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Things I Wish I Knew (Before Starting Law School)

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If you're from an arts/humanities background (which I was) or are just an artsy person in general, make sure you make time to do creative things. Especially in first year, or in semesters where you're taking mostly exam-based courses, I would really emphasize finding some kind of creative outlet for yourself; whether it's writing or painting or dance/theatre or playing an instrument, it is worthwhile and making time for it could do wonders for your mental health. 

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A few thoughts as I round off my final year:

  1. Life happens - have buffer space and learn to push forward: Suffice to say, law school is demanding. In the midst of the chaos there are curve balls, a few examples I've seen: Family members get/are sick, relationships end, people are involved in car accidents, there's a fire at your apartment. Many students will never experience any of this in law school, but some will, and you don't want to be caught without breathing room or stuck in "never me" mentality.  The advice is captured under the umbrella of 'take care of yourself' but I find the phrases can lack an appreciation for the potential spiral. Generally, try to have a good grasp of what your limitations are and the extent to which you can manage stress, academic demands, and interpersonal demands because if it hits the fan, you will have to face the fact that you have taken on new levels of responsibility and debt.

    That being said, have healthy self-management built into your schedule (whatever that looks like to you). Personally, I've been caught in the capacity trap - I've gradually added volunteer and paid ECs onto my academic and social workload, always adjusting and truly believing, "I can manage" because, well, I could. One day, life happens and the emotional banks accounts are tapped and there's no buffer room; those responsibilities I managed well (while operating at maximum capacity) suddenly became panic-inducing and suffocating. 
     
  2. Know exactly what you're signing up for: This one's simple. Law school isn't cheap, it isn't "easy", and it's sending us down a career path that will be demanding. Setting aside the different career paths you can pursue, the value of a law degree, yadda yadda yadda... If you have doubts about what you want going in, I'd urge one to give it as much thought as humanly possible. Better to do it before you take it on than after you've spent 2-3 years and $100k+, not to mention lost wages from being in school. The existential crisis only becomes more terrifying - and I wish I was joking about this. 
     
  3. Not everyone is going to "get it": On the social side of things, and perhaps this is simply my own perspective, but the layperson doesn't always get it: what you're studying, the limits of what you can and cannot tell them, the sleepless nights you're going to have, and the incessant nagging of your inner perfectionist (don't debate this one, you have it if you're considering law). In law school you will feel the pulls and pressures of family, friends, your community, significant others, school, and work, etc. and, generally, it's only other masochists who "get it" (hence, a major reason why professionals end up together). Having to explain your decisions, why you're choosing X over Y, how you can "possibly want to represent a client that did that awful thing", are all conversations you should be prepared to have at one point or another. Hopefully, the people around you are happy for you and appreciate the sacrifices that regularly need to be made - but not everyone is. 

    Oh, and try explaining that you won't be making those bigwig lawyer $$$'s for quite some time (or ever, depending on the region you work in).
     
  4. Articles and careers - not necessarily easy: I won't overstate what has been beaten to death on this forum. Canada is pumping out a lot of law students, a lot. There are only so many big firm positions and the market for students can be grueling for some. Therefore, be prepared to adjust your plan if it turns out being a Bay Street hotshot or Bulldog litigator are out of reach because for many, it is. 

I understand the above are all negatives, but I believe they deserve a lot of attention. Yeah, law school can be fun but there are costs to be paid for the potential benefits the career offers - and your peers will be reluctant to openly admit when they're struggling or drowning. After all, you made a massive commitment and can't afford to even suggest it was a poor choice or you can't actually handle it 🙄

 

Edited by CrimMajor
Grammatical changes (damn typos).
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I would echo exercise -- it's a great opportunity to be social/de-stress/take some time to turn off your brain. But I knew that before coming to law school. What I wish I knew more about before starting law school was how important time management is once you get here. It is completely possible to do well in classes and have lots of free time, but you have to be very aware of your time management as you move through, and you have to be aware of how much you are committing to at any one time. I found 1L much easier in terms of time management than 2L, because in 2L, I decided to do a bunch of extra stuff that required an unanticipated amount of extra commitment. Needless to say, wish I'd planned a bit better!

