The Class of 2006

Today is Brooklyn Law School’s Commencement. Congratulations to the members of the Class of 2006. These students started at Brooklyn the same year I began teaching.

Our commencement is always a lavish affair. We take over Tavern on the Green for brunch and then the commencement exercises are held at Lincoln Center. Many of our students are first generation lawyers; a good number are immigrants. Our commencement speaker this year is Richard Goldstone, formerly of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. A preview we got last night at dinner suggests his speech will be a highlight of the day.

In a few months, we’ll have a new crop of 1Ls. Nobody is quite the same after they are done with law school; there are things we all wished we knew before we began.

In that spirit, I ask our readers who are graduating this year or who have already graduated from law school: if you, older and wiser now, could send back in time some advice to yourself in the summer just before you began law school, what advice would that be?

You may also like...

11 Responses

  1. graduated this year says:

    (1) do practice exams by fully writing out the answer exactly as you would on the final (best is if the prof has old exams; there is no excuse for not fully completing every single exam the prof has on file; if the prof has none, buy a book that has questions or use questions from other profs or even from profs at other schools)

    (2) do practice exams early in the semester (after 1 1/2 months of classes?); this teaches you how to listen in class in such a way as to get points

    (3) do practice exams with a study group of people you think seem smart after a month or so: each person should write out the answers completely and then each person should read their answers so you can figure out what you missed; if you are getting everything they are getting, find different people who are smarter than you

    (4) all that matters for grades is the exam, so don’t waste time on anything other than answering the questions: “how will this [e.g., what the prof is talking about, what I am reading, what I am outlining] get me points on the exam?” and “how can I use this to get more points than other people on the exam?” (e.g., make this law review article or case note into a one line policy argument)

    (5) do LEEWS

    (6) all that matters is grades; if you do bad, then look into other options for people with bad grades, but until you do bad, don’t think: I should make friends and have fun because law school is about more than grades; it is not

  2. Josh Rosenberg says:

    Advice I wish I’d had three years ago:

    Resist the temptation to bring your laptop to class! Most law schools now have wireless internet capabilities–this is not a good thing.

    Either you will be tempted to surf online dating sites or the people around you will be ticked off by the distraction you are causing.

    Also, professors are pretty good at knowing who is paying attention. If you’re writing, they’ll know you’re with it, and you’ll get the benefit of the doubt when your exam grade falls in the infamous B+/A- no man’s land.

  3. Seth R. says:

    I’m going to tell you a harsh truth of law school. Your primary concern in law school is to get through it with as little debt as possible.

    This mandate overrules all others (except for mandates about not breaking the law and plagiarizing, being honest and moral stuff like that).

    Good grades are nice, but they aren’t half as important as a low debt load. And let me tell you a little secret: On average, the students in the bottom third of the class grade rankings are making just as much as the top tenth percentile students ten years out of law school. Unless you are dead set on a Federal Clerkship, or a job as law professor (or both, as most are), the grades really don’t matter half as much as everyone at school will tell you they do.

    Making friends is nice, but your financial well-being comes first.

    Intellectual enlightenment is just grand, but it doesn’t outweigh the real problems that a big graduate debt load will give you.

    Get the cheapest ABA-approved law school you can find (unless you’re in California and absolutely intend to stay there).

    Apply for every scholarship, grant and government aid program you can find (many of those go unclaimed).

    Take a paying job during the summers. If you legal internship pays, great. If it doesn’t, wait tables or something. But get some income rather than just subsisting on student loans. A job during the school year may or may not be such a hot idea, depending on you.

    Wait until you actually are a lawyer to start living like a lawyer. You can’t afford a new DVD player. You’ll have to live with the music collection you have. Forget about a new car. You can’t afford Starbucks every morning (make your own coffee if you need to). Now is not a good time for season ski passes. You can’t afford to eat at restaraunts or the school cafeteria every day for lunch. Find ways to enjoy yourself that don’t involve spending money. Never buy anything from a vending machine. Ride your bike or walk to school every day. And unless you have cast-iron financial discipline, don’t use your credit cards, EVER!

    Never buy a new textbook or study aid if you can get one used. Ask around among the departing 3Ls and make sure you’re first in line when the Feminist Lawyers club, Federalist Society, Student ABA chapter, or whatever, cart out their offering of used textbooks for sale.

    For most of you – avoid alcohol like the plague. Attorneys have one of the highest rates of substance abuse of any career in the US. This stuff will destroy your career, decimate your family, and generally ruin your life. Intense stress and a beer DO NOT go well together.

