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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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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Want to Become a Public Interest Lawyer? Focus on the LSAT

By Mikaila Smith

Mikaila is a rising 3L at the University of Chicago Law School. The subject of this post -the LSAT – is an important one for aspiring public interest lawyers. Your LSAT score is one of the most important factors in law school admissions decisions, and where you go to law school is one of the most important factors in determining your options after law school. This post is especially useful for people who cannot afford to spend thousands of dollars on LSAT prep courses and tutoring. If you are in that position, you need to study more, not less. Mikaila explains how she did it.

If you want to work as a public interest lawyer, you should try to get the best LSAT score you possibly can. Pursuing a public interest legal career requires commitment at every turn. The vast majority of your classmates will follow well-tread, lucrative pathways into firm work. If you have a six-figure debt piling up, it will be really difficult to forgo a firm job to follow your passion.

That’s where the LSAT comes in. A high score will not only help you get into a top law school, but also increase your chances of receiving merit aid. The hours you invest in studying for the test could literally save you thousands of dollars in law school debt. The below guide outlines the method that I used to self-study for the LSAT. My test-day score was 12 points higher than my first practice test.

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What to Get Out of Your Public Interest Summer Internship

It is the second week of June, which means many law students are a few weeks into their summer internships. You may be wondering what you should be trying to get out of your summer if you plan to go into public interest.

First, you should think about your internal goals. Ideally, your summer experiences should help you narrow down what you want to do after you graduate. I always say that my 20s were just an exercise in crossing careers off a list until I found something that I wanted to do. First, I narrowed it down to law, then in law school, I whittled down the list of potential jobs further until I was pretty sure of what I wanted to do. Especially, if you think you know what you want to do, you should try to do that for at least one summer to see if you actually like it. I’ve spoken to many law students who came into law school with their heart set on a particular job only to realize they actually disliked it once they tried it out. If you try something and hate it, well, that might save you years of working at the wrong job after law school.

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What You Should Do in Law School to Set Yourself Up for a Public Interest Career

I have talked about how you should prepare for law school and the factors you should consider when deciding where to go to law school. In this post, I am going to discuss how you should spend your time in law school if you want to set yourself up for a public interest career. In short, you should spend your time in law school getting experience, proving your passion, and making connections.

Getting Experience

The most important thing you can do as an aspiring public interest lawyer is getting real legal experience. It used to be possible to graduate from law school without ever having done any real legal work. That is less true now―the American Bar Association now requires six experiential credits to graduate from ABA-accredited schools―but you should still should work to get as much experience as possible. The reason is simple: public interest organizations cannot afford to hire attorneys that are not “practice ready.” They may only hire one or two attorneys a year depending on the size of the organization, and most work on lean budgets that don’t leave room for dead weight. When hiring, they are looking for attorneys who have the experience to start contributing immediately. That puts new lawyers at a disadvantage, but you can mitigate this disadvantage this by getting as much experience as possible in law school.

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