Oh man, the title of this article says it all, doesn’t it? Just thinking about what I wish I knew before applying to law school spurs me on to help you avoid some of the mistakes many people make when they apply to law school. Even as someone who was pretty successful with my law school applications and now my career in law, there are definitely things I wish I knew BEFORE applying to law school.
While I can’t go back in time to change things from my own law school journey, I can share some of my experience-gained insight with you. Maybe it will help a little bit.
Before we get too far here, I want to tell you a little about who I am and why you can trust me to help you whip your law school application into shape.
My name is Hannah Hammersmith, and I’m the Chief Law School Strategist here at Law School Solutions. My mission is to help you submit your best possible law school application. I’ve helped many applicants identify ways they can stand out to the admissions committee and then put each piece together to create a solid application. I’ve done this through a combination of individual consulting and by creating online resources for law school applicants like you.
Whether you want to attend a top-tier school or are interested in a small private law school near home, I can help you. The students I’ve worked with have gained admission to law schools on all ends of the spectrum.
How Do I Know Anything About Getting into Law School?
Well, you see… I’m currently a litigator for the State of California. I graduated from UCLA School of Law.
While I never originally intended to be a law school application strategist, this seems to fit. I love working with applicants who want to put their best foot forward. It’s so fun to hear what makes you unique and then help create a plan of action. Each person has a unique perspective to contribute to an incoming law school class, and I help applicants think about how to showcase that perspective.
I should also probably share that I’m actually a legit professional. I’m a member of the Western Association of Prelaw Advisors and the Northeast Association of Pre-Law Advisors. So yeah, there’s the official stuff.
Why I Want to Share What I Wish I Knew Before Applying to Law School
Real talk: I’m passionate about this topic. I care about helping other people avoid the mistakes I’ve seen law school applicants and students make (including myself!). While the law school application process may appear straightforward at the beginning, there are so many things people don’t think about it enough. Law school can be an expensive investment, not just in money, but in time, energy, effort, opportunity cost, etc. It’s worth it to actually think through why you want to do what you’re doing to be sure your choices with your law school applications are the best choices for you.
Each person is different, and no two paths are entirely the same. When applying to law school, you’ve got to be sure you know what you’re doing. That’s why I share. I’ve been down this path and helped others do the same. Now I want to keep blogging about it to provide more crucial information to interested applicants.
4 Things I Wish I Knew Before Applying to Law School
I know this may sound crazy, but before applying to law school I really didn’t know much about what it meant to actually be an attorney. I thought I knew what to expect. I mean, who hasn’t seen movies and TV shows with lawyers? I had conceptions about the lawyer life, but many of those ideas weren’t completely accurate.
Sure, there were hints of accuracy in my previous thoughts about what it would mean to be an attorney, but before applying to law school my understanding of what it meant to practice law was quite limited.
Here are four things I wish I knew.
1. What lawyers actually do all day
It’s kind of wild to think that people make a commitment to spend three years of their life studying hardcore for their future career without really understanding what that career is actually like. But my experience is not usually far from the norm. Before applying to law school, I wish I knew what lawyers actually do all day.
Before law school I didn’t have any lawyers in my family and didn’t know anyone who practiced law. This limited knowledge contributed to my misconceptions of how daily life could be in my future career. Even if you’re not surrounded by lawyers, there are ways to gain further insight into the lawyer life.
The life of one lawyer can be very different from another lawyer’s life. So this is where you want to do some research. Know what type of law you want to practice and then find out what kind of work in involved.
Look into opportunities to do a job shadow. Or better yet, get a part-time job or internship in a law office during undergrad. This first-hand real-world experience can help you see if this is the kind of work environment you desire.
If you join a pre-law fraternity during college, you’ll have access to networking events where you can meet lawyers. If you have the opportunity to connect with those who practice law, share your interest in wanting to know more about the work you’d be doing if you took a similar path as theirs. I’ve found that most lawyers are open to sharing their experiences with those seeking to follow a similar career path. This could open up mentorship opportunities as well. You never know how those relationships could be beneficial.
Be genuine in wanting to learn more before you decide on your career. This way you can make informed decisions about where to apply.
2. What lawyers get paid
A lot of people go into law school not quite understanding what lawyers get paid. While I knew that lawyers made quite a bit more money than what I could make in an entry-level job with an undergraduate degree, I didn’t think much about the range of income. Often, law school applicants think of the big shot lawyers who are making bank…but that’s not exactly everyone in the bar. You can definitely do well for yourself financially as a lawyer, but just going to law school isn’t a guarantee of the big bucks.
When going to law school, it’s important to do it for more than just the money. The desire to make a difference can also spur you onward in your studies. I’ve helped all sorts of applicants with their law school applications. The ones who seem to submit the strongest applications are the ones with a passion and drive that goes deeper than just focusing on money.
According to research done by U.S. News & World Report, the median salary for a lawyer was $118,160 in 2016. The lowest reported salary for a lawyer was $56,910 per year, while the highest was $208,000 or more. There’s definitely a salary range here, so what you could actually get paid depends on a lot of things: area of law, expertise, location, experience, etc.
