5 Bona Fide Truths of Law Students
- Student Tips
“At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst.” Aristotle makes a compelling case for why we need good lawyers. So do we. Although not as erudite as Aristotle, we have a few thoughts to share with you on the subject. Some truths you might want to consider. Some truths that you otherwise might not find entirely undeniable.
1. We practice, practice, practice.
Practice: the sine qua non of law. It’s too bad we can’t wave our magic legal wands and poof—we memorize all the laws and know how to apply them with finesse. No, the only magic involved in achieving rock-star status at something is practice. With the exception of an elite few, the most intelligent among us can’t play a piano concerto just by listening to it once. Talented athletes on professional teams still attend “practice.” A medical doctor works in a “practice.” To understand and apply the law, we need to practice. We practice reading legal texts, writing briefs and exams, and memorizing details. We practice over and over and over again. We practice so that we not only know the laws, but we understand them, can apply them, and be the best lawyers we can be.
2. We feel overwhelmed.
Our first year of law school feels like we’ve been dropped off on a beautiful, but entirely foreign island with no food or water, and only a paperclip, a pipe cleaner, and a few useless phrases of the local language—and then been told to find a way back home. Alive. We don't understand the landscape, we don't know the local culture, and we have no idea what to do with the resources we've been given. Sometimes we panic, but eventually, we figure it out. We even make friends along the way who feel the same way we do, and the landscape of law starts to feel a bit friendlier… and less life threatening. We gain the confidence we need to be great lawyers—and remember that we can still have personal lives and families.
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3. We take too many notes…
Because we like notes. We love them. We take lots of notes in our first year, especially. They make us feel safe--but they don’t help us that much. Here’s why taking too many notes is a bad idea: they don’t teach us how to think. And that’s what law school is all about—how to think about the law, how to apply it, and understand its essential principles. In class, we learn how to apply the law—which we need to learn how to do as lawyers. Taking notes on applying the law won't help us though. What we need to do first is this: learn the law. Memorize it. Notes won’t help us do this. See #1.
4. We’re nosy.
Mostly because we’re competitive. We notice things. Try walking into class wearing a new suit. What we say: “Oh, that’s a nice suit. Is it new?” What we mean: “Where’d you come from? An interview? With whom? Who set it up for you? When? Are there any more positions?” Remember the cafeteria in high school? We know where you sit, who’s at your table, what you’re wearing, and who you talk to. We also know what you like to eat. Because we’re nosy and we’re ok with that.
5. Sometimes, we go on Wikipedia, and then pretend we didn’t.
Life is too short to read a long case we don’t understand. Sometimes, we just need a summary. Sometimes, Wikipedia has exactly what we need, but we won’t admit it in public. We’d plead the 5th in court. Because we know all about the 5th. We’re law students. Sometimes, we use Wikipedia’s links, so we don’t feel as guilty for using Wikipedia at all. Because it’s possible that we would have found Wikipedia’s links without Wikipedia anyway. Right?
Learn more about studying law.
Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.