Updated: October 3, 2022
This article is filled with valuable law school advice from five attorneys who answered this question: “What is something you wish you knew when you were in law school?”
Emiliano Farciert, Jr. – Associate Attorney at Ramsey Law Group in Houston, TX
I wish I knew the value of my network in law school. One of the things that I always enjoy as a practitioner is finding people that went to school with me who practice in different areas. I take pride in being able to help my clients navigate the unknown world of personal injury but so often I get questions about real estate closings, divorce, or even criminal matters. You can always refer someone to the lawyer referral service your state bar association has set up, but it is always nice to have someone in the back of your mind that you trust who practices in the same area of law a client needs help in. Being able to tell a potential client ‘I may not be able to help you but here is someone who can’ is a way to ensure the person who contacted your office does not leave without an avenue to seek competent counsel. Plus, it helps you build a referral network, which is always a nice thing to have. So go to those bar review sessions or join in on the SBA sponsored events, you never know who you may meet at one of those events.
Emiliano Farciert, Jr. is an associate attorney at Ramsey Law Group in Houston, TX. Emiliano is a first-generation Texan and received his Juris Doctorate from South Texas College of Law – Houston.
Egan Kilbane – Principal Attorney for Elk & Elk at the Seattle-Tacoma Office
Take Some Classes Taught by Experienced Attorneys
It is, of course, very important to learn the law as it exists in texts and classrooms. These skills will help you pass the bar exam and will undoubtedly help you in your subsequent career, but they alone are a fraction of what you need to succeed in the practice of law.
Many of your professors have spent most of their careers as professors; there’s nothing wrong with that, but its merits are accompanied by limitations. I recommend signing up for some classes with professors who spent most of their careers actually practicing law. My favorite class in law school was taught by a professor with several decades of experience in private practice and on the bench – that was not a coincidence. And classes with those adjuncts who are also practicing full-time? Do you know where they find law clerks and associates to hire? Bingo.
On a related note, if you think you might want to litigate – join the Mock Trial team. They’re coached by – you guessed it – practicing litigators, who use the program to recruit new hires.
Work More, Both Volume and Variety, Until You Find Your Lane
It gets harder to change lanes the longer you wait. In my opinion, a student or young lawyer’s top priority should be trying to find what professional work you will enjoy doing and will do well. Some people land there on the first try, whereas others may spend years, but any time spent in a job or field you know you don’t like is wasted time. Working a lot, and if necessary, working many jobs is not just about the paycheck but also about maximizing exposure to the various lanes until you find your own.
Show Up and Do the Work
I know, very “Boomer” advice. But most of everything is about just showing up and doing the work. The classics are classics for a reason. Here’s another one: on time is 10 minutes early.
Your Real Resume is the Reputational Capital You Build by Your Work in the Community
When you are putting the work in, it’s not happening in a vacuum. You’re interacting with other lawyers, firms, judges, staff, and clients. If you show up on time and put the work in long enough, you will grow a community of lawyers, firms, judges, and staff that now know and respect you. That reputational capital gets jobs, resolves cases, and earns favorable rulings and client referrals. Cultivate it well, and you and your clients enjoy the benefits… plus you won’t need to update your resume anymore.
Network and Seek Mentors – Older Attorneys Want to Help but are Busy, so Make it Easier for Them
One of the most gratifying parts of my career is advising younger lawyers and law students, and yet I don’t do it nearly as much as I would like to or should. My outside life is much busier than when I was a student or young associate. I have a wife, kids, dogs, an old house, a yard, and so on. Don’t expect me to expend time and effort finding opportunities to provide you guidance; serve the opportunities up to the lawyers whose guidance you seek.
Seek out input, interaction, advice, and mentorship wherever you can. I’ve found jobs for people that cold-called me because of some aspect of my profile. Formal mentorship programs are great, but you can also find it through work (and if you work a lot, it’ll come naturally), organizations, networking functions, etc. Don’t expect mentors to prepare lesson plans or seek you out – have specific questions or things you want to discuss and track them down. Experienced lawyers charge their clients at least several hundred dollars for an hour of their time; if we’re offering it to you for free, please don’t squander it.
You Can Learn From Your Own Mistakes or From Somebody Else’s
You’re probably sensing a theme by now. School will give you some tools to use when you eventually get to do some lawyering but doing a lot of lawyering is the best way to get good at it. Suppose you don’t aggressively seek out experience when you are a law student or young lawyer because you are scared to make mistakes. In that case, you’ll become an old attorney with no experience, and instead of being a little scared to embarrass yourself or lose, you’ll be completely and utterly paralyzed by that fear. You might as well get the bloody noses out of the way early.
Trust me, notwithstanding all the false bravado and excuses, these lawyers are easily identified, and experienced opposing counsel can leverage that inexperience and fear to their clients’ advantage. That advantage was probably earned through a bloody nose early in their career.
And, of course, where possible, it’s much more pleasant to learn from someone else’s bloody nose. Talk shop with people on the frontlines – war stories can be hilarious or riveting, but everyone also has a lesson to be found and tucked away. One of those lessons might single-handedly win a case in the future.
