1.2 – Law School as a Professional Commitment

Transcript

Law School as Professional Commitment

In this lesson, we're going to talk about thinking about law school as a professional commitment. I think that's a really important starting place in having a successful experience in law school. I'll explain what I mean by that. Start with the idea that law school is professional school.

You are going to law school for professional reasons to develop a professional credential that will help you have some kind of career. Presumably, there's some reason why you're going to spend three years of your life and potentially up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition, developing this professional credential, and it's because you think it's going to help you have the kind of career that you want to have.

Now, I don't mean to assume that you're going to law school to make money. You might say, "Look, I'm not going to law school to become a corporate lawyer and make millions of dollars on Wall Street." That's fine. You might be going to law school for some other reason. Maybe you want to become a public defender and help indigent criminal defendants and impoverished communities. That's a very noble goal, and law school can help you get there.

Whatever your goal is, professionally, law school, in some sense, is going to be a means to that end. You need to go to law school to learn the law, to get a law degree, to put you in a position to take the bar so that you can go out and become a lawyer and have the kind of impact on the world that you want to have.

Reminding yourself that law school is professional school, I think, is useful because it gives you a certain kind of mindset that you're going to take to the experience. You're here for a reason. You're here to accomplish certain things. That doesn't mean you can't have a good experience. That doesn't mean you're not here to learn. You're not in law school to sort of have a good time, and you can have a very good time.

It does mean that you want to just keep a little bit of your eye on the prize in the sense, and just remember why you're there. In some sense, this is a little different from college. For some people, they come to college, and they treat it as time to discover who they are, figure out what they're interested in. You might take courses in ancient Latin literature, maybe you spend a lot of time doing philosophy.

I was a philosophy major in undergraduate. I didn't end up being a professional philosopher by any means. Law school is different. Law school is really the beginning of your professional journey. What that means is, I think you should take it seriously. I think you should think a little bit strategically about how you're going to approach it and how it's going to fit into your career longer term, and to make sure you're getting a return on your investment. That investment could be money you're paying in tuition. At the very least, it's going to be time, opportunity cost that you could be spending doing other things.

It's also what I call a high-leverage moment in your career, where little differences in effort and how you approach things could have a really big impact in the kind of career that you have. So, it makes sense to not just waltz through it, and not pay attention, and not really think about, what am I trying to do here? How can I make sure I'm getting the most out of this experience? I think you really owe it to yourself to take it seriously and to really think of it not as just this voyage of self-discovery, but really as a serious professional commitment.

Law School as a Job

There's also some good news. Taking law school seriously as a professional commitment doesn't mean you can't enjoy your experience, doesn't mean you can't have a good time. It doesn't mean that you have to spend every moment of law school working like a dog. That doesn't mean that at all. In fact, it can, in some ways, mean that you work less in law school and a little differently. One thing that I think people often say that I think is true, that to have a successful law school experience, you should treat it like a job. What does that mean? That may mean working pretty hard at law school. I do think that there are reasons why you should work hard, and we'll talk about that in more depth in a future lesson.

It might also mean having some separation between law school and the rest of your life, treating law school as a thing that you do in certain places, or for certain hours. Because for many jobs, you wake up in the morning, you go to your job, and you do your job for the whole day. Then at a certain point, you clock off, you're off for the day, and then you go have the rest of your life, and having that mental and time separation can be very useful.

Exploring Interests

The second piece of good news is you don't need to have everything figured out yet in terms of your career. I don't mean to be telling you that from day one of law school, you need to have a good theory for how everything you're doing is going to help you become the most successful tax lawyer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. That might be where you end up in your career. You don't have to have that figured out. You might have no idea at this moment that you're even interested in tax, or that you're ever going to live in Minnesota. I'm not saying that if you don't have those things figured out now, you're not going to have a good law school experience.

What I'm saying, though, is you want to at least be thinking a little bit about, what am I getting out of this? How is this going to help me figure out the next step of my career? How is this going to be valuable for me? Is this the best use of my time? If I use my time on this particular aspect of law school, is it going to take away from other things I could be doing that might ultimately be more professionally valuable for me?

It can also be a reason for you to just say no to things. You can say, there's so many things you could spend your time doing in law school. You can't do them all. You can't be on top of everything all the time, and you have to make some hard choices.

Taking law school seriously as a professional commitment, I think, has some implications about what you do, how you approach law school, and also has some implications about what you shouldn't be doing. I think it's a really good mindset to take with you as you approach law school, and especially as you deal with the first year of law school.

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