This article is written by Anirudh Vats, 2nd year student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala. This article will aim to lay out some basic realities about being a law student, will capture the misconceptions students might have while aiming to join a school and help change the outlook of a student towards law school.
Getting into a quality Law School is a dream many aspiring lawyers have. But the actual experience of Law school can be much different from the image students have in mind of their law school life. Therefore, being aware of the realities and challenges of Law School is something that is of utmost importance, even if one is entirely convinced that becoming a lawyer is his sole path in life.
1. Reading, reading and more reading
If you are seriously considering enrolling in Law School, it would be almost expected of you to be a voracious reader, because Law school expects you to gorge down books like fried chicken. From statutes to journals, articles, research papers, even literature and poetry, Law school requires extensive reading and is an essential habit to have in your arsenal if you want to succeed in Law School.
It is difficult to overestimate just how much reading a law student has to do, perhaps more than in any other academic course. Moreover, when you are reading a legal document, never can you be a passive reader. It requires a lot of deliberation, analysis, and critical thinking skills to adequately grasp what a legal document means.
The library is your church, and the books are the holy word. Embrace your inner academic and start flipping pages!
If you are someone who doesn’t do a lot of reading, don’t be discouraged. Although you are at a disadvantage and the way ahead is hard and long, reading is not a difficult habit to cultivate if you approach it the right way. First of all, realize that you are a beginner. Do not pick up complex bare acts or 1000 page judgements from the get go. You will probably feel lost and unable to grasp the legal jargon, hence be discouraged and feel inadequate. The best approach to cultivating a habit of reading, is to start with fiction. These books may not be in any way related to your legal aspirations, but interesting stories keep us hooked, and we need to be interested in what we’re reading to build a habit out of it.
When you start Law School, it all might seem like too much of you. Case laws, precedents, judgements will need to be memorized to the tee along with latin maxims and other legal jargon. But know that everyone else is starting out with you, and with persistent effort and incremental improvement, you’ll get there.
One of the great things about law school is that sooner than you know, you’ll be able to sift through complex writings and identify relevant information, you’ll start to understand the use of language and how to say a lot in a few words.
This will not only help you in your professional life, but also in your personal transactions and finances. Reading an insurance agreement, a contract or a complex tax procedure, all become child’s play after reading pages and pages of judgements, cases and statutes.
2. Academics is not enough to succeed
From my time in Law School, this is one of the most important lessons that I have learned. Some students tend to be overly academic, acing all their exams, memorizing all the case laws, and having legal maxims at the tip of their tongue. While this proclivity towards academics is certainly helpful, it is not enough to excel and may eat away into time you should be putting into developing other essential skills.
Law is a profession which is based on your communication skills. When you graduate, it is your own networking, that you’ve done throughout your course, which will help you land your dream job and push you towards success.
Students should use their time in law school to develop their communication skills. Establishing mature and professional friendships with your peers, working on your public speaking skills, building your collaborative skills are some areas which are essential for a law aspirant to be good at.
Participating in debate competitions, Moot Court competitions, Arbitration and Mediation seminars and conferences etc. are instrumental in determining your law school success.
Developing critical thinking skills is essential as a lawyer. Don’t simply accept what you read and learn in University. Challenge it, reject it, put your own ideas forward. Question your professors in class, review articles and always value your own unique opinion.
Being a bookworm might help you become the most knowledgeable student in class, but it does not teach you the practical, pragmatic skills which need to be applied in real life professional situations to solve problems and excel in your profession.
3. The Job Market
India, in recent years, has become a factory for lawyers. Each year, thousands of students come into the profession, and there just aren’t enough jobs for them.
Firms hire only the top students from the top universities, and it is a given that if you are not from a leading university, you will have trouble landing a job once you graduate.
This is not to discourage anyone from enrolling in Law School, but a reminder to students to adjust their expectations to be realistic.
After you graduate, the struggle has just begun. You may have to pursue more internships, more specialized courses, higher studies, vocational training etc. before you land a reasonable job.
If you want to pursue litigation, understand that it is immensely competitive and overcrowded. You will have to put in the years and the effort before clients start trusting you and you build a brand name for yourself. But the good part is that once you get to where you want to, the profession can be incredibly rewarding. For starters, as a practising lawyer, you work on your own terms. You take up clients when you want to, you can choose to work from wherever you want to, and most importantly, you are your own boss!
My advice would be to not fear the struggle, but to embrace it. Know that you will succeed if you put in the required time and effort, and get to wherever you want to be.
4. Research your law school before starting
Don’t go in blind. Having a roadmap in your mind at the start of Law School can give you the headstart you need to get you going. These are some of the things you can do to be better prepared:
- Research the location surrounding your college. Where to eat, where to shop, where to get essentials.
- Research the departments of your school. What areas, committees, editorials, research cells do you want to get involved in and which courses or subjects to take up.
- Research your faculty. Their resumes, CV’s, achievements etc. will help you acquaint with them beforehand and know who is going to be teaching you and shaping your worldview and opinions for the next few years.
- Also learn about where your university lacks, to better understand the areas you need to excel in on an individual level to stand out amongst the crowