Over the weekend, I graduated from law school: the University of New Hampshire School of Law (Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property). It was surreal to finally be at the end of the road, but at the same time it felt like a long time coming. The day was really nice. Some interesting highlights:
- The most common greeting from law school peers friends whom I hadn’t seen for a while was “Congratulations.” This was interesting to me because normally you don’t get congratulated by people who did the same congratulatory work alongside you.
- I saw Laurence Tribe, whose legal theory of constitutional law I studied my 1L year. This brought back memories of reading Justice Scalia verbally brawling with Tribe in “A Matter of Interpretation.”
- When I was walking up to get my diploma, I tripped and fell flat on my face. Just kidding. But I did picture myself doing it immediately before.
But again, the ceremony went by very nicely. It was actually very inspirational. One of the professors, Chuck Temple, said that we should remember how we feel right now because it doesn’t get much better. I have learned a lot by going to law school so I wanted to put it down. I have accordingly compiled a top 10 list.
10. Some of the mandatory classes surprise you with how interesting they are. Every law school is different in making classes mandatory, each trying to most effectively prepare their students to be ready for the bar and subsequent practice, but most schools have some mandatory courses in common. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Criminal Procedure. I will probably never practice in Criminal Procedure or other interesting areas, but the unexpectedly good classes definitely broadened my horizons.
9. You can’t force learning. I am a very determined individual who regularly puts mind over matter. This is useful at the gym, doing household chores, staying up late, and even learning, but with learning it has its limitations. Because law school includes so much reading material and so many things to do at any given time, there comes a point where you have to give your poor burnt-out brain a rest. Anything you do after this critical point of what I call burnt-out brain syndrome (BOBS) is counter-productive on your learning. I really wish I had known this my 1L year!
8. You can train your brain to find material interesting. Part I. If you’re anything like me, the interesting topics are easy to study for, and the boring topics are more difficult. This relates to reading comprehension, outlining, and writing papers. You have to give up a lot of pleasurable things during law school so if a topic can become interesting, it turns into a pleasurable thing, which means that you don’t have to [something you enjoy doing] because you’ve got [an area of law you are studying]. Thus the process of becoming a law school geek begins. It may not be possible for someone without much world experience to find every area of law interesting, but you can at least try. I found that spending a lot of time in an area that at first is not very interesting does a world of good. It raises questions that you can talk to the professor about. This is a double win situation because it puts you on good terms with your professor and even boosts your grade if your professor factors in participation points. I trained myself to find Civil Procedure interesting in large part for this very reason.
7. You can train your brain to find material interesting. Part II. If you have time to do this, write about the topic. Writing about topics is a good idea for many reasons. It allows you to digest the material and organize your understanding. It also highlights things that you do not understand. But most importantly, it gives you a reason to find the area of law interesting. To truly make it interesting for me involved posting content to the Internet. I loved creating Wikipedia entries on certain topics or creating blog posts because it was a source of pride in knowing that I was becoming knowledgeable in a niche area that relatively few have expertise in. Posting online can also hold you accountable to the entire world who will be reading your content and evaluating its accuracy. You can get carried away writing online, so I would do it in moderation of course–only if you have time.
6. Be open to different career options than you had before law school. I thought it would be much more job applicant-friendly in getting a job after law school . Keep in mind that I first applied to schools in 2007, when unemployment was still very low, the economy running relatively well, and the big law firm was doing as well as ever. I thought I would have so many options upon graduation with employers trying to fit themselves to me. Upon graduation, there is a very different reality that includes me trying to fit myself to employers. I’ve found it useful in my job search to be open to different job opportunities. The reality of today’s economy is that finding entry-level jobs doing what you want to do is very difficult. So I have tried to be patient and flexible in knowing that maybe my dream occupation can be delayed as I gain more skills, but I will get there eventually.
5. Understand the importance of money in a job. When I was in college, I didn’t necessarily enjoy computer programming. However, there was a time when I needed money fairly desperately and I found that computer programming paid very well. With that mindset, I liked the programming a lot more. This same concept hit me over the head in law school. As my proverbial back is against the wall with student loans, I am understanding that I may need to do some work that I wasn’t that interested in doing in law school, but that will endow me with skills that I can beef my resume up and use at a later time.
4. Don’t burn bridges with people. I had to do an interview with a practicing attorney my 2L year and he gave me this piece of advice: “Identify all the crazy people, and avoid them at all costs.” The reality is that people around you are great. I met a lot of wonderful people at law school. I loved study groups with those going through what I was going through. A lot of the networking opportunities are from the people you rub shoulders with in law school. In addition to the profound advice above, I would add to be respectful, helpful, and professional with your law school connections because you may get others to return the favor.
3. The law community effectively utilizes social media and it’s a good idea to use it too. From blogs, to twitter and linkedin, I am glad that I was able to tap into this. This may not be everyone’s thing, but it definitely was mine. You would think that a relatively inexperienced and unexposed law student would not get that much feedback from a blog, but I did so much that I consider the blogosphere one of my mentors. I have had countless helpful comments on my blog, responses from comments on others’ blogs, emails from practicing practitioners, and even phone calls from distant areas of the country. My experience is that people want to help aspiring lawyers. Try and tap into this.
2. There are so many different things to busy yourself with, so many classes. Focus not necessarily on the things that you enjoy the most, but the things that will help you find a job. For instance, I really like research, but I’m not going into academia. At least not any time soon. Also, I thought patent prosecution is really interesting, but with my background, very few firms in the Boston area are looking to hire someone like me. It turns out that patent prosecution firms in biotech really like advanced degrees.
1. Skills that you pick up in law school cross apply to other areas of life in very unexpected ways. I was a TA for legal writing and also an editor on IDEA: The Intellectual Property Law Review. These experiences that often included monotonous routines made me very good at picking out punctuation that was out of place. For instance, you may not realize that commas look different when they are italicized. After spending a lot of time editing for myself and others at law school, I’ve noticed that I am pretty good at spotting coins on the street. In both editing and money-finding, the ability to perceive very specific and detailed information is crucial.