Surviving the First Year of Law School

 

If you are a public interest student, you might have had this experience. You went to law school because you thought a law degree would help you contribute to the world. But after the heady excitement of the first few weeks wears off, you find yourself disappointed. Your classes barely touch on anything related to your interests at all. Instead, you spend hour after hour reading old, crusty cases written by dead judges about legal principles you couldn’t care less about. You are surrounded by students who seem to have been born to go to law school and who always know the answers in class. You quickly get sucked into the competition for grades, even though everything you are learning seems pointless. Suddenly, everyone is competing for summer associate jobs, and even though you never wanted to work at a law firm, you start to feel nervous. Maybe you should be applying too? You alternate between feeling like you are already falling behind to thinking that maybe law school was a mistake.

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Law School Extra-Curriculars: Moot Court, Affinity Groups, and Volunteer Work

In my last post, I discussed whether public interest students should do law review (my answer was a qualified no). Today, I’ll discuss some of the other extra-curriculars you will have the opportunity to participate in: moot court, affinity groups, student government, and volunteer opportunities being the major ones. In order to evaluate these opportunities, recall the three goals every public interest law student should have: getting real legal experience, proving your passion for public interest work, and making connections that will help you get a job.

            Let’s take moot court first. You may think that moot court is essentially like getting real legal experience because you are learning how to write an appellate brief and do an oral argument. Except that moot court isn’t real, and doesn’t really approximate actual legal work. Real lawyering is messy. It is not wrapped up for you in a tidy package. The record below is often voluminous and complicated. There sometimes is not applicable case law to draw from. If there is case law, it may be convoluted and contradictory. And then there is the little matter of actually having a client.

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Should Public Interest Students Do Law Review?

Welcome to back-to-school season! Most law schools have either already started or will in the next few weeks. At this point in the semester, most 1Ls are just trying to keep their heads above water, learning how to read cases and survive the Socratic Method. But when you come up for air, you may start to wonder what activities you should participate in outside of classes. Yes, in law school (unlike many graduate programs) there are a plethora of “extra-curriculars.” Some of these activities include law review, moot court, affinity groups, student government, and volunteer opportunities. As a public interest student, you may wonder which activities are worth devoting yourself to and which are just a waste of time.

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A Taxonomy of Non-Profit Public Interest Work

When people think of “public interest lawyers,” they typically are thinking of lawyers practicing law at non-profit organizations. But not all non-profit law jobs are the same. If you are considering this career path, you’ll want to figure out what kind of organization you want to work for and what kind of lawyering you want to do. To help you figure this out, read through the following statements and try to decide which statement or statements best express your view of the legal system:

  1. The law is basically just.
  2. The law is basically just, and we have to work within the system to correct injustice when it happens.
  3. The law is basically unjust, and we have to work within the system to change it.
  4. The law is basically unjust, and we have to work outside the system to change it.
  5. The law is basically unjust, and we have to work to overthrow and replace the current system.
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Finding Your Calling

I assume that if you’re reading this blog, you are at least considering a career in public interest law, but you may be wondering how to make the decision about what kind of public interest law you want to practice. Many law students focus on figuring out what area of law they are interested in or what problem in the world they want to try to solve. That’s important, because you want to be passionate about your work. But it’s not the only question you should be asking. You also want to find a job that you enjoy doing day-to-day, that plays to your strengths, and that minimizes work that drains or bores you. Many jobs sound better in theory than in practice. A job you never seriously considered may end up being perfect for you. That’s why you’ll want to spend your law school years trying out different jobs to see what works for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself when evaluating the different kinds of public interest jobs:

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