As summer winds to an end, a new crop of law students is preparing for the grueling first year of law school, and veteran students are gearing up to return to studying.
Before Texas law schools open their doors for a new school year in late August, Texas Lawyer reached out to members of law school communities across the Lone Star State, asking for their advice for new and returning students. Students, deans, professors, career services deans and student affairs professionals answered the call.
Here are their tips for new and returning law students to tackle their studies and navigate their career paths, while staying happy and healthy. Their responses have been edited for brevity, clarity and style.
Third-year law student St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio
As ridiculous as it sounds, organize your life: Clean your apartment, room, car, do your laundry, update your resume and get everything that you’ve been putting off done before school starts. Readings, deadlines, papers and other commitments creep up on you; before you know it, finals are here. It’s nice to start off the year organized and have some parts of life under control. Also, put aside some time to relax! Sleep and sunshine are a commodity during the school year, so I recommend both new and returning students take advantage of as much sleeping in and outdoor activity as possible before the chaos ensues. I was surprised by the great friendships I have made in law school. I met some of my best friends during orientation and they have been by my side since day one. Law school brings out the best and worst in people and it is important to have a close support system to get through. My greatest piece of advice is to be nice and be professional. Law school is a professional school and marks the beginning of one’s professional reputation in the legal field. It is important to start building a good network and reputation early.
Interim dean Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston
I think [law students] ought to be resting right now and making sure that when September rolls around, they are mentally ready to focus on the study of law. You know the old saying: The law is a jealous mistress. It says that because of the time. I always tell students: law is not difficult, but it is extremely time consuming, so they have to be ready. One of the big problems I see that’s becoming more and more prevalent now than it was before is that—yes, lawyers are competitive—but I tell students the only competition they ought to have ought to be with themselves, and not with their classmates. When I was a law student, one of the things my classmates used to ask me all the time is why was I so relaxed? I would always tell them I was relaxed because even though I wanted to be a lawyer since I was 12 years old, I didn’t have to be a lawyer to be happy in life. I talk to too many law students who think if they don’t get into law school, or if they don’t make it in law school, the world is going to come to an end.
Royal Furgeson Jr.
Dean University of North Texas Dallas College of Law in Dallas
For new law students and returning law students, I recommend summer reading about the law. Read the Declaration of Independence. Remember why we decided to separate from Great Britain: It was all about denying us our rights under law. Also read the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Civil War Amendments. Think about these foundational documents and what they mean to us today.
Professor University of Texas School of Law in Austin
Do not read the casebooks over the summer. That is a really bad idea. Your teachers assign materials in a certain order to help you understand how the law and legal concepts develop. If you read ahead, you are likely to develop your own ideas about that—which are likely to be wrong—and will confuse you immensely. If you want to read a legal book, read, “A Civil Action,” by Jonathon Harr. It is a terrifically interesting book that will give you context for how a lawsuit proceeds. For returning law students: Think about what you did the year before. What worked well and what did not? Make some goals for the year—do you aspire to: lead a student organization; be a star moot court or mock trial advocate; be the best you can be on a journal, so you will be selected for editorial board? Your second and third years are busy—make the most of them.
Interim assistant dean for career development University of Houston Law Center in Houston
Do connect with as many classmates, faculty, staff, and alumni as possible. They will serve as invaluable resources for study tips, outlines, employment opportunities and practice area insight. Do meet with your career counselor and provide as much information as possible about your background and career goals. Your counselor will be an essential part of your career development and will help you reach your career goals, even as they may change throughout your law school career. Don’t isolate yourself. Law school is difficult and all law students feel the pressure. The most successful students are the ones who utilize their resources to help develop positive coping skills. Your classmates, upper classmen, faculty, staff and alumni all understand this process and are here to provide support. Don’t try to figure everything out on your own. Law school can feel very competitive and it can be tempting to try to be completely independent. However, the legal field is built on relationships, and law school is no different.
Assistant dean of career development Baylor University School of Law in Waco
Students who are the most successful in finding employment have two things in common: they take advantage of the resources available to them, and they buy into networking. The Baylor Law Career Development Office offers many resources to students, such as individual career counseling, resume and cover letter review, mock interviews, job postings, interview programs and networking opportunities. We are committed to keeping informed about the legal market and sharing information about employers—gained from hundreds of individual employer visits—with our students. There is no need to navigate the job-search process alone.
Recent graduate University of Texas School of Law in Austin
Remain humble and conscious of the fact that not everyone has the same professional opportunities, grades and connections as you. Students are anxious to tell people about their successes after hard work, but many students work as hard and don’t get the same results. Don’t talk about your LSAT score, college grades, scholarship offers—especially at the school you are attending—or lack of student debt. It’s immature, unprofessional and awkward.
Professor Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law in Dallas
The most important advice I ever share with law students is that “fitting in” shouldn’t be the goal. Legal careers can be extremely varied and diverse, but law school can sometimes make it seem like there is only one “right” path to success in the profession. Stay true to yourself; remember why you decided to attend law school in the first place; and never lose sight of your own personal goals.