A lot of children get told (incorrectly, in my opinion) that they would make good lawyers when they grow up because they argue a lot. In my experience though, what separates truly superlative lawyers is not their skill in debate or public speaking; it is that they know when to shut their mouth and pay very close attention.
Egan Kilbane is licensed to practice in the states of Washington and Ohio and is fortunate to actively practice in both venues. He is a principal attorney for Elk & Elk at the Seattle-Tacoma office.
Allison Jacobs – Member of Jacobs & Jacobs, LLC
One thing that I wish I had known is that getting to know my classmates and developing relationships was equally as important as my schoolwork. Sometimes the instinct in law school is to hide away in the library and work around the clock, especially for someone who is an introvert and/or an academic overachiever. And it is hard to make time for social activities when you barely have time for sleep! But after law school you will encounter your classmates frequently, as colleagues and adversaries. They may even be interviewing you for a job. And down the road, you may run into them as judges or in other positions of authority. So, it really helps to have connected with them previously and made a positive impression. Not only can it help you, but it can also help your clients. Incidentally, you might find a kindred spirit (or several!) who will become a close friend and lifelong support to you. So don’t skip the Barrister’s Ball and extracurriculars, you never know what opportunity you will be missing.
Allison Jacobs has been a member of Jacobs & Jacobs, LLC, since 2013. She’s been recognized as a “Rising Star” in the New Haven legal community for her hard work and dedication to her clients. Allison has experience in personal injury law, family law, public service law, and health law.
Rachel Gezerseh – Trial Attorney at Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP
I wish I had known how vital it is to step out of the law school bubble and connect with attorneys and find out as much as possible about their practice. In law school, I was very focused on academics and doing the best I could on what was in front of me. I did not have good understanding of what actual attorneys did. I thought the end all be all was Big Law and that is what I went for. I worked in defense at an amazing Big Law firm and stayed ten years but ultimately the better fit for who I am and what I want to accomplish as an attorney is on the plaintiff side. I have no regrets, but I would tell my law student-self now to conduct more in-depth informational interviews with attorneys so that I understood what different practices were, what typical days looked like in those practices and what the actual work entailed. My advice to law students now is to be a sponge and soak up as much knowledge as you can about the real world of practicing law. If you do that while still in law school, you will be better informed as you embark upon your legal career.
Rachel Gezerseh is a trial attorney at Panish | Shea | Boyle | Ravipudi LLP who specializes in litigating complex catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death and products liability cases.
Adam Balinski – Founder, CEO, & Partner of Crushendo, LLC
Formula for Study Group Success
Being married with children, active in the community and in my religion, I personally had a hard time keeping up with the reading. Before my study group, I found myself often resorting to online case briefs, which left me feeling less confident and less prepared for class. I didn’t want my study group to make my time management challenges even worse. I wanted to find a way to use my study group to save time, be more prepared, and have more fun than I would preparing on my own.
The formula I came up with accomplished all of those things better than I anticipated.
Divide and Conquer, Return and Report
Each week, we rotated who would be the “experts” for a given subject. We decided to have two experts at a time for each subject to create a bit of an internal auditing system or safety net. We rotated subjects to keep us all comfortable reading and analyzing cases across all subjects.
When you were an “expert” for a subject, you would read very carefully and take thorough notes which you would post to a shared Google Drive folder. Then about 20 minutes right before each class that you were an expert in, you and the other expert would get together with the whole group and explain anything confusing and answer any questions the group might have.
Being an expert took more time than preparing independently, but it resulted in more critical reading and better note-taking because you knew the others in your group were relying on you. As a little aside, I found this process to be helpful in preparing me to be an effective attorney after law school because any time I read a case, I was reading carefully with a client in mind (my study group).
Though being an “expert” in a subject took more time than typical preparation, being a “non-expert” in the other subjects saved more than enough time to compensate.
When you were a non-expert for a subject, you could skip reading the case book entirely and just read through two sets of thorough notes the night before the class. That’s what I usually did. It typically took only about 20-30 minutes to read through both sets of notes. I did it before bed, so that it would be easier to remember the following day. Then right before class, I would show up to my study group to enjoy whatever else I could learn from the experts.
I was often surprised to find that many of the questions we discussed before class specifically came up during class. I always felt reasonably prepared when I followed this approach.
The folks I recruited to my study group initially only committed to a two-week trial using the above-described method. After two weeks though, everyone enthusiastically wanted to continue and we even picked up another member. Though it made an odd number, we figured out a rotation that gave each of us a week “off” every so often (which helped us make time for papers and such). We followed the formula for two semesters straight.
One nice thing about the law school I attended is that you are in the same classes with many of the same students for the entire first year, which made this model work well. However, the model didn’t work as well for my second and third years because everyone was taking different classes. Our first year, with only one or two exceptions, we performed better in terms of grades than we did during our second and third years. In other words, we generally outperformed ourselves academically when we worked together using the model above. And we saved time and had fun.
Adam Balinski is a former TV reporter turned attorney entrepreneur. He graduated summa cum laude from BYU Law School, and scored in the top 5% nationally on the Uniform Bar Exam. He founded Crushendo and is currently writing a book called, “The Law School Cheat Code: Everything You Never Knew You Needed to Know about Crushing Law School.”