    Yes, this might cramp your social life. Suck it up and volunteer as designated driver. Did I mention that alcohol is incredibly expensive? You’ll be amazed when you tally up how much you spend on this stuff.

    Sign up for PMBR and BarBri Bar preparation courses your first semester in law school! The sales reps offer big discounts for early signers. You need some good prep courses. One for state law portion of the exam, and one for the Multistate. This is not the place to save money! It will cost you a whole lot more if you fail your first exam and have to take it over again. It might even tank your first legal job offer (many of which are conditioned on you passing the bar exam).

    Friends come and go, but family is obligated to put up with you, no matter what, for the rest of your life or theirs (whichever comes first). Treat your parents and siblings with respect, and call home often. You’ll need family on your $ide when you’re a year out of law school and still don’t have a serious job.

    I am dead serious about this. Nothing in law school will affect and shape the rest of your life as much as that debt load will. The debt will force you to continue living like a student even when you’ve been a lawyer for over five years. The debt will make you desperate to take the first crap job that comes your way. Even worse, it will make you unwilling to leave that crap job, even though it’s actually damaging your life and mental well being. Debt will encourage you to act unethically just to scrape up more of the money you need to escape it. Debt will make you look the other way when your boss is sexually harrassing your co-workers, or cause you to stay with a firm that you know is corrupt and unethical because you don’t dare lose the paycheck. Debt will force you to abandon your dreams of becoming a public interest lawyer, working for a non-profit, or serving the government and will lead you by the nose into the amoral, soul-less wasteland of biglaw. And again, ten years down the road, you’ll hate your job, hate yourself, but you won’t dare leave because of your student loan payments.

    You may even put off plans of getting married and having those children you might have wanted because “you can’t afford it right now.”

    Not to mention the emotional anguish and depression that accompany crushing debt.

    Financial freedom.

    Everything else in law school is just door-prizes.

  4. graduated this year says:

    That is interesting, Seth R, that you don’t think grades matter. I guess it depends on where you go to school. I went to a top 20-13 school, and the people in the top 35% make $140k coming out, and the bottom 35% make $50k or less.

  5. Seth R. says:

    Individual results may vary. I believe the figures were nationwide.

    The stats only look at results ten years after graduation (come to think of it, it might have been more …).

    Wish I had a citation for you, but I don’t. It was in a law review article from a professor whose name I don’t remember. I saved a printout of the article somewhere around here …

    Around 70% of law grads end up in small or solo private practice (though you wouldn’t think so after reading the monthly ABA magazine …). And many of these guys are making just as much, if not more than associates at biglaw once you compare where they end up long-term.

    I know the money focus sounds sordid, but for many, many people, heavy financial obligations can dominate every aspect of life. Best to minimize its potential hold on you from the word “go.”

  6. Seth R. says:

    Hit post too soon.

    To clarify, grades do matter. They do count for something when job searching (though it depends on the job and job-search strategy) and they do say some positive things about your personal work ethic.

    But your debt load is more important. That was the point.

  7. graduated this year says:

    I certainly think minimizing debt is important, but I do think it is a mistake to buy a (really) used textbook or refuse to buy supplements because of cost. The greatest cost is tuition (and excessive drinking etc). If buying 5 supplements on contracts helps you get an A instead of an A-, it is undeniably worth more debt.

  8. Paul Gowder says:

    Know why you’re there! Have some informed (as in, by experience) idea of your specific career plans going in, so that you know how to shape your experience. If you don’t have this idea, you shouldn’t be shelling out countless tens of thousands of dollars in tuition and opportuity costs for law school.

  9. Not Insane says:

    Seriously? Practice exams? Buying 5 supplements to move from an A- to an A? Seriously? If I had advice for my 1L self, it would be to stop stressing so much, so as to stop myself from incurring an anxiety disorder and a bleeding ulcer. Grades don’t matter THAT much. I have around a 3.0 and I got a job at a top-ten firm this summer. A lot of getting a job is who you know and how well you present yourself.

    The difference between an A- and an A is worth neither your sanity nor the $100+ that it would cost to buy 5 supplements. The difference between an A- and an A isn’t really even worth the pain of studying that much harder. Let’s take it a little easier on our past selves!

  10. Ian Best says:

    I collected advice from some of my fellow graduates for incoming 1L’s here:

    I’ve been too preoccupied with bar review to add my own.

  11. graduated this year says:

    Where you go to school must make all the difference then. At my 20-13th ranked school, a 3.0 (which is bottom half) would be ignored at any top 30 firm. It would not matter how well you presented yourself. My school is full of people who went to Yale for undergrad but are looking for jobs after graduating because their grades in law school were low.