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8 hours ago, Demander said:

I found 1L much easier in terms of time management than 2L, because in 2L, I decided to do a bunch of extra stuff that required an unanticipated amount of extra commitment.

Currently in 2L and realizing I took on too many responsibilities. OCIs also took a huge chunk of my time. I'll be damned if I don't exercise 4-6 days a week though, it's the only thing keeping me sane as I pump out these papers.

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Re the exercise etc., a general thing that people should know but doesn't hurt to be reminded of.

Even if one has to work hard, work smart. Investing time in other things may pay off even if the total hours spent studying are less.

For instance, getting enough sleep is important even if one ends up studying a few hours less each day. Eating well. Getting some exercise. Pursuing activities that help reduce stress - hobbies, athletics, video games, etc. The usual warning of all things in moderation, but if one spends an extra X hours per week getting enough sleep, cooking healthier food, doing some athletics, pursuing a hobby, and is therefore studying law more efficiently when you do so, that's a net gain even from a purely law-focused view.

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Whenever I read this topic, I'm reminded that I really did go into law school cold. I had no idea what to expect and no idea what kind of career I wanted. I know that objectively that seems like a bad idea. But the more I read on here, the more I feel like that was exactly the right way to do it. I didn't know anything when I started law school, and I don't wish that I knew anything else. I am glad I didn't spend months before law school stressing out about what to study or what to wear or where to article. My advice is that it's not a bad idea to research the profession and areas of interest, but don't even worry about grades or studying or exams and don't try to do anything to get ahead in them. I saw way more people try to do that and have it backfire on them or just be ineffective than I saw anyone succeed by doing that. Just live your life and worry about law school when you're actually in law school (obviously you have to get your finances together and so on, but besides that.) 

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There is a lot of noise in law school.

The 1Ls will be telling you how stressed they are, how far behind/ahead they are in the readings, all the hours they are putting in, how they get it (implying others don't), how they're aiming for prizes and medals, etc etc.

The 2Ls will be giving you all sorts of advice on studying, which are often more contradictory than complimentary, and bragging about their OCIs, or complaining about them. And more talk about OCIs, and in-firms, and post-OCI jobs, and articling recruits, etc etc.

The 3Ls will be telling you how the whole thing is a scam and there aren't enough articling jobs (especially those 3Ls who don't have articling jobs) and the pay isn't great (read: $60,000+ on average, which is akin to poverty), and how they threw away money and time they could have spent doing this thing or that, etc etc.

Ignore them. Do your thing. Pick advice that you think makes sense and fits your habits. Keep it under control. Run your race as best you can.

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Read your professor's comments on your papers and your exams and learn how to integrate them into your future work. I completely ignored this and it is totally biting me in the ass in practice. In law school I would just shrug off their comments because, well, the class was over! Why should I care about what they had to say about my work if I'm happy with my grade?

But in practice, you get a document back COVERED in redlines and need to know how to integrate the comments into your current and future work. You need to learn how to use and adapt to the criticism. I really wish I had paid a bit more attention to this during my academic career.

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Soo what I'm getting from this is that law students are neurotic and highly argumentative?

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1 minute ago, Xer said:

Soo what I'm getting from this is that law students are neurotic and highly argumentative?

More like annoyingly stressed out and incapable of rationally solving problems. 

Most actually aren't particularly good at arguing, nor likely to engage in it. 

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1 hour ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

More like annoyingly stressed out and incapable of rationally solving problems. 

Most actually aren't particularly good at arguing, nor likely to engage in it. 

I would say: insufficiently exposed to life and real problems and lacking in perspective.

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On 11/27/2018 at 11:47 AM, LegallyBrownEyedGirl said:

If you're from an arts/humanities background (which I was) or are just an artsy person in general, make sure you make time to do creative things. Especially in first year, or in semesters where you're taking mostly exam-based courses, I would really emphasize finding some kind of creative outlet for yourself; whether it's writing or painting or dance/theatre or playing an instrument, it is worthwhile and making time for it could do wonders for your mental health. 

I can't echo this enough. I came from a humanities background and didn't return to creative pursuits until 2L. It made a world of difference in my happiness level. 

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1. At least 50% of your class is composed of sociopathic personalities who do not think outside of their sphere of self-interest. They want nothing more than to go to "biglaw" like they see on TV.

