Since law school graduation, I find myself in the same position as all 2016 graduates — no longer a law student, but not yet a lawyer. While I think about my future law practice a great deal, I think even more about my three years of law school education.
There are many great advice pieces for recent graduates to read in preparation for future law practice. I like to refer to one piece written by Judge Randy Wilson of the 157th District Court in Harris County, Texas, which I first read in my Professional Responsibility class in law school. The Commission has also written great advice pieces in this blog, the most recent one tailored to rising Millennial Attorneys.
But as a recent graduate, I want to look back before I look forward. I want to share my law school reflections while the experience is still close to my heart.
First Year of Law School
This is the mystery year. It can also be the most stressful year if you let the mystery get to you.
- What I did right: Before law school, I worked as a paralegal for two and half years. That work experience paid off tremendously during my first year of law school at so many levels. For starters, it confirmed my passion for the law, so I knew exactly what I was getting into when I got to law school. It also familiarized me to the actual practice of law, so I knew enough to be at least comfortable with the legal language and documents that I encountered when I got to law school. Furthermore, it taught me the work ethic required to succeed in the law, so I was ready for the rigor of law school. Finally, it gave me a bigger perspective on the legal career path, so I understood early on that practicing law is a marathon, not a sprint. All those things helped make the transition to law school a much smoother process.
- What I did wrong: While I was ready for the academic side of law school, and I had a clear goal of what I would like to do after law school, I did not think hard enough about what I can do during my 1L summer as a step to get there. While my 1L summer eventually turned out great, I think I would have benefited from considering other opportunities, including summer associate opportunities for 1Ls, in-house opportunities, and internship abroad opportunities. The fear of not finding a summer position drove the summer job search for me, instead of me taking control of the process. If I could do it over again, I would think about the pros and cons of each opportunity first, then let those considerations drive my applications and final decision making.
Second Year of Law School
This is the balance year. Academics no longer take up all your time, but that does not make life easier when you add on a job search.
- What I did right: I took doctrinal classes in each practice area that I would potentially be interested in trying out during my 2L summer and after graduation. That way, I at least had a fundamental understanding of the law when I take on cases in each area. The classes alone also helped me figure out which areas of the law I like more than others.
- What I did wrong: My time management could have been a lot better. Like many 2Ls, I was excited by all the new academic opportunities available: research assistantships, teaching assistantships, journal, moot court, trial team, and clinic. As a result, I took on too much and my work product overall suffered. If I could do it over again, I would follow my interests and pick up fewer positions but excel in them.
Third Year of Law School
This is the most individualized year. The experience you will have entirely depends on your decisions.
- What I did right: Because I knew I wanted to go into litigation after my 2L summer, I took more practical and doctrinal courses related to litigation during my 3L year to prepare myself as much as I can for the real world.
- What I did wrong: Since I had some more free time 3L year, I should have worked part-time at a law firm to get more practical experience.
Is That 3L Year Necessary?
A lot of law students feel that the third year of law school is unnecessary. While I would not go that far, I certainly understand and share some of the same frustration. The feeling largely stems from lack of focus for 3L year. I want to propose two changes to law schools’ third year education that would give 3L year more purpose, and therefore make them more rewarding. The first proposal is comparatively less drastic, which is to require law students to complete a certain number of hours of clinic work. This requirement will not only give law students more practical experience before entering the real world, it will also teach law students the value of giving back through pro bono work.
The second and more drastic proposal is to allow third year law students to take their chosen state bar examination before graduation. Graduation from law school and passage on the bar examination are two important but distinct requirements to become a licensed lawyer. Graduation from law school does not have to be a prerequisite to sitting for the bar examination. For starters, the subjects tested on the bar examination are overwhelmingly from the first year law school curriculum, so law students have the requisite knowledge to take the bar examination by the time they become 3Ls. Furthermore, even for the other subjects not covered during the first year, students can learn them through bar preparation courses and self-study during their 3L year as they do now during the summer after graduation. By allowing third year law students to take their bar examination before graduation, but withholding license until they also successfully graduate from law schools, 3L year will have a much more concrete purpose, and law school graduation will become even more meaningful.
Law school is an incredible three-year journey. I hope by sharing my experience, I can help future and current law students make the most out of their legal education, help recent graduates start reflecting about their own law school experience, and help the legal profession think about how to improve the legal education for the next generation.