Law school can and will prepare you for the “real world” – if you focus on developing these skills
If you are a law student, you probably have heard, either before you started school or during school itself, that law school doesn’t actually prepare you for the “real” world. Nothing you learn at school is going to be useful for your first legal job.
While I agree with this statement in part (there are very few things from law school that I remember, let alone ever needed to know or use in Biglaw!), I do think that law school helps you develop and solidify certain, key, skills, which are crucial to bring with you to a Biglaw job and beyond.
You are doing yourself a disservice if you believe that old saying that law school doesn’t teach you anything of substance. True, you might never need to know the ins and outs of civil or criminal procedure once you start working as a real lawyer, but there are so many skills you learn in school that will help you in your career.
If you choose to focus on developing these skills throughout your law school career you’ll be a step ahead of your classmates when you begin your working career. And, as you’ll see from tip #3 below, being a step ahead of the competition is a key skill in and of itself. Without further ado, here are my top 5 skills all law students should focus on during law school to help them succeed in their future law careers:
The Key Skills to Focus on During Law School: Learn These and Take Them from Law School to Biglaw and Beyond
No matter how studious you were as an undergrad, ask any law student and you’ll hear that studying in law school is just different. The sheer amount of reading and analyzing is unlike anything you will have done before.
While it can be difficult to adjust to at first, the best law students develop the ability to focus for long periods of time. And I mean long periods of time. Law students have the distinct ability to isolate themselves in a library carrell, in a remote corner of a lounge, or in a coffee shop with headphones on that never leave their ears for hours on end.
Law school can be summed up as: read, read, highlight; read, read, highlight; repeat.
All of this means that you will develop a ton of self-discipline. Your ability to focus and spend time working and analyzing pre- and post-law school will dramatically change for the better. Which also means that by the time you begin your law career, while you might not know much about the substance of the law, you at least will have the self-discipline to put your head down, do the work and figure it out.
2. Independent Thinking
All of that studying I talked about in skill #1 above? Well, most of that is going to be done alone. Aside from study groups (which are really just you studying at the same time as your classmates and sometimes sharing outlines), almost all of the studying and work you do in law school is done alone.
At the same time you are in law school, a lot of your friends are probably going to be in business school. Unlike business school, there no “group projects” in law school. Instead, in law school you will become a very independent thinker.
You will gain an ability to analyze and think about problems and come up with solutions on your own. While there will be more collaboration in the real world, your ability to think independently means that once you are sitting at the table with others, ready to collaborate, you will be able to bring your own thoughts and ideas to that table.
3. Ability to Deal with Competition
This skill is perhaps less obvious than some of the rest. In law school, your classmates are your competitors. What do I mean by this? Well, what do employers care most about? Your GPA. More specifically, your 1L GPA, because that is all they see when you are being considered for a Biglaw summer associate job. And landing one of those is the path to a full-time job offer (for tips on how to succeed as a Biglaw summer associate, read this post).
If the best GPA gets the best job opportunities, it means you are competing for that GPA and those jobs with your classmates. This is a different kind of competition because it is an unacknowledged one, but you will feel it.
Around the time that exams roll around, people will become less inclined to share outlines or give away their study “tips” (whatever that means). It doesn’t mean your classmates are bad (you will probably do a bit of this, too), it is just the nature of the stressful and competitive law school environment.
Your ability to recognize this competition and deal with it – by understanding your classmates if they are acting a little weird during exam time, by acknowledging this feeling in yourself, and by understanding that it is human nature, will help you immensely. Why? Because once you get to Biglaw, the competition does not go away.
All associates compete for partner attention and assignments. Once you are a mid to senior level associate, you realize it has been one big, competition all along. Not only are you competing for attention and assignments, you are really competing for partnership, as there are only so many partners a firm can financially take on and support per year.
Your ability to engage and work well with your fellow associates, who are competing for the same work as you are, will ensure a more successful and, frankly, more satisfying and happy career for yourself.
4. Handle Stress and Pressure
As noted above, your ability to get a job is going to be tied to your law school GPA. While unfortunate, that’s just a fact. Your GPA is tied to how well you do on your exams, since almost nothing else matters in law school, which means there is a lot riding on just a few tests. This creates a very stressful environment.
How you prepare for and handle the stress of exam time in particular in law school will predict how you will handle stress in your job. The stressors will be different, but they still pop up every day.
Learning how to thrive under the pressure of a timed law school exam will help you immensely in your Biglaw career. Time is always of the essence in Biglaw and much of the corporate world, so the sooner you adapt to this, are able to handle stress and pressure and still produce results, the better you’ll do in school and at work.
5. Ability to Work Well With Quirky People
Do you think your law school classmates are a bit, how do we say this nicely, odd? Different? Quirky? Well, guess where those same classmates are headed after graduation – straight to the same job that you are.
The sooner you learn to deal with and work well with the gunner in the front row who is always raising his hand, the better you’ll be able to handle that same gunner in the real world. They are everywhere – fellow associates, in partners who are 20 years your senior but are eerily similar to your quirky classmates and in-house counsel who are now your clients.
Instead of making snarky comments about your classmates or isolating yourself from the “weird” ones, try to get to know everyone in your class. I found that most people in law school and later on in Biglaw who seemed odd were just very passionate and interested in the law (which was odd to me, which probably made me the odd one) 😉
Your Turn – What Skills Are You Focusing on Developing in Law School?
What have you focused on, either intentionally or not, during law school? Have these helped you in your career, whether that is in Biglaw, another legal field or something entirely different? Share in the comments below!