2. A portion of your class will be composed of very good people. 

3. An above avg GPA in law is sought after ( > B). So don't do hard courses like in Tax if you want to be assured of a high GPA, unless you like tax. It's similar to calc versus sociology in undergrad.

4. You never know who got in despite poorer stats than most. I was in a position to view student transcripts and was surprised about the undergrad grades of those I thought were stellar students. Most were non-white (Indian/South Asian) females, white females and white mature males. Diverse means just that.

5. Your profs are just people who stumbled into a prime gig. Timing and surrounding circumstance in life is everything. You could be brilliant but if Mom is on smack your chances at success are severely limited. They are not smarter than you and put on their socks like everyone else. Don't put them on a pedestal. 

6. Exams are all about issue spotting. Profs have lots of work to do and don't want a treatise on that one issue you spotted. They are sitting at home, maybe the kid is acting up, and finishing the grading is something they want to get out of the way. Get to the issue fast and short. Check library for sample exam answers or ask prof.

 

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6 minutes ago, josephcohen said:

1. At least 50% of your class is composed of sociopathic personalities who do not think outside of their sphere of self-interest. They want nothing more than to go to "biglaw" like they see on TV.

I have open disdain for law students, and even I disagree with that. Most people in law school are good people. Their problems are mainly that they lack any real life experience and their ability to practically problem solve is poor. I wouldn't say they're "sociopathic" in the slightest. 

7 minutes ago, josephcohen said:

3. An above avg GPA in law is sought after ( > B). So don't do hard courses like in Tax if you want to be assured of a high GPA, unless you like tax. It's similar to calc versus sociology in undergrad.

Well duh. Being above average is always sought after. But you should take classes that interest you and will help your career progression, not "easy A" courses. Law school is short, and although I maintain that it's all a scam that teaches you very little in the grand scheme of things, you should use that time to help prepare yourself to be a better professional, not avoid work (and I love avoiding work). 

9 minutes ago, josephcohen said:

4. You never know who got in despite poorer stats than most. I was in a position to view student transcripts and was surprised about the undergrad grades of those I thought were stellar students. Most were non-white (Indian/South Asian) females, white females and white mature males. Diverse means just that.

It's pretty unethical for you to have looked at your peers stats.

10 minutes ago, josephcohen said:

5. Your profs are just people who stumbled into a prime gig. Timing and surrounding circumstance in life is everything. You could be brilliant but if Mom is on smack your chances at success are severely limited. They are not smarter than you and put on their socks like everyone else. Don't put them on a pedestal.

This is just stupid. Most of your profs are smarter than you in the exact same way an astrophysicist knows more about astrophysics than I do. Your contracts professor knows more about contracts than you. And whether or not they are smarter than you, they are more accomplished than you in the field you want to break into. You should treat them with the appropriate amount of respect. 

11 minutes ago, josephcohen said:

6. Exams are all about issue spotting. Profs have lots of work to do and don't want a treatise on that one issue you spotted. They are sitting at home, maybe the kid is acting up, and finishing the grading is something they want to get out of the way. Get to the issue fast and short. Check library for sample exam answers or ask prof.

This is the only piece of good advice in this post. 

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29 minutes ago, josephcohen said:

1. At least 50% of your class is composed of sociopathic personalities who do not think outside of their sphere of self-interest. They want nothing more than to go to "biglaw" like they see on TV.

2. A portion of your class will be composed of very good people. 

3. An above avg GPA in law is sought after ( > B). So don't do hard courses like in Tax if you want to be assured of a high GPA, unless you like tax. It's similar to calc versus sociology in undergrad.

4. You never know who got in despite poorer stats than most. I was in a position to view student transcripts and was surprised about the undergrad grades of those I thought were stellar students. Most were non-white (Indian/South Asian) females, white females and white mature males. Diverse means just that.

5. Your profs are just people who stumbled into a prime gig. Timing and surrounding circumstance in life is everything. You could be brilliant but if Mom is on smack your chances at success are severely limited. They are not smarter than you and put on their socks like everyone else. Don't put them on a pedestal. 

