The clock says “2:37 a.m.” You have already been working on your memo for three times as long as you thought you would need, and you still have less than half of it completed. It is due in less than fifteen hours, but you also have class, reading for class, and reviewing for class, and you wouldn’t mind sleeping a little and eating something at some point. Then your computer crashes, and you think, “What exactly was it that made me think Law School was a good idea?”
Maybe your matriculation into law school was your grandmother’s dying wish. Maybe you really liked the show Boston Legal. Maybe your father, your grandfather, your great grandfather were all lawyers. Maybe you graduated from undergrad thinking, “Geez, that whole real-world thing’s looking kind of intimidating. I don’t have a job, and I don’t really know what I want to do; guess I’ll go to law school!” Or, maybe you really, really, really want to be a lawyer.
As you can probably guess, not all of those reasons are going to provide the same level of motivation when you are working into the early morning hours. They won’t all offer as much help when you are trying to finish your outlines, or preparing for moot court auditions, or completing a comment to write onto law review. However, one question you should ask yourself when you are penciling more and more tasks into your law school planner is, “Do I really need to do this?”
Try to know the difference between what you think you have to do and what you really have to do. Keep in mind why you came to law school, what your goals are. If an extracurricular activity won’t help you reach those goals, maybe you can cut yourself some slack and not do it. If you know with unassailable certainty that you will never want to be a trial attorney, you probably can skip the trial team auditions. If you have no interest in international law, the Caribbean Law Clinic might not be a good use of your time. Many law students have a long history of being overachievers who feel as if they are failing or letting someone down if they don’t participate, and excel, in every activity available. In law school, that isn’t necessary and could even be detrimental. You will want good grades and practical experience, and extracurricular activities can be impressive for employers, but if you do too much, everything may suffer, and none of it will be as impressive as you hope. Law school is tough; there’s no reason to increase that unnecessarily.
Unfortunately, some of the least fun aspects of law school are the most necessary. You cannot avoid reading, briefing, outlining, or studying. Some classes are mandatory. While you can use your reason for coming to law school to help you avoid unnecessary activities, you can also use it to help motivate you through the unavoidable challenges. Think about how every case you read brings you that much closer to being an attorney. Every outline you complete gets more lawyerly knowledge into your head. Every class you complete gets you that much closer to the day that judge swears you in.
(I am sure some of you may not believe that last paragraph; if you want to work for the state attorney’s office, you may not see the value in studying for your Property class. Don’t let the subject matter fool you, though. Each class plays a part in the total rewiring of your brain. You may not be able to recognize the transformation, but each class you take contributes to your future ability to think like a lawyer, a skill you will need in whatever field you practice. Stay focused on the goal of being the best lawyer you can be and try to do your best in each class, even the ones you think are boring or irrelevant.)
Almost no law student completes his or her time in law school without facing the “why am I here” question as least once. Plan ahead and get your answer ready. Try to make your goal as specific as possible and consider putting reminders in places around your study space to keep you motivated. A framed copy of the Constitution or a post-it exclaiming, “Get the bad guys!” could help keep you motivated at 2:37 a.m. (Not that I condone pulling all-nighters.) And if somewhere along the way, you realize that law school might not be right for you, that’s okay, too. Many goals are reachable by many different paths. Try your best to know what you want and why you want it, and then do your best to stay focused on that goal. Feel free to come by the Academic Success Department to discuss any of the issues you may be facing, from how you should be outlining to answering that “why am I here question.” We are always here to help in any way we can. Good luck!