Your first year of law school can be a heady, hectic time. You’re caught up in a whirlwind of new information, connections, opportunities and challenges, and you feel intense pressure to perform. Heather Donkers and Dana Lue, chairs of the OBA’s Student Section and Young Lawyers Division - Central executives, respectively, offer advice from the other side about how to maximize the first-year experience while maintaining a healthy perspective.
- Your classmates are your best referral source and network. You will need them when you are looking for clients or jobs. They may also be the judges whom you appear before. Lue advises: “Get to know them and be nice.”
- Grades aren’t everything (even though it feels like it). If taking on an extra-curricular which you are really passionate about will make your grade in a class go from a B+ to a B, do the extra-curricular anyway. “It will be something you can talk about in interviews, and will make you stand out from the crowd,” Donkers says. “That extra +, which you may or may not get anyways, isn't worth abandoning your interests for.”
- Law school is about finding out what you don’t like so that you can narrow down what you do like. "Don't be the 5th year lawyer who still doesn’t know what area of law they enjoy,” Lue cautions.
- Volunteer – Take advantage of being able to explore different areas of law without the threat of liability. You may not get this opportunity again.
- Get to know your professors — they have a lot to offer (knowledge, jobs), but at the very least, you may want them to write a reference letter.
- Get a "legal" Twitter account. Twitter is becoming widely used by lawyers, and it's best that you are a part of that online community so that you don't miss out. “Through Twitter, I have gotten a part-time job with my dream law firm, won tickets to attend law events, and connected with hundreds of lawyers who now know my name and my reputation,” says Donkers. “It is an invaluable (and free!) resource that law students should definitely capitalize on.”
- Focus on the big picture. It’s easy to get absorbed in ‘law student life’. Pay attention to life after graduation — take note of the current legal issues, the professional organizations, and other legal opportunities. “My best interviews were always ones in which I could talk organically about current issues (including current issues in law), rather than ones in which I could cite a million case names like clockwork,” Donkers confirms. “Remember that there is a whole world still turning outside of law school, and you should remain engaged in it.”
- Finally, some words of wisdom about healthy priorities: Maintain your non law-school friendships. While it is really important to make a network of friends in law school, it is equally important to maintain a balance outside of that — which includes having friends who don't just talk about law school.
Looking for similar advice on how to successfully navigate law school and build the career you want? Access resources, wellness tips and advice from practising lawyers via the OBA Edge program for students.