In an effort to provide our students with actionable insights on how to make the most of law school and prepare for a legal career, we sat down with several current and former lawyers from around the U.S. to share their experiences and advice. This is the beginning of an ongoing series that will be featured on this site and will cover various topics ranging from general advice on surviving law school to what they’ve learned after years in the field. We began by asking them what kept them grounded while in law school.
“I’ve got a kid who’s in med school and of course everyone there says their path is uniquely challenging. I’ve got a kid who’s about to start business school and they, of course, say that business school is uniquely challenging. Having some perspective is important, and one of the things that really helped me keep that in law school was when I was feeling particularly stressed, I volunteered at a homeless shelter. It was really hard for me to come back from that and whine about how hard MY life was.”
– Chuck Morton, Jr., Partner at Venable LLP and Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University. University of Maryland School of Law, 1990.
“Throughout law school, and actually through Bar prep, I worked part-time in retail jobs completely separate from anything law-related. For me, this was really helpful because it was a scheduled time every week that I got to be around non-law students and talk about non-law school things.”
– Molly Campera, King County Public Defender. Northeastern University School of Law, 2015.
“What helped me most in preparing for the Bar and getting through law school was to do things completely unrelated to law school. One of my big outlets was working in a field that wasn’t law-related. It was really helpful to spend some time every week with people who had nothing to do with law school and working with something that had nothing to do with the legal field.”
– Amanda Uphaus, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. University of Washington School of Law, 2010.
“Keeping the end goal in mind and knowing the direction I was going really helped. I felt like I was [well-] set up because as an evening student, I was working full-time as a legal assistant while I was in law school, so I knew that I basically had a job opportunity waiting for me. I got married after my first year in law school, and having that established home-life and somebody to fall back on was immensely helpful in terms of support.”
– Anna Othman, Snohomish County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney. Seattle University School of Law, 2011.
“One of the most helpful classes I ever took in law school wasn’t even a law school class. It basically taught you how to take law school exams, and I applied that to everything I did. Second, you need to have a functional study group. Third, you have to genuinely like the material on some level. Lastly, I NEVER pulled an all-nighter in three years, wouldn’t even consider it. The reality is that pulling an all-nighter and not sleeping is the route to do terribly on exams.”
– Joel Espelien, President of Corum Group Ltd.; former Corporate Attorney at Cooley and General Counsel at several tech companies. Duke University School of Law, 1996.
While each response has its own unique insights, you can see there’s a common message from the lawyers we talked to: keep perspective, stay dedicated, and make time in law school for non-law school activities. The last point is one that is often misconstrued as a sign of a lack of commitment, but it’s actually necessary to maintain your mental and physical health. Without an occasional break to step back and reset, the constant demand and pressure to work and learn law can break down even the most resilient students. McGeorge offers a wide variety of stress-relieving activities including meditation sessions, yoga, a music society and the rec center; the weekly Docket is also continuously updated with upcoming McGeorge activities. If you’re feeling overwhelmed because you think you must attend every guest speaker lecture and be involved in every association on campus, try to separate the “needs” from the “wants” and identify how each is relevant to your future. If you need help, you can talk to an advisor in the CDO to figure out what will benefit you most as you pursue your desired career.
Don’t feel like hanging out on campus more than your classes require? Volunteering at the local food bank or homeless shelter is a great way to give back to the community and is also a strong résumé-builder. Block off a few hours every week for friends and family where you don’t have to discuss the latest legislature, legal theories or applications of law. Indulging in activities outside of law school (in moderation!) will help you keep your sanity. Your body and brain need a break from the rigors of law school, and your performance in the classroom and work will be better for it.
Full interview transcripts of the above excerpts can be found here.