A Hacker's Guide to Success in Law School -Three Qualities That Make The Difference

This article is being brought back from the archives of now defunct A First Taste of Law. How to succeed in law school? Here is an unbeatable guide.

A Hacker's Guide to Success in Law School -Three Qualities That Make The Difference

I have got several emails in the last few weeks asking me how one can prepare for joining a law school after CLAT. Is there something one can do to prepare oneself better ahead of admission to a law school? Is there any movie one can watch to understand the law school life? Are there any books they can read now that will give them an advantage over others in law school? I love the people who ask me such questions. Most people feel extremely happy at the fact that the grueling preparation phase is over and that they are going to a law school. They are good. But those who are showing the application of mind in thinking of preparing for the eventualities that come along with a law school life, or even trying to recognise what lays ahead, they are a class apart.

Well, most of these emails have been received during my end sem exams, and in some cases I could not even reply. I really wanted to, but the number of emails I get these days will easily cross 100 on any day, and it is getting difficult to reply to everyone.

Anyway, now I am going to write down my ideas about how one can prepare for law school in roughly two months after the entrance tests until you actually join a law school. The first task is to understand law school a little and what makes it tick.

Yes, law school is a strange place to figure out, especially when you are in the first semester. Also, note that everyone who goes to law school doesn’t do well. There are people who fail year after year, screws up their mind and body due to excessive use of all sort of intoxicants, some just fail to adjust with the competitive life and hard schedule and still there are other people who don’t fail, doesn’t dope, doesn’t learn anything either but lives on in the campus for 5 years to realise in the end that they had their chance, but they miserably wasted it.

The truth is, you have a dream of making it big in life, and so you have worked hard for months to get through to a good college. Good colleges include other law colleges apart from law schools, like Symbiosis or ILS, Pune. You are paying a considerable chunk of money as fees. The best reason to perform well, however, is that you have a great advantage once you are in a law school: you get phenomenal exposure no matter what is your aim. It could be advocacy (initially in form of mooting), debating, writing, photography, journalism, management or entrepreneurship – whatever is your passion, you likely find a lot of opportunities to develop your skills.

Why do people from law schools do well, not only in law but in a lot of other things? The answer is sort of intuitive. Firstly, you shall find people of very diverse interests, people of great calibre all around you – learning violin or playing piano, directing theatres, setting up businesses, learning foreign languages (I know this is true for NLS and NUJS at least – maybe my readers can throw light on the situation in other law schools). Living with a lot of intelligent, competitive and highly active young people can have a very positive effect on you (for some people it doesn’t). Secondly, there are some basic, foundational skills that are key ingredients for success, no matter what you do.

These are the ability to research, ability to express yourself professionally and clearly in writing and oral speech, which we can call communication skills, and ability to collaborate with others. When combined with qualities like perseverance, and willingness to take up responsibility, these give anyone an winning edge. It’s a rare and valuable combination.

  • Good research skills

In a law school, somehow most students end up with good research skills. An essential part of this is to know how to use technology and the internet for research. Research is not an academic ability – it is more of a life skill. When I say one should know how to research I do not mean the ability to look through hundreds of pages or web pages, assimilating information, or knowing it all. If you can, and you do look up the medicine your doctor prescribed to you on Wikipedia to understand it, or if you did look up the internet for tips on how to manage your time and found a good solution suitable for you, if you look up google maps to get an idea about the place where you are going for a trip, you know how to research. You would then also be able to locate a piece of information on the internet, or in law books that are needed for your client. Or the crucial strategy for buying shares in the stock market. If you know how to research, you would find out what is it that law firms like Clifford chance want in a law graduate. You would also dig up ten ways to learn French even if you can not go to a brick and mortar language school for want of time. Then you would find out that any lawyer knowing Chinese or Russian is guaranteed to get a job no matter how bad their grades are in law school. For a good researcher, there is always a way.

  • Communication skills

And then there are communication skills. The key to successful communication is clarity and confidence. Clarity of thought is developed through analytical exercises, and you get to do that plenty if you are remotely interested in what is happening in your law school. Then comes the part where you convey these clear thoughts – that requires some amount of speaking or writing skills – these are purely technical and transferable skills, can be learnt very fast. Maybe in a day if you put your mind to it and find the right resources. Then you get ample practice in a law school. In classrooms, then debates and moots, all the fighting that takes place in different committee meetings and the general politics that goes on. It prepares you almost for anything in life.

