’t let the feeling of dumbness and numbness in some class worry you too much. If you are not doing too well in economics, it is perfectly fine – we cannot be good in every possible thing in this world, can we? Learn to accept that you are not going to be a star in every course – just focus on what you like and what you want.

2. Focus your efforts on trying to understand the system

Law school is a place where you get free advice from every possible corner, whether you want it or not. All seniors have a view on how each professor is and what is the way to crack their course. Trust me; even the person who came last in his class will advise you on how to crack a certain professor’s course. Everyone in law school knows it all – weird isn’t it? Focus your energy on trying to understand the system and the important players of the system. Listen to the seniors, but don’t take their advice as gospel. Get information from all corners, but you make the decision based on what you think and not what someone else told you.

3. Jack of all is ok, but your CV building needs a focus

 I remember some people trying really hard to be on food committee, film society, moot court, sports, L&D and the list goes on. Just step back and think how could one person possibly get real work done by being in more than one or two committees, especially with the number of projects and exams we have at law schools. All prospective employers are aware how much of nonsense we add in our resume. Yeah, it does show some organizational qualities in a person, but that is not given a lot of weight by your prospective employers or foreign law schools. I think law students should focus on one or two things at max.

You could be a part of one or two committees for hobby, because you enjoy it or if it adds to your skill sets to make you a good lawyer one day. I talk to a lot of law firm partners and foreign universities on a regular basis about what they are looking for in fresh law school graduates, and I always hear this one – someone who has a focus!

So, stop this rat race of joining multiple committees where you have no interest at all, rather, just focus on what you enjoy or what will help you hone your legal skills. In my view, there are three key skills that a person needs to be a good lawyer – ability to write really well, speak/express well and most importantly listen damn well. Of course I would not discount the skills to organize or manage people, but that comes later on in life, and not when you are a first year associate.

You should seriously consider joining other committees that you think draws your personal interest. If you love films, film society is great, if you love sports, sports committee is great. Also, if you plan on being an entertainment lawyer, film society, cultural committee may be good options. Think of what you want and create your focus depending on your interest and goals.

4. Figure a plan

Many of us just drift by law school trying to figure what we want to do in life. Let’s not wait for some law firm, lawyer or foreign law school to determine what we want in life. Many of us wait till we find a job and try and figure once we get there as to what we want to be. That is not a good plan. The reason you have internships is to help you create a focus – figure your interest. I know it is easier said than done, but I urge you to have a plan and create a focus for yourself.

It is going to be hard for you to excel in North Pole and South Pole, if your plan is to be in one of those places in 5 years. Also, don’t think you can manage both very well sitting warm on the Equator. Take charge and figure a plan in the first two years as to what you want out of law school and life.

You could be wrong about your decision and find that in year 4 that you don’t have any interest in the subject you were pursuing so far, but if you do not make that decision soon, you will just be a drifter. Do you know why successful institutions and people in the world have a plan for themselves? Same should apply to you.

5. Just be yourself and chill

We often tend to make and accept studs and gods in law schools too soon. I would say wait out till at least 10 years after law school to figure who are the real gods and studs.

I know it is important to have those gods and studs so that others can aspire to be like them or accomplish what they have accomplished in law schools, but would you rather not be yourself and be treated with respect than be like someone else? Legal profession is a long drawn marathon where you will need to have your own personality. It is hard to be like someone else and succeed in the long run.

Don’t make someone your god and live his/her dreams for yourself; create your own and follow that path. After many years out of law school, I find that real gods and studs are those who followed their passion and did what they enjoyed. They are the ones doing great projects in life and enjoying their work everyday. They are the ones whose names you hear today in the market and will hear in the news in the years to come. So follow your passion and your heart, not some illusions created by your peers.

Finally, learn to enjoy your law school. Don’t let your grades or what someone thinks of you or the fact that some people don’t like you or don’t want to be your best friend bother you too much. Life will go on and your goal should be to enjoy the time you spend there. Talk to those who you trust, seek advice and guidance, watch movies, dance, sing, get drunk, do crazy stuff, but just have a plan for yourself. And, there may be days when you feel like dropping out and life is not worth it, just hang in there – it is just a phase and will pass by!

De Facto is currently a lawyer practising in New York.