While You’re in Law School, Learn to Practice Law
The title of this post may seem odd to you at first. After all, what are you going to law school to learn, if not the practice of law? Please, allow me to explain. You see, law school is good at teaching you to do a number of things. Law school teaches you how to read case law. A lot of case law. Law school also teaches you how to effectively bullshit an answer to an overcomplicated non-question in under three hours (hooray exams!). Law school also teaches you how to operate in an environment where you succeed at the expense of your colleagues (see: grading on a forced curve). And supposedly, law school teaches you how to “think like a lawyer” (I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that entails).
However, law school does not teach you how to deal with clients. It doesn’t let you know that people generally only come to lawyers when something has either gone wrong or needs to be prevented from doing so. Law school doesn’t teach you how to work efficiently. Law school doesn’t let you know that your clients are going to be just as concerned with the outcome achieved as they are with how much it costs to achieve. Law school doesn’t teach you that a win for your client may not be the same as a win for you. Law school doesn’t teach you how to manipulate a jury or how to negotiate. In other words, law school teaches you law, but not how to practice it.
What’s a 1L to do? Allow me to suggest a few strategies. The chances you’ll land a paying job during the summer after your 1L year are, in the present climate, pretty slim. If you need money, I suggest exploring the options your school offers for doing public interest work. Find a charitable organization or a government entity that wants you to do free legal work and then see if your school will pay you for doing something that is in the public good. You get valuable experience and you can keep at least one foot out of the poor house.
This strategy aside, the most important thing you can possibly do is gain experience. Find lawyers who know what they’re doing (and work in a field you care about) and see if they’ll let you do work for them. Ask them a lot of questions. If you think you’re bothering them, you’re probably asking just about the right amount. Then, when you return for your 2L and 3L years, find clinics to take. I took several clinics while at UCLA and they were by far the most fun and informative classes I took. I took clinics that had nothing to do with what I wanted to study because they put me on the spot and forced me to think about using law in the real world, rather than in a vacuum. This type of real-world thinking is what many fail to learn in law school and it’s exactly the type of thinking that you need to make sure you’re able to do when you graduate. Don’t cheat yourself; ensure that you learn to practice law.