The following is a post from our newest Law School Toolbox Contributor, Tiffany Ku. Tiffany is a rising 2L at UC Hastings College of the Law. Be sure to check out her debut post, Law School Networking: It’s What You Learn, Not (Just) Who You Meet. Welcome Back Tiffany!
I had coffee recently with a friend, who is currently in community college and is planning her transfer to a four-year institution. She wanted to know whether it was too early for her to start thinking about law school, and opened up to me about her fears of catching up to freshman admits, as well as her frustration about community college resources.
I went to community college after high school and faced intense social stigma because of it. I had friends tell me that I had officially hit the bottom of the barrel and that I had better salvage my life now, or never. My significant other at the time admitted to feeling like he was dating beneath himself. If you have similar people in your life, ignore (or break up with) them. There are many reasons why people go to community college, and being a community college student should never be considered an automatic death sentence. With perseverance, drive, and careful planning, a person can get anywhere — no matter where or when they started. If you are considering law school but feel a bit overwhelmed, here are answers to three common pre-law questions:
How early do I have to know that I want to practice law?
There is no deadline for discovering that practicing law best utilizes your talents and your passions. While I participated in Mock Trial in high school, I did not seriously think about practicing law until my junior year of undergraduate, after transferring. While preparing to transfer, I declared an English major simply because I could not imagine myself being good at anything else. I honed in on law school in much the same way; I could not imagine myself doing a Ph.D., could not imagine myself teaching.
That being said, I did continuously participate in law-related activities, such as Mock Trial coaching and Moot Court. I did that because these excelling in these activities gave me confidence overall. I did not consciously choose these activities to bolster my law school application though they surely helped when the time came.
If you are a community college student thinking about the law, know that you have plenty of time ahead of you to make decisions. It is better now to focus on getting the grades you need to successfully transfer, rather than worry yourself about goals sitting two or three years out.
What should I do to prepare for law school?
At the community college level, there are not many specific things that you can do that will prepare you for law school. Again, the priority is successfully transferring. Law school teaches a way of thinking more than it does specific facts. Accordingly, there is no specific pre-law undergraduate major that can teach you what you need to know to be a lawyer. Even if the major is something like Legal Studies, it’s not likely that you will learn the specific skills of writing briefs or legal research that are crucial to practicing law. It is more likely that you will learn about the structure of the law, the history of the law, and analyze the impact of the law in various settings.
The goal, broadly speaking, is to develop critical thinking skills, the skills that help you read a document and see the different perspectives and the structure of the argument. Learning how to see patterns in writing is the goal, not necessarily learning the content.
Doing well on law school exams is a similar exercise: aside from the black letter law, doing well on exams is also perceiving patterns in the structure the case law (Does it encourage a flow-chart type analysis, or a more broad analysis of all the different possibilities?), understanding what type of answer the professor is looking for, and preparing specifically for the expectations of a certain professor.
The best thing you can do for yourself now (and during undergraduate) is to work on becoming a well-balanced person and developing your own stress-release strategies. Do not worry now about figuring out what type of law you want to practice, or taking the LSAT, or developing killer lawyer skills. This will be the work of your senior and 1L years. Becoming a healthy, stable person, on the other hand, is the work of years of self-reflection and effort. Stability in your inner self and your personal life will create a strong foundation for weathering the stress of law school. In my experience, high achievement and the work-life balance begin with calm, confidence, and self-control.
How can I learn more about law school and the law?
Most community college resource centers are not equipped to answer detailed questions about law school. Instead, they focus on the transfer process. Likewise, it is unlikely that resources at your local four-year institutions will be willing to share their knowledge with non-students. However, there are still ways to explore your interest and to learn more about the practice of law.
First, reach out to local community groups such as your local Bar Association. They can either give you resources or point you in the right direction. On-campus student groups may also be willing to include you in activities even if you are not a student. The Internet, as always, is also your friend; many career offices have basic guides online for public access. Take a peek and see if their advice about interviewing, job search, and academic success give you any tips. For example, a career center article about the importance of professional demeanor and correspondence could prompt you to do more research on how to act professionally.
There are also many, many books written on the subject. Try to avoid the law school tell-alls that dramatize the experience. Focus instead of books that have practical advice. However, even these guides will seem a little distant because reading about the experience is completely different from going through it. But if you are curious, thumbing through law school guides and stories about the law are good ways to dip your toe into a legal culture.
Additional thoughts for first-generation law students
I am the first in my immediate family to go to law school. I have had the tremendous benefit of close family who went to college and who place a high value on education. I don’t have to convince them on why going to school is important, or why I have to stay at school for the holidays to finish a paper instead of visiting them at home. However, I do get blank looks when I talk about my OCI preparations, or when I tell them about my summer job. Forget about asking them whether they have any advice on how to take a torts exam! I try to explain to my family the new rules of my world, but accept that I am ultimately delving into a world that is foreign and inaccessible to them.
Don’t lose heart. Try to find classmates who are also interested in the law. Try to find attorneys who are committing their pro bono time to teaching pre-law students about the law; attorneys who coach Mock Trial teams are a great start. Email them, explain who you are, ask them for coffee. Reach out to local law organizations or non-profits where lawyers may devote pro bono hours; start spending time in the community. Finding a willing mentor is the product of sincerity, serendipity, and resourcefulness. And as always, reach out to me here at the Law School Toolbox.
Tiffany’s path to becoming a lawyer started in high school, where she was recruited for the Mock Trial team. After winning an award for best pretrial defense attorney in California, Tiffany briefly went to community college before transferring to UC Berkeley. There, she continued developing her skills as an oral advocate and won an undergraduate Moot Court competition. She will compete with UC Hastings’s Moot Court Team in Fall 2015. Throughout, Tiffany has continued to serve as an Assistant Coach for her high school Mock Trial program, giving back to the team that started it all.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- Law School Networking, It’s What You Learn Not Just Who You Meet
- How to Get The Most out of Law School with Extracurricular Activities
- Be Ready to Throw Your Writing Style Out the Window
- What You Need To Know About Geting Onto Law Review
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