Leo Tolstoy famously wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” This may be an apt observation of families, but we’re not sure it applies to law students. Because (while we’re not saying you’re unhappy) the reality is that many law students share overlapping worries. The good news? They’re not insurmountable. Read on for a roundup of four typical law school concerns, along with suggestions for overcoming them.
1. Bad grades
We challenge you to find a student who isn’t worried about grades. And it’s true: Law school grades matter a lot when it comes time to get interviews, clerkships, jobs and other opportunities which can make or break your career trajectory. Why? Because law firms rely heavily on both GPA and class rank, and if you’re not at least in the middle of the pack, you’re wind up with rejections -- even if you attend a top tier law school.
If your grades aren’t where they need to be, your first step is to determine why. (Anything else is a bandaid not a cure.) Are your study habits lacking? Are you struggling with the material? If the answer to either of these questions is “yes,” fixes include establishing a more stringent study schedule, joining a study group, and/or getting a tutor.
You can also put additional effort into distinguishing yourself in other key ways, such as excelling on your LSATs, joining law review, or working in a legal clinic. While these activities won’t negate poor grades, they can be a mitigating factor.
2. Law school debt
The average law school grad heads out into the world with bright eyes, big plans and more than $110,000 of debt, according to U.S. News & World Report.
One of the simplest ways to keep debt low is to choose a school that costs less and/or offers more aid. You can also save big bucks by living at home, sharing housing, borrowing books, using all of the free resources available to you (check out the Internet Archive and the Gutenberg Project for starters), getting rid of your car, and getting a weekend job. While none of these things may be ideal, you’ll be glad you did when you owe less than your peers at graduation.
Making a budget and sticking with it is also a vital part of keeping expenses in check. Meals out and trips to the local pub are standard operating procedure for many law students, but these things quickly add up and can compound your financial troubles.
The good news is that you’re far from alone when it comes to the law school debt quagmire, so when you’re enjoying your next ramen noodle dinner, you can be pretty sure that many of your classmates are in the same boat.
3. Getting a job
The job market for law grads isn’t exactly sunny. In fact, the word “bleak” may be more appropriate. Still, there are jobs out there -- particularly with the right attitude in place. Says Tamesha Keel, Esq., CEO of international coaching and consulting firm LawPortunities, in a Huffington Post blog, “The real question law students should be asking isn’t ‘Will I find a job?’ but ‘How do I get a job?’”
Specifically, Keel recommends acquiring specialized, practical skills; developing advanced competencies beyond legal expertise, such as business development and project management; possessing an understanding of the evolving legal landscape (and where you fit into it); a focused plan and a specific strategy to go along with it; and a strong network of professional contacts. But don’t wait until graduation is looming to start, warns Keel. For optimal job outcomes, all of these things can and should be taking place during law school.
When your job hunt begins, meanwhile, there are still things you can do to increase our chances, such as applying for many job openings, being flexible geographically, and making sure your application materials are polished to perfection.
4. Managing relationships
Starting law school is a major life change. And while you can’t predict exactly how it will impact your relationships, you can expect there to be challenges along the way.
Whether you’re entering into a long-distance relationship or adding “law student” to the list of hats you wear alongside “mom”/”chef”/”chauffer”/”tutor”/and so on, one thing is sure: the more upfront you are about communicating your concerns, expectations and needs, the more prepared you’ll be to address rising issues. If you’re lucky -- and why shouldn’t you be? -- your loved ones will want you to succeed as much as you do, and will be delighted to support you however they can.
At the end of the day, managing relationships is about managing expectations: If you’re on the same page and make efforts to stay there, your relationships will be much better off for it.
Law school is hard enough on its own without adding to the load. By proactively identifying and addressing these four common worries, you can minimize stress and maximize success toward a productive, fulfilling and happy law school experience.
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