I know I shared here that it’s important to have passions beyond just money when applying to law school. This is something I want to emphasize, but I also want to say that the desire to make a stable income is not a bad thing.
Wanting to earn a lot of money isn’t something to be villainized. Making a good income is a great thing, especially when you have to pay off those student loans! But sometimes students have a hard time staying focused when money is their only pursuit. Having a passion to make a difference can help you stay the course.
3. Law school is not like undergrad
I know you may have heard this piece of wisdom, but I’ve got to say it again. Law school is not like undergrad. The rigor of your course load is no joke. I thought I knew how to study before law school. However, when I actually started my classes and had hours upon hours of reading and studying to do, I realized I was in for an intense three years.
When I say law school is hard, I don’t mean it’s just like your hardest undergraduate classes. I mean it’s harder. Much harder. If you want to succeed in law school, you need to be prepared to buckle down and study.
Some quick tips for studying in law school:
a. Do the reading – While I know there were some instances in undergrad where you could get by without doing the reading, this is not the case with law school. Do all assigned reading. Believe me. It’s important!
b. Don’t procrastinate – I know it might be tempting to put off some reading or case briefs until later, but when you procrastinate you run the risk of never being able to catch up. The law school semester will take off and then won’t stop. Do the reading and notes on time so you can avoid falling behind.
c. Create a study plan and schedule – Law school is the time to buckle down and put forth your best effort with studying. Without a plan, it can be easy to get caught up in distractions. In the age of the internet and social media, we live in what some people claim is the most distracted age in history. You don’t want your law school career to be plagued with distractions. By creating a study plan and schedule, you can set some healthy boundaries.
When creating a law school study plan, think about the times of day you are most alert. If you aren’t already in class during those hours, try to do reading during those times. You’ll retain more information that way. If you want to structure your study time for maximum efficiency, consider using a study method like the Pomendoro Technique. Essentially, this method includes 25 minutes of undistracted work followed by a 5 minute break. Do this four times and then take a longer break. When I say undistracted work, I mean no checking your phone or moving from your current task. It is truly uninterrupted, deep focus.
Also be sure your weekly plan includes some time for leisure. If you’re constantly working on law school stuff, your fried brain can have a hard time recovering from the huge workload. Get out with friends. Do something fun. Laugh. Relaxation time is so important for law students!
d. Review before class – Before you go into class, review your notes. This way you’ll be ready to go. You’ll also be able to actively participate if the content is fresh in your memory. I’ve found that retaining law school information is easier when actively participating.
e. Form a study group – This tip really depends on the person because some people have a hard time remaining focused when in the presence of other people. In the study group, you can share notes, talk through the course material, and give tips. A pet peeve some people have when they join a study group is that the conversation gets off topic too easily. That’s why it’s important to set clear guidelines for the aim of the group. If you want to socialize, go out together after you’ve done your work. Study groups can be good for accountability if you have a hard time getting focused on your own.
f. Take care of your health – This is one of the study tips that gets forgotten because there are so many pressing matters to attend to with your coursework. But if you don’t have your health, you’re not going to be effective in class. Get good sleep, drink plenty of water, and eat a healthy diet. Make exercise part of your daily routine. This could be in the form of walking around campus or it could mean you hit up the gym. Your brain will thank you for this kind of work.
4. Fit matters when considering where to attend law school
Yep, fit matters. It really does. I can’t tell you how many students I’ve worked with who get so caught up in the ranking for potential law schools that they don’t even consider schools that would be a good fit. That is, until I point out some other viable options!
Think about what you want in a law school. Do you want to attend a large public school or a small private school? Where do you want to live in the future? Is going to school in that state going to help you with getting job opportunities in the area?
It’s important to consider whether you truly want to live in a place for three years. While there are a lot of places most people can manage if they know it’s only temporary, there are some places that can negatively affect a person. You don’t want to be miserable at law school. The course work alone is enough of a battle. You don’t want to constantly battle for your mental health because you’re living somewhere that you frankly just don’t like.
When considering fit, also consider the cost. I go over this in a lot more detail in the blog post, Where to Apply to Law School, but I want to say a few things on this here. A law school might fit better if you know you’ll be able to have a higher quality of life with less debt after graduation. It’s important to think through many possible scenarios when you consider if a law school is a good fit. Definitely check out my blog post on where to apply if you’d like more help with determining fit.
Well, there you have it. This post included the four things I wish I knew before applying to law school. I hope it is helpful to you as you seek to submit your best possible law school applications at schools that are right for you and your ambitions.
This whole law school application thing can be pretty tricky, huh? For some of my best tips about how to apply to law school, I highly suggest you check out our blog here at Law School Solutions. You can start with reading Law School Admissions Requirements: The Ultimate Guide – that will help point you in the right direction as you work on those applications.
Some other blog posts you should definitely check out include: