10.1 – The Role of Extracurricular Activities


Role of Extracurricular Activities

Make time committments from second and third year, not first year.

This course has mostly been about how to succeed inside the classroom and how to achieve great success in terms of good grades, but I want to spend this class talking about other ways to have success, because there's a whole range of things you can do in law school that are really important to your long-term career success. Particularly, I want to focus on what your second and third years of law school might look like.

The analysis that we've gone through in the preceding lessons has really mostly been applicable to your first year. All that advice, I think, continues to be true for your second or third years, but there's a whole bunch of other stuff that's going to happen later in your law school career that you're not necessarily going to be prepared for, even if you succeed a lot academically your first year.

What Are Extracurricular Activities?

Includes law journal, legal aid, organizing roles, research assistantships

The first thing I want to talk about is extracurricular activities. These can be any number of things. It can be working on a law journal. It can be being a volunteer attorney at your school's legal aid organization. It can mean being a research assistant for a professor. It can be being part of an organization that brings in outside speakers. There's really no end to the possibilities, and law schools will typically have dozens of student organizations. I want to give you some advice about this.

My first piece of advice is, don't worry about that much your first year. Go to some events, meet some people, but don't take on any significant time commitments, because the most important thing in your first year is to really focus on just learning. You've been thrown into the deep end of law and you want to try to figure out how to paddle your way around, learn as much as you can, and try to succeed in your classes.

Then after your first year, the advice changes significantly. I think you should really try hard to get involved in extracurriculars and make it a big part of your law school experience. Here's why. Your first year of law school, you're going to take a lot of classes. Typically, in law schools, you take more academic credits in your first year than you do in subsequent years. You're going to spend more time on the classes you do take than you will at any later point, because you don't really know what you're doing. You're still learning the basics. It's going to take you longer to read cases. It's going to take you longer to study.

Then you get to your second and third years, and maybe you're taking fewer classes. Maybe you're taking classes that aren't as demanding in terms of exams. You're taking two exam classes, you're taking a seminar, you're taking a clinic, things like that.

You're also not taking classes with the same group of people. The first year of law school is like high school. You're with a section, you're taking all your classes together, and it's this all-consuming experience. You have this built-in peer network. Second and third years are much more just like college, where your friends, everybody's taking the classes that they want to take. Everybody's in different classes. There's not one core common experience.

To the extent that your law school even has dorms, people are more likely to live off campus for second and third years. There's a tendency among some law students just to check out. They're not spending as much time in their classes. They figured out how to handle their classes more or less, and they just spend time doing other stuff. They have other things going on in their lives.

Extracurricular activities can deepen networks and friendships; choose per your interests

I don't think that's a great use of your second and third years, because I think it means you're really wasting some time, and you're missing out on some opportunities to learn, to deepen your networks, to deepen your friendships with other people. I think finding an extracurricular that you're excited about can really give a lot of meaning and purpose to your second and third years of law school. It can also give you a community that you won't have otherwise, a group of people that are all doing the same thing, working towards the same end, and it can really make second and third years invigorating and a more positive experience than they would be otherwise.

Now, what that activity should be, I think, is something you're going to have to figure out on your own. It's going to depend a lot on what your specific interests are and what you want to do with your legal career. Say you really want to do international law. Maybe you get involved in some student international law organization. You figure out some way to do something that puts you in touch with people in other countries. You've got to figure that out.

The most common one, though, and you can do multiple extracurricular activities, you probably can't do everything, but you can do a couple. There's moot court. That's a really common one. You get really involved in working on a brief with a team of people. A lot of people find that really rewarding because they really like working with other people.

Probably the most common one is being on a journal, being on law review. I would encourage this for most law students to try to be on a journal, particularly to try, if possible, to be on your school's flagship law review, the reason being it's typically considered a valuable credential. It can help you get other jobs. It can help you get clerkships with judges, and so forth. It's not necessarily for everybody.

If you don't really like thinking about legal scholarship and working on publishing a law journal, it might not seem like the most exciting opportunity to you, but for a lot of people, it's a very positive experience. It is one that pays certain amount of career dividends. I do think that because this is a professional school and because there are opportunity costs to your time, you probably do want to think carefully about what activities you're going to do in terms of how rewarding they're going to be. Not just in terms of how fun they are, but also in terms of how is this going to fit into my longer term career path. Is this something that, if I put it on my resume, is going to help me get a job?

As you're thinking about it, if you're choosing between doing law review and maybe being an actor in the school's parody, I would say probably it's going to make more sense to do law review in terms of the long-term career benefits to you. It doesn't have to be that. It can be other things. If you do law review competition and don't get on a journal, that's okay. There's a lot of people who have very, very successful careers without doing a law journal of any kind. That's just one rule of thumb of a place to start. I think it is more important, though, to do something and to find something that gets you excited about law school, and that puts you in a community of people that you respect, that you like working with, because you're really just going to get a lot more out of the second and third years.

Concluding Remarks

Law school is a big commitment. It's a big time commitment. It may be a big financial commitment for you, and so you really want to use that time effectively and not just feel like you're coasting through. I would strongly encourage you to think about this a little bit your first year, but don't do one your first year, and then really find one or two things to really jump into your second and third years, and make those a big part of your law school experience.

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