Once the “Why?” of going to law school has been figured out, and you’ve made the decision to go, before thinking about “Where?” it can be useful to focus on “When?”
For those students who are questioning whether to go straight from college to law school or take time to work for a bit, here’s my pitch for taking at least a full year to gain some experience, be out in the world, and learn more about yourself.
It Puts Grades Into Perspective
Law school is commonly described as competitive, and it’s true that some students start to elbow themselves to the front of the class at the expense of collaboration and community early on. But when you’ve had a chance to be in the workforce full time, it puts grades into perspective because you’ve had the opportunity to measure your value and build skills in ways that have nothing to do with academic success (but can actually end up bolstering it.)
Maybe you did work that was in service of others, and helped someone out of a difficult situation. Maybe you had a job that required you to have the courage to engage in public speaking, or the confidence to approach people you didn’t know. Maybe you had a chance to travel for work, or you built something from the ground up (literally or figuratively), or spent your time adding beauty and meaning to the world through art. These are all things to be proud of, and they’ll anchor your perspective as you navigate grade anxiety.
Law school can sometimes impose a kind of amnesia on the many dimensions we bring into the experience, and the more you build on who you are outside of school, the more you’ll have to hold onto once you’re there. This can be especially helpful when people are holing themselves up in the library basement for weeks on end because of finals, and you do something nice for yourself, or go to a friend’s birthday party, or just breathe a bit easier, because you know for a fact that grades are not the only measure of your success.
Your Resume Will Tell A Story
Your resume starts to make an appearance early in the law school experience. Not only does it factor into your law school application process, but internship searches can start as early as fall of 1L. So, you want to come into school prepared to distinguish yourself for future employers. While a resume will never tell the whole story of who you are, since there is more to each of us than the jobs we hold, it can give shape to your journey that a prospective employer may not be able to glean from just knowing where you go to school.
Some of you go into law school already knowing what kind of law you want to practice, or at least what general area you want to work in, so maybe you tailored your work experience to that field. That’s a great starting place for making clear to employers that you’re committed to the work they do. If you can’t draw a clear path between your work experience and your legal interests, don’t worry! First of all, you can always employ some creative spin to help you connect the two. But if spin isn’t your jam, then you can at least explain in your cover letter what skills you developed in your previous work that you can adapt and transfer to the work you eventually want to do.
Working before law school builds your arsenal of stories and skills, and you can catch an employer’s interest either through deep commonality or compelling difference. Either way, you can turn that piece of paper into a narrative about where you’ve been, where it led you, and where you want to go.
You Build Connections
When you join a work community, you build relationships that can last beyond your time at that job. That doesn’t mean you’ll love your job or everyone that works there. Workplaces, like any place where humans gather for a significant period of time, have their politics, their conflicts, and their issues. But just about every workplace can also have its ‘keeper,’ the person who’s got your back. Find that person, and tend to that relationship. As you move forward in your studies and your career, drop a line every now and then to see how they’re doing, update them on your life, and find ways to continue to support each other. Down the line, you may find yourself showing up for each other again in future work opportunities.
It Contextualizes the Law
The law may be taught in a vacuum, but it doesn’t operate in one. Learning and practicing law imbues us with a responsibility to consider the impact of this specialized education, and practice with care. The sooner you develop an understanding of how the law operates in society, the sooner you can approach the law you’re learning with a thoughtful and critical lens. And remember what I said before about life experience supporting academic success? Having context for deeper engagement with the law can actually lead you to perform better academically.
So, don’t buy the myth that the law is neutral, especially when you’ve spent time before law school observing that the opposite is true. Then, use that knowledge to help elevate your understanding of the law, and practice more consciously as an attorney later on.
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