  • Confidence

I put down all my success to this attribute. There were bad times, times in which I took bad hits, there was a time when I couldn’t speak English, so couldn’t moot, or perhaps was ridiculed for lack of social grace. I could have decided that I am worse than the people ridiculing me or winning over me and that is the natural order of things. Or I could have fought with them on the spot and do nothing to improve myself thereafter. I was saved by my confidence, which made taking either of these courses impossible and unnecessary. Fighting was redundant – I knew I am far more superior [at least it helped to think so :P] – just that I didn’t have the right opportunities yet. I told myself I shall do better than anyone else – and I worked on it. Frankly, it was not all that hard work once I genuinely believed in myself. As confidence increased, so did my rate of success, especially when it comes to people.

No one likes a guy who does not appear confident while he communicates or works together. Let’s say you want your work done. If someone says he will get it done, and another person says he will try, who will you give the work to? However, it’s not just what you say but how you say it that matters the most. The person hearing your answer also notices the movement of your fingers, or hand gesture, hears the hint of doubt in your voice. If not consciously, then unconsciously one puts all these into making a decision about a person. Read Malcom Gladwell here for a better understanding of this phenomenon, and his theory on how people judge a stranger with a blink!

Believing in your abilities matters a lot because faking genuine confidence, and more than that hiding, genuine anxiety or lack of confidence is extremely difficult. Law schools give you this confidence. It makes you think, falsely in most cases, that you are better than others out there. That you have a financially secure world waiting for you at the end of five years. That your law school education is your ticket for a high flying life. That you ‘deserve’ a good job. This belief is reinforced in every law school student year after year, and as a result they are more confident than the average people they encounter. That translates into a lot of advantage during giving interviews, handling clients, networking, requesting a contact for a help, in almost every aspect of a professional life, even if you are not working in law firms – confidence is a self-fulfilling prediction, like a bank run.

The ones who doesn’t do well, were confident and hopeful of a good career, were elated to beat thousands of others to secure a law school seat too, it’s just that they lost their confidence along the way somewhere. Maybe it was a bad end term, maybe it was a rude rejection from a person one adores, maybe it was just the pressure of assignments – when one loses the belief that they are one of the best, or that they have potential to become the best, or at least that they are quite on the heels of the best, in some aspect of life or the other – they lose their way.

There is an easy way to test if you are confident. Can you walk up to the prettiest/wisest/most dangerous guy/girl you know and simply ask him/her to help you with something? It takes a lot of confidence to ask for help from anyone, more so when you consider someone to be good, or famous or doing well, in fact, better than you. Can you ask a senior who graduated for help with an internship? Most people in law schools, despite their generally higher level of confidence, can not. Maybe this is so because confidence is relative in social situations, you are more confident when you are dealing with a beggar than when you are speaking to the queen, right? In reality, it is more important to be confident while you are speaking to the queen. in all probability, more rewarding too. Those who consciously or unconsciously manage to be relatively more confident, increase their probability of success. In fact, it is better to be arrogant than being nervous. Of course, true confidence will also lead one to be polite and fun to be with.

So what can you do to improve your chances of doing well in law school apart from understanding the importance of things like research, communication skills and confidence? You can start improving them right away. Not in the unconscious, shaky or sometimes incomplete way in which it happens to most law school students, but by taking conscious steps. Learn to research. Start searching internet for every information you need, for every question that crops up in your mind. Learn to use search engines like Google in the best way. It’s not just about putting in some words and clicking search – you need to know different advanced search functions, you need to know how to filter results, how to patiently go through search results till you find what you need. Do it and you will learn it, it doesn’t take a boot camp to learn to research.

Start right now by searching for ways to improve your communication skills or confidence level. Don’t be happy with the first relevant results you see, look till you are convinced that you have found the best solution available out there, or something that perfectly caters to your needs. Look through the commercials and advertisements for courses and you shall find great free content. Try changing your keywords and search again and again till then. And start talking to people if you already don’t. Don’t just yap but have good conversations – people with social skills (like your conversationist cousin or chatty class mate) are just the ones with these three essential skills – research, communication and confidence. They have enough to speak about, they can speak it well, and they have the confidence to go talk to the right people. You will see this sort of people will also be the first people to get recruited. Developing your social skills involve practising all these three essentials, so you can take that up as a challenge. If you are good, you can still improve and invest on it now that you know what gets you success.

One way to increase confidence you to learn new skills. Learn piano for the next 6 months, or do a basic course in German. The ensuing surge in confidence could define your career in law school and later.

This is just an introduction, I plan to come back with a post later this week with some more useful information for you, so watch out!The photo of NUJS academic block in the post was taken by Nitin Gupta.

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