Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Advice For The First-Year Law Student

So you’re a freshly minted law school student.

You’ve been accepted. You’ve done the orientation.

You’re now in your first few weeks of classes, learning the building blocks of tort, criminal and contract law that will serve you in good stead for the rest of your career.

This seems like an ideal time to tell you some of the things you need to know about law school, because at this point, you’re pretty much in it to the end.

1.) Distinguish yourself. Your law school probably offers you a number of opportunities to broaden your education beyond simply taking classes. Many law schools operate legal clinics serving those in need; others offer programs which will give you a comprehensive grounding in a certain practice or subsection of law. My alma mater, Osgoode, offers a veritable heap of clinical and intensive programs, and other law schools are rapidly offering many as well. If these are not to your liking, consider volunteering with your school’s legal journal or the school paper.

I know this sounds like something your high school guidance counsellor might say, and that’s not an unfair observation. But there’s a reason for this beyond simply spiffing up your resume: most of your classes in law school will focus largely on the theory of law.

The practical side of being a lawyer is one that most law schools only barely touch upon, and you can get a head start on that experience through clinical and volunteer work.

Now that I’m articling, my clinical experience is all the more valuable to me; learning how to really properly assemble a brief, deal with a client over the phone, or docket your time isn’t hard, but it takes a while for you to get used to it. Better to hit the ground running, rather than be overwhelmed on your first day.

And besides, having something to spice up the daily grind of classes is fun.

2.) Your marks are important. Your profs and the careers office and pretty much everybody in a position of authority over you will tell you over and over again that marks don’t determine who gets a job. This isn’t entirely true. Marks don’t determine who gets a job all by themselves, but most employers looking at articling applications will have a benchmark. At a big firm, it’ll be a high threshold. At a smaller firm, it can often be a lower one, but that’s no guarantee at all.

More importantly to you, marks usually become quite important if you want the easiest route through law school to an eventual career: the second-year summer student position at a medium-to-large firm which results in an articling hireback. Most first-year law students come fresh out of university and don’t have anything interesting on their resumes beyond, maybe, some volunteer work or an odd extracurricular activity. What distinguishes you from other students, all too often, are your marks.

3.) Don’t assume it’s the end of the world if you get a C. Everybody gets a C at some point.. The brainiest student I know – someone who rewrote her papers for fun, someone who had an A average and who’s now clerking for a very important judge – got a C in administrative law. It’s practically impossible to avoid a C during your time at law school. Interviewers won’t care about one C. Like a scar, it’s a mark of character. It makes you relatable.

Besides, nobody really trusts a person who’s good at everything.

So good luck to you, and try to enjoy the ride.

- Christopher Bird, Toronto
Visit our Toronto Law Firm website: www.wiselaw.net

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