What I Wish I Had Known When I Started Law School, Part III

The top five things I wish I would have known when I started law school:

1)      Professors don’t bite.  When I first started law school, I thought that if I approached a faculty member outside of class (or even in class but voluntarily), my head might explode.  I eventually realized that I was missing out on a valuable opportunity to develop professional relationships with my professors that I could benefit from both during my academic career at law school as well as my professional career after law school.

2)      Not every lawyer has to be a litigatorIt took a summer internship at a law firm for me to appreciate what a transactional attorney does; namely, represent clients in ordering their business affairs.  Often this means representing a client in pursuing a business transaction, such as a merger, asset sale or joint venture, that the client (as well as the counter-party) believes will create value.  In this context, the transactional lawyer’s goal is to help her client achieve its business objectives in compliance with the law.

3)      Not every law school graduate has to be a lawyer.  While I knew, at least in theory, that some law school graduates decide to not practice law, I have now seen first-hand how law school can lead to varied careers.  For instance, one of my law school friends heads the U.S. human resources department of a large public company, another writes screenplays and human interest stories for newspapers and magazines, and yet another owns and operates a chain of yogurt stores.  While a legal practice helped buoy many of my former colleagues to their non-legal positions, others capitalized on their legal skills in more creative, less traditional ways right from the start.

4)      Clients’ needs often don’t fall into the discrete doctrinal areas taught in law school.  This lesson is best illustrated through an example.  As a corporate lawyer, I assisted a number of clients in creating joint ventures so that they could engage in joint business undertakings with other enterprises.   In addition to requiring knowledge on how to form a business entity, this type of transaction often calls for expertise in tax law (to address the structure of the joint venture to minimize tax liability of the joint venturers), real estate law (to address the transfer of real estate to the joint venture), environmental law (to address any environmental concerns relating to that real estate), intellectual property law (to address the transfer of intellectual property to the joint venture) and labor and employment law (to address the retention and compensation by the joint venture of employees as well as the confidentiality of information obtained by those employees while fulfilling the scope of the joint venture).  Because legal “problems” such as this often call for a multi-disciplinary solution, first year law students are benefited by understanding and embracing the overlap between courses, and searching for how knowledge gained in one course can help clarify and address problems raised in other courses.

5)      Start developing your professional identity on the first day of law school.  When I first started law school, I thought of my learning experience as more-or-less an extension of college, though employing a different teaching technique and often a different assessment method.  What I eventually realized, though, was that law school was not merely teaching me substantive law and the skill of legal analysis.  Rather, it was training me how to be a professional – specifically, a lawyer.  That explained why a number of my professors used pedagogical techniques like role-playing – they were not simply gauging our knowledge of the law and ability to analyze legal problems, but were helping us understand the professional roles and responsibilities we would fulfill as lawyers, and exposing us to the ethical and moral dilemmas we might face in practice.  That proved to be valuable insight for me, for it helped me to be more conscious of and deliberate in the development of my professional identity.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Jessica E. Slavin

    Nadelle, thanks for these thoughts. I agree with each one of them. And #5 is such a key understanding.

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