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Yes, I was accepted at the University of Houston Law Center at the ripe old age of 36. Yes, I was a husband and father of three children all under the age of 7. Yes, I owned my own business. Yes, around the same time I was accepted into law school, I was given the additional responsibility of managing my family’s business. Yes, I made a promise to my mentor, Judge John R. Brown, that I would accept a position in the part-time program at the UH Law Center if I was accepted as part of the class of 1992. And yes, I was euphoric to be at the threshold of achieving a dream of mine — something I had long thought to be unattainable by that point in my life. Just about the time the euphoria began wearing off, trepidation set in. I began to question my decision (and my sanity). How was I going to raise a family, run two businesses and go to law school at the same time? This trepidation was omnipresent throughout law school, but I used it as motivation instead of allowing it to hinder me. I decided the only way I was going to handle my responsibilities was to compartmentalize and prioritize my life. Although I really never had done it in the past, it was the only way to survive and succeed. From the first day of class, I decided that my studying and class preparation would be done at the law school or during my study group time. I would perform only work-related tasks while I was at work. Most importantly, when at home, it would be family time. It was not easy at first, but it became easier with practice and time. Of course, this plan was not perfect. There were times (particularly as finals approached) when I found myself discussing the elements of a crime with my 7-year-old daughter. (It actually turned out to be a good way to put the kids to sleep at bedtime.) As I said, it was not perfect, but it allowed me to retain some structure to my life. As the old saying goes, when given an elephant and told to eat it, the best way to do it is one bite at a time. I actually made it through my first year of law school unscathed. However, during my second year, I decided I would need some hands-on experience working in a law office. Being a nontraditional student, the traditional clerkship programs were not suited to me. I began searching for a non-traditional clerkship (not common, but they are out there). After several weeks of searching, I was able to locate a great position with a mid-sized firm in Houston. I was able to reduce the workload at my office and begin my full-time clerkship. Thankfully, the firm was flexible with my work schedule. Since I was taking evening classes, I clerked during the day and attended classes in the evening. Unfortunately, a full-time clerkship, coursework and running a business meant that my family time was greatly reduced. My wife was understanding and realized it was only temporary. However, I regret missing that time with my family. TRICKS OF THE TRADE It was difficult at first, but the good news is that it got easier with time. Eventually, you do learn how to manage the different aspects of your life. Some things you will learn to manage better than others, but it becomes a matter of priorities. Like me, you may not have your priorities in the right order all the time, but it is in some order regardless. Also, it was helpful for me to remind myself that this was only temporary and that the rewards outweighed the sacrifices. Here are some steps I used in learning to eat the elephant, one bite at a time. Pick a study group early. The purpose of a study group is multifaceted. If you select a study group properly, it will be a great way to reduce the unbelievable amount of work. The most important rule in selecting your study group is to select people with whom you are comfortable and those who will keep you intellectually stimulated. Also, your study group will be a social release, which is extremely important considering the amount of stress and work associated with law school. There was no real magic to picking my study group. In my case, it ended up being four other students who happened to be sitting near me. To this day, the members of my study group remain some of my closest friends. You must be able to trust the members of your group to do their part and produce quality work. An effective study group will be an immeasurable advantage to succeeding in law school. The process is the process. Accept it. Deans do what they do for a reason. Professors do what they do for a reason. The same goes for staff members and the Board of Law Examiners. There is a process. Learn it. More importantly, accept it. Don’t get me wrong — you can make a difference by being involved in student groups such as the Student Bar Association. However, do not spend all your time trying to change the process. Believe me, it is much easier to change any perceived wrongs in the process from the position of a successful alumnus. Becoming one should be your goal. Once you become an alum, it also is important to remain involved with your law school. It is important that you get to know your dean, professors, adjuncts, staff and fellow students. Law students often overlook this, but getting to know these people will be an invaluable asset while you are in school, during your job search and once you become an attorney. First of all, your dean is involved in the legal community and can be helpful in disseminating your talents to prospective employers. A good recommendation from the dean will get a hiring partner’s attention. A professor also can play a pivotal role in guiding you to the perfect job. You will be amazed at the level of professors’ involvement in the legal community. Keep in mind once you find an area of the law that interests you to find a professor who specializes in that area who may be looking for a research assistant. Depending on your enthusiasm and the quality of your work, you even may be able to convince the professor to give you some credit as a co-author on an article on which she may be working. This is an amazing asset during your job search. Don’t let the dean, professors and fellow students be untapped resources. You must keep in mind that most of your fellow law students plan to spend the remainder of their professional lives in the legal field. They see how you perform in and out of class. It is important that you get to know as many of your classmates as possible. It is even more important that you impress upon them that you are capable and will make a great attorney. I guess the buzzword that best explains this process is “networking.” There is a difference between networking and schmoozing. Learn it. Do not underestimate the value of networking in your law school experience. If you do underestimate it, I almost can assure you it will come back to haunt you. By far, the most important thing you can have when you leave law school is a good reputation. I cannot emphasize this enough. The worst and most lasting career mistake you can make is to think that law school operates in a vacuum, and you get to start all over when you become a practicing attorney. Although there are more than 60,000 practicing attorneys in Texas, the bar functions just like a small town. Everyone knows about everyone else. Word spreads fast about your good deeds, but it travels at hyper-speed about your bad deeds. If you take nothing else from this article, take this advice: Treat your classmates with respect, but most importantly, respect yourself. Get as much exposure to the legal profession as possible. Practical experience is an immeasurable asset during your job search. Keep in mind that not everyone will be able to take advantage of traditional summer clerkships. Those are great opportunities if you can get them. But for the rest of us, the key is getting practical experience in the practice of law either through participation in clinics, volunteer legal work, student bar association projects, internships, clerkships or any other method to gain exposure to the actual practice of law. One word of caution: Do not sacrifice grades for practical experience. Make time for your family and friends. It is important to remember that your family and friends do not want to hear about whether a tort exists if the waiter puts his finger in your tea. Making time for family and friends can go a long way in helping you maintain your sanity. Also make time for things you like to do. (If this means briefing cases, then forget about the sanity part.) Finally, we are all different; therefore, we have different things to offer. Use your aptitude and strengths to set yourself apart and make yourself unique. Samir Foteh is a 1996 graduate of the University of Houston Law Center and an associate with McGinnis, Lochridge & Kilgore in Houston.

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