Success in law school is a lot about the people you meet.
I have heard stories of people whose entire objective of going to an ivy league institution was to find somebody “suitable” to get married to. People who are so focused on a specific goal tend to achieve their goals too.
That said, not everyone goes to law school to find a suitable match. However, the people you meet in law school can be instrumental in your career and can either make or break it.
I give a lot of credit to my batchmates, seniors and teachers, on hindsight, for creating an amazing environment, which was competitive, inspiring and moved me to take powerful action. It was not always positive encouragement, and in fact, most of the time it was quite the opposite. I was often ridiculed and excluded for my lack of social skills, inability to speak proper English, and general lack of grace that is well appreciated in civilized societies.
Nonetheless, even those interactions fuelled me to work harder, introspect deeper, build a strong foundation for my character and go for my vision.
When you are comfortable and satisfied, you do not do so much. You tend to do a lot more when you are pushed against the wall. That describes my situation in law school. I had to succeed or accept that I wasn’t good enough and must accept a mediocre life ahead, something that I wasn’t ready to do.
Let’s discuss what are the kind of people you must watch out for and how they will help you to grow or put up obstacles before you.
There are some teachers in law schools who are dedicated and are looking to make a difference. They are people like me, who cannot accept the status quo and must stick out their neck to make something better happen. They are always looking for opportunities to contribute, and often end up rubbing people the wrong way. But they have a spine, and they tend to climb high in organizational structures because you need people who are going to work to keep a place running!
Find those teachers in your college, and make sure you are in touch with them. Make sure they are your mentors. The movers and shakers in the faculty are the ones who are most likely to make your career journey a more rewarding one. They are also more likely to be supportive.
From helping in landing jobs to connecting you with great scholarship opportunities, these faculty members can do a lot for you, provided that they are proactive themselves and take interest in things outside the obvious.
Most faculty members, of course, look at their job as a job, and many of them want to do as less as possible and go home. They do not write papers themselves, do not attend conferences, do not network, do not develop their own knowledge and keep teaching the same spiel year after year. Those teachers are not going to be very helpful for this purpose.
However, remember that teachers are going to give you marks unless you are part of a college which is affiliated to an university and your teachers are not the ones who check your papers. Even in that case, they would be allocating some marks to you at least.
Make sure that your teachers know that you are hard working. Go ask questions about your projects or articles you are writing. Even if you do not get much help, repeatedly approaching them for advice and sharing your published articles or other such achievements regularly will help to build up your reputation and therefore will result in better marks.
If you think you get more marks in exams by writing better answers, you have not understood how academia works. A lot of it is about PR and reputation building. Focus on building a good reputation with teachers right from the beginning, and you will get many advantages.
Most law students look up to some senior or the other for guidance and advice. This is usually a major folly. While it is perhaps unavoidable that you will get influenced by your seniors, remember that they have very limited knowledge and experience themselves. Surely, listen to whatever they have to say and ask many questions so you can absorb every ounce of knowledge you can, be sceptical about their conclusions and observations.
They probably are in a developmental stage themselves, and their ideas and opinions are going to go through many evolutions. What they say now may strike you as gold, but it is unlikely to be worthy.
However, seniors who have accomplished something already, take their advice with respect to that specific thing very seriously. You will not take the advice of a doctor on plumbing problems very seriously, will you? How about the advice on a dietician on astrology? Follow the same principle when it comes to the advice of seniors in law school.
Seniors play a critical role as they go on to work in various law firms and other organizations before you do. They can share important information and guidance with you which can make a difference.
After I gave my interview at Trilegal, where I went to work eventually, a senior of mine who was by then working at Trilegal was asked to give feedback on me. He said very bad things about me. That didn’t matter of course, and I got the job anyway because other seniors said good things.
So your seniors’ opinion of you matters. It matters more and more as you grow into the legal profession. After all, it is a profession where a lot happens based on perception. So what conversation is going on about you in the legal fraternity matters a lot.
