What I wish I knew when I started, and other tips for 1Ls: Thoughts on law school from practicing attorneys

Some time ago, PDO surveyed several practicing attorneys to find out what they wish they had known when they were 1L’s, and a few recent grads whether they would go to law school all over again.  Below are their thoughts!


What I Wish I Knew When I Started Law School/What I Would Do if I Could Go Back in Time

1. I wish I would have better appreciated the value of talking to my professors about the things we were learning. 

2. I wish that I would have invested more energy into my physical well-being and less into my intellectual training.  For me, law school could have been (and sometimes was) a 24/7 intellectual commitment.  I know I would have done much better (perhaps not academically, but in general) had I devoted more time to exercising, outdoor recreation, and having fun. 

3. The students who think they know everything (maybe because their dad, mom, friend, etc. is a lawyer) often end up being poor students.  Be careful of any student who acts like they know everything.

4. I wish I had known how fun law school would seem as I look back on it all these years after graduation.

5. I wish I had known that how influential the friends I made in law school would be in my life. And how grateful I would be for those relationships.

6. I wish I had known that the value of a professor’s “reputation” is in the eye of the beholder. 

7. I wish I had known that it would have been a good idea to buy a season’s pass to Snowbird for my third year.

8. I wish I had known that there really is a method to the madness.

9. I wish I would have known that law school is a great time to take risks and test the waters of life academically, professionally and personally.

10. Students who talk most first semester are not necessarily the smartest.

11. Everyone is overwhelmed, that is the point.

12. Take every class seriously, even if you think it does not matter as much.

13. Treat school like work by assigning hours for study and stick to them.

14. Do not work 7 days a week, only 6.

15. Just because you are being trained to argue does not mean you have to practice it with everyone.

16. I would have made more contacts with attorneys in low pressure settings (softball tournament, bar sharks, etc.).  

17. I would have taken out less in student loans.  

18. If I had the discipline, I would have studied like crazy 9:00-5:00 (to get better grades), and then played like crazy the rest of the time (to build relationships with fellow students).

19. If I were to go back as a 1L I would definitely work harder.  I feel like I never really gave 100%.  There were always times where I knew I should be studying that I wasn’t.

20. I wish I would have been a little more humble my first semester.  I think that most students go into their first semester thinking that they are plenty smart to get As (I thought the same thing), but the reality of the intelligence of my  peers didn’t dawn upon me until that day in January when we got grades.


Tips for 1L’s from a Few Recent Grads, for What it’s Worth

1.  Commit to give your very best effort for the first four months–you can let up later, but for those first four months you should give 100% and then collapse in December.

2.  You are no longer special.  At first, I thought I could coast at law school because as an undergraduate I was obviously smarter than everyone else and the curve always naturally fell below me. But I have never been around a brighter and more able group in my life than my class at the S.J. Quinney College of Law.  Being around the best of the best is an exhilarating experience.  Give it a steady and honest effort.

3.  Set your limits and boundaries. This might seem paradoxical to the first two suggestions, but I believe it is needed to fully complement them. Work hard. But decide before hand where the line is for you. I think most of my very smart classmates would’ve done better if they would’ve dialed it down a notch or two. Pace yourself. Law school is a marathon. Decide in advance at what time you’re going to set down the book and play with your kids, or walk your dogs, or just watch tv. Decide in advance what parts of your life are sacred and then do not let the pressure of law school seep into those parts. If you need to exercise for an hour every day to be your best self, do it no matter what final or legal methods assignment you have coming up. If dinner with your family is something that makes you your best self, then do it no matter what. You could always, theoretically, study more. You’re going to have to set the outlines aside at some point. Decide in advance where the line is. You will be happier and I think your grades will not suffer for it.

4. Be friendly (a.k.a. don’t be overly competitive). My class was very collaborative. We also had some of the highest GPAs. All ships benefit from a rising tide. I knew a brilliant guy at the top of my class. He was extremely competitive and widely had the reputation of being an ass. He was not given an offer by a firm in his third year. The reason he was left in the lurch couldn’t have been his work. He did amazing work. The reason he wasn’t hired is because no one wanted to work with him. Now when I send work to other people, I always think of two things: Who is competent? And who is going to be nice to my neighbor/friend/etc.? Dozens of people have thrown work my way, and many of them have told me it’s mostly because they like me. My own grades were mediocre. But I always tried to be nice. I really loved most of my classmates and would’ve sacrificed a lot for them. Now that we’re “all grown up” and the grades don’t matter, they are also sacrificing for me. 

5.  Make contacts with attorneys.  Volunteer with smaller firms, which are more likely to take volunteer work.  Do OCI.  You’re always being evaluated when you do work for real attorneys (i.e. clinics and internships), which could lead to jobs or letters of recommendation when you do well.