How to Succeed in the Legal Profession

You need to know the law with certainty and know how it is applied. You need to be able to predict outcomes and make factual and legal connections.

  • Prepare yourself for the multiple challenges that law school will present. The culture, atmosphere, and work will be different and difficult, and you will be challenged mentally, emotionally, and physically.
  • Most thought the impression of law school was inflated and exaggerated in law graduates’ accounts of their experience. They were wrong.

Law school is an extremely difficult endeavor for anyone pursuing it. Part of the reason an individual pursues a law degree is for exactly that reason—he or she is an overachiever who wants to be challenged.

The challenge of law school though presents different challenges than a collegiate program, a graduate school, or a professional position. Being successful means acknowledging the challenges so you can deal with them the best that you can before you experience them.

Confronting Law School’s Challenges

Read and consider the following ideas before you attend your law school orientation:

  • Realize the Intensity of the Law School Program & Competition within Your Law Class
    The intensity of law school and the level of competition can not be compared to the level of competition within college programs. Your classmates will have similar scores to your scores, but their achievements and life experience will differ. The common characteristic you share: All of your classmates have a driving desire—like yours—to be successful. There are no average students.
     
  • Inform Your Friends & Family about the Intensity of Your Law Program
    Law schools now offer information sessions for family members, spouses, and friends to educate them on the culture and pressures of law school. The information sessions tell participants what they should expect. Your family members, spouses, friends, and children need to know what the experience is like so they can understand your studying habits and relate to you better.
     
  • Establish a Study Group at Law School
    You need to establish a study group of one to five classmates. This group will help you get through your first year of law school successfully. In your group meetings, work through the difficult concepts presented in class, work together on creating the infamous outlines for your classes that you will rely on to study for law finals.
     
  • Understand the Discipline Required to Complete Work
    You will quickly understand how much time you need to devote to your law studies. The new terminology, the confusing and antiquated language of some cases, the lack of familiarity with the procedural aspects of the cases, and the inability to determine the main points of the cases will require you to read and reread cases again and again. You will be assigned readings due the first day of class. Law school has been designed so that you always feel like you need to do more work to understand the cases and the law. The excessive hours of preparation and the intimidating Socratic Method will train you to think, analyze, prepare, and practice like a lawyer. Law school will transform you into a detailed and prepared professional who can confidently represent a client.
     
  • Understand Common Physical and Mental Health Problems Afflicting Law Students and Legal Professionals
    In addition to being disenchanted, lawyers reported that they are “in remarkably poor health.” Researchers found that lawyers “are at a much greater risk than the general population for depression, heart disease, alcoholism and illegal drug use.” Law students’ high level of stress, unhappiness, and feelings of overwhelm and lack of control can negatively impact their physical and mental health. To combat these problems, law students needs to be proactive. They need to seek out social networks, devise coping mechanisms, and seek enjoyment outside of law school.
     
  • Modify Your Perfectionist Model of Work and Performance
    If you’re used to working hard and achieving recognition for your work (and of course you are), then the reality of law school will not only shock you, but depress you if you don’t modify your expectations somewhat. Modifying your expectations doesn’t mean not working as hard or not trying your best to succeed, it just means keeping in mind that the two situations above do and will happen.
     
  • Maintain Your Mission & Prevent Unhappiness in Law School & in Your Future Legal Career
    “The fact that staggering numbers of lawyers are unhappy in their jobs is one sad reality of modern practice”; however, it is also a reality that can be prevented. Maintaining your reasons for pursuing a law degree—for achieving your mission—is important. Don’t forget why you chose to pursue a law degree.
     
  • Recognize Income’s Perceived Relationship to Happiness
    Income’s relationship to happiness and satisfaction is an important factor to consider. The New York City Bar Association’s Task Force found that high income levels did not outweigh lawyers’ unhappiness, and a high income level did not compensate for daily unhappiness experienced working as a lawyer. Truthfully, money can not buy happiness. Many law students are understandably excited and impressed by the level of income they can make in a position; however, if the individual is not satisfied with the position and the hours, money will not compensate for this dissatisfaction.
     
  • Recognize the Prevalence of the “First Year Law School Phenomenon”
    The “First Year Law School Phenomenon” may account for lawyers’ dissatisfaction with the profession. This phenomenon occurs when students who were committed to a cause and based their reasoning on attending law school on working for that cause determine during their first year that they will look into more lucrative areas of law. The concession to look elsewhere for jobs leads many of these individuals to take positions in corporate law or another area of law that they are not personally committed to. Many experience a crisis during or after law school because they have veered off track.
     
  • Resist Taking a “Good” Job that You Truly Do Not Want
    In his “Last Lecture” article presented at the Newman Center at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Law Professor Stephen D. Easton of the University of Missouri-Columbia Law School was asked to address students and to offer his advice as if he were giving his last lecture. He asked the question: “Why are so many lawyers dissatisfied with their jobs?” His answer: “Too many lawyers take jobs that they do not want.” He continued, “With the many different types of work that an individual can do with a Juris Doctor degree and a law license, this is unfortunate and unnecessary.” So why do they do it? One of the primary reasons: money.
     
  • Identify Your Passion and Pursue It
    Working as a public defender, prosecutor, public interest attorney, legal aid attorney, legal writer, or consultant for an organization that you feel passionate about may not add as many tangibles to your bank account, but you may acquire something intangible instead that many legal professionals do not possess—satisfaction with your choice of professions and with your work life. Professor’s Easton’s best advice: “…never forget to pursue happiness.”
     
  • Carve Out a Life Outside of Law School
    Professor Easton stresses: “Do not let the practice of law completely take over your life.” If you are not careful, it will. “The practice of law – any practice of law – can be a black hole that will swallow up all of your time and energy if you let it.” “One of your biggest challenges as a lawyer will be finding time to not be a lawyer.” The same is true for law students. To balance your propensity to work hard and your desire to succeed and achieve, pursue activities that you enjoy. Go out with your friends. Visit your family. Make time for yourself.

What are lawyers, really

"To me a lawyer is basically the person that knows the rules of the country. We’re all throwing the dice, playing the game, moving our pieces around the board, but if there’s a problem, the lawyer is the only person that has read the inside of the top of the box."
Jerry Seinfeld, from 1993 episode of Seinfeld