6. Exams are all about issue spotting. Profs have lots of work to do and don't want a treatise on that one issue you spotted. They are sitting at home, maybe the kid is acting up, and finishing the grading is something they want to get out of the way. Get to the issue fast and short. Check library for sample exam answers or ask prof.

 

I’m having trouble believing the majority of this post was made in good faith. 

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The best way to get ahead of cold calling is to answer something stupid basic before they start picking people...

 

And some profs REALLY like to stir the pot between students on controversial topics. Just don't engage. 

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3 hours ago, josephcohen said:

1. At least 50% of your class is composed of sociopathic personalities who do not think outside of their sphere of self-interest. They want nothing more than to go to "biglaw" like they see on TV.

2. A portion of your class will be composed of very good people. 

3. An above avg GPA in law is sought after ( > B). So don't do hard courses like in Tax if you want to be assured of a high GPA, unless you like tax. It's similar to calc versus sociology in undergrad.

4. You never know who got in despite poorer stats than most. I was in a position to view student transcripts and was surprised about the undergrad grades of those I thought were stellar students. Most were non-white (Indian/South Asian) females, white females and white mature males. Diverse means just that.

5. Your profs are just people who stumbled into a prime gig. Timing and surrounding circumstance in life is everything. You could be brilliant but if Mom is on smack your chances at success are severely limited. They are not smarter than you and put on their socks like everyone else. Don't put them on a pedestal. 

6. Exams are all about issue spotting. Profs have lots of work to do and don't want a treatise on that one issue you spotted. They are sitting at home, maybe the kid is acting up, and finishing the grading is something they want to get out of the way. Get to the issue fast and short. Check library for sample exam answers or ask prof.

 

#1: Do you know what sociopath means? I don't think it means what you think it does. What you describe is a person lacking in social skills. Agreed law school has lots of those.

#2: Duh.

#3: This is getting back into the which classes are easier debate. I took Tax and didn't find it harder than other classes.

#4: I don't understand what anyone's race has to do with their undergraduate grades. Are you saying that Indian and South Asian males, white males and white mature females had higher undergraduate marks than Indian and South Asian females, white males and white mature males so some sort of affirmative action is going on for those groups? What about other races? And does that mean that the people with bad undergraduate grades did well enough in law school that you assumed they'd always been good students? Doesn't this mean that they were appropriately admitted then?

@BlockedQuebecois maybe s/he was the student rep on an admissions committee?

#5: I'm sure @ProfReader will have something to say about how easy it is to "stumble into" a law professor job. You're discounting peoples' efforts and years of education. Also, sure, some students may be "smarter" than some profs. The profs aren't there purely for their smarts. Whoever is smarter, the profs a) know more than the students do on their subject area and are responsible for getting you to know more than you currently do and b) are in a position to grade you and determine your future, so as @BlockedQuebecois says, you should respect them and try to learn from them. Also how do you know whether or not they are from underprivileged backgrounds? And that same argument applies - there aren't many students in law school whose "Mom was on smack." There are lots of brilliant people who never make it to law school as students due to socioeconomic issues.

#6: Duh. But brevity in issue spotting isn't important because your prof wants to get the marking out of the way. It's important because it shows your own clarity and organization of thought and focus on the correct issue - the same things principals, judges, clients and other counsel will want to see in your writing. 

Edited by providence
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3 hours ago, josephcohen said:

4. You never know who got in despite poorer stats than most. I was in a position to view student transcripts and was surprised about the undergrad grades of those I thought were stellar students. Most were non-white (Indian/South Asian) females, white females and white mature males. Diverse means just that.

So even though they're stellar students, they shouldn't be here because you think they're only here for diversity? 

Don't even know where to begin with this, really. 

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4 hours ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

Well duh. Being above average is always sought after. But you should take classes that interest you and will help your career progression, not "easy A" courses. Law school is short, and although I maintain that it's all a scam that teaches you very little in the grand scheme of things, you should use that time to help prepare yourself to be a better professional, not avoid work (and I love avoiding work). 

Not to mention every course is curved, so how hard the course is doesn't really affect yiur grade nearly as muc. you are measured against everyone else's perform in the same class so in an easy class it can be harder to stand out against everyone whereas in courses like tax the top mark usually is only a low 80. If you want good marks in lawschool you don't have to do well, you have to be better than everyone else.

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