Practical Advice from the 2023 Vault Law Associate Survey—Law School
As another new academic year gets underway, we thought it might be useful to hear some practical advice for school given by the working law firm attorneys who took our 2023 Vault Law Associate Survey. In the last installment of our practical advice series, we gave you a selection of advice on choosing and working through a summer program. In a similar format, below are 15 selected quotes giving advice on navigating law school with an eye toward preparing for career success.
1. "Law school did not prepare me for practice in any practical way. Get as many internships as you can and learn how to practice before you start that way—law school will not prepare you."
2. "Law school is helpful if you make it work. It's easy to take easy classes and slide into being an associate. But, it's a final opportunity to learn for the sake of learning. Start by covering the basics of the field you will be working in and do some classes that are fun. Plus, practical experience will mean more than anything."
3. "Take more practical classes that teach you about writing briefs, taking depositions, and dealing with the rules of civil procedure."
4. "Working in an office is good preparation for being an associate. I think for K-JD students having some type of substantive work experience is helpful. I don't think law school does a good job preparing you to work with clients or meet client expectations."
5. "Law school helped develop litigation skills, particularly through clinics/practicums. To prepare for life as an associate (at least in the first few years), be prepared to either put your career above personal life or to put your personal life above your career. Attempting to balance both will negatively impact both. You will have to give up a lot of your personal life to advance your career, or you'll have to sacrifice parts of your career for your personal life. You'll have to decide which approach is best for you."
6. "Law school is still largely a toolkit for litigation. Corporate is (rightfully) a secondary learning track. That said, the choice between litigation and corporate will impact your trajectory as a lawyer in a meaningful way. Corporate offers more legal-adjacent roles, and litigation tends to formalize your intent to continue as a lawyer. I think most students need to understand this distinction before making the leap towards one or the other."
7. "Get every opportunity to practice that you can: write briefs, volunteer, extern, work at a clinic. Law school does not prepare you for working as a lawyer. Only practice will do that."
8. "Law school helped cultivate my research skills and helped me become more organized. I would suggest law students build strong habits now to help keep them steady in their career."
9. "Join any law review journal you can! The technical writing skills you will develop will serve you extremely well. You will be able to hit the ground running, and partners will definitely notice the polished difference between a law review candidate and one that did not participate in a journal. I did not join a journal, and as a second-year I often make minor citation and other mistakes that the law journal participants do not."
10. "Take a business class regarding basic financial terms and a class on management (you will be supervising non-legal staff from day one and junior attorneys as a second year)."
11. "Look out for your teammates and always keep an eye out for allies. Try to set healthy boundaries for yourself and support a healthy lifestyle for others that you work with. Law firm culture in terms of work-life balance can be really terrible and exclusionary for those with other responsibilities and commitments outside of work—set your own boundaries."
12. "Get as much practical work/internship experience as you can. No one cares if you're a junior associate with a clever theory of how the law should work when you're working on a fairly straightforward litigation. What matters is how well you can perform tasks like researching, writing, etc."
13. "Expose yourself to various practice groups in your summer associate program. Law school is litigation-oriented, and you may find that you are interested in non-litigation work if you gain substantive exposure to it."
14. "Learn how to work hard and work when you don't want to. Practice and law school are so separate. Best advice is to do well your first year and take classes you like after that."
15. "Law school didn't prepare me/students for billable hours. I'd advise students to time themselves in all that they do and assess how much wasted time/useful time."