You need to wrap your head around this and develop a personality that is suitable for this world of lawyers.
Keep in mind that what your seniors think is not the end of the world. When I was in law school, there was a very snobbish person who was the editor of Writer’s’ Block, our college magazine. He would almost always reject whatever I submitted, and laugh at my creative work.
I was thoroughly demoralised.
I was a national award-winning writer by this time. I was also a blogger with thousands of readers on my blog by this time. Still, some asshole editor thought my writing was poor and imposed his personal standards and denied me a platform of my own college magazine.
Did that stop me? If it did, I will not be writing this today, will I?
Please remember that there will be seniors who will be threatened by you and will act against your interest. It is all part of the law school life. Be mentally robust so that such things do not bog you down but give you the inspiration to grow bigger.
Your relationship with your batchmates will not be limited to just 3 years or 5 years. Usually, these relationships continue far beyond college days. You might find your partners, collaborators, lifelong friends and lifeline relationships from your batchmates. This is true for seniors and juniors as well.
I will tell you about a horrible experience I had in law school. We were supposed to prepare for moot. I decided that rather than doing it alone, I should team up with someone. I chose a high ranking girl student from my batch who had a good rank in the entrance exam to team up with. She seemed serious. So we divided up the research.
2 days later when I got back to her with my research, it turned out that she had done nothing yet. She never mooted actually. However, it was a big mental set back for me. What was I going to do?
I got angry. I think I screamed at her. If not loudly then silently inside my head. But how does it matter?
That year I failed to submit a memo. I just had to submit a memo – it wasn’t so difficult because very few people put in a memo in the first place.
I so wish I had a good mentor – someone who told me what to do, how to do, how to go about the research, how to avoid pitfalls, that I should start by structuring the memo and write alongside as I research.
But I didn’t have any such guidance.
I also tended to collaborate with the wrong people.
This was until I found Abhyuday, and he and I realised that we make a great team. We did a lot of things together since then, including moots, conferences, travels, projects and eventually started iPleaders and then eventually LawSikho together.
I also had many friends with whom I collaborated for other life-changing projects.
Remember, most of your batchmates, peers and seniors are struggling themselves. You need to be careful about who you collaborate with. You do not know who you can trust for what. It takes time to discover those things. It is also hard for other people to trust you unless you are already doing well and displaying some obvious qualities for success.
It will take a while. Be in the mood to experiment. Be open to being disappointed. You will eventually find the right people.
Also expect that some of your batchmates will be super jealous, secretive, display signs of unhealthy competition and try to pull you down. Expect it and be on your guard. At the same time, have compassion for them. They are just kids, and they do not know yet what to do and how to handle things. Don’t let them get under your skin, nor do retaliate unreasonably or lose your peace over it.
Remember that your batchmates are going to be lawyers and work in various countries, various companies and various law firms. They would be a very important part of your network. Will they remember you fondly and want to help you? Or will they draw their daggers at the mention of your name?
I wasn’t very good at managing relationships back in college, and that has certainly been a drawback in my career.
Your juniors in law school are also very important. You must share your knowledge with them, be generous to them, and contribute to their development. Your juniors can help you immensely to make your projects work. You need to develop an eye for who needs your mentorship and who you can help and how.
Your juniors will also become lifelong collaborators, supporters and great friends. It is an amazing opportunity to build powerful relationships.
Just like your batchmates and seniors, your juniors will also be working all over the world in important positions, and they can make a huge difference to your life and your career if you cultivate good relationships. It is fundamentally different from your relationships with batchmates and seniors because here you must take a lead and contribute in their lives, as that is the primary role you can take.
Law school is pretty much like the rest of the world – and you can look at it as a practice ground. Your people skills must begin to develop from the college itself.
Read up, get a coach, attend seminars or do whatever it takes, but find out what reduces your effectiveness with people. There would always be something. Once you discover those things and work on them, entirely new kind of relationships with people will be possible in your life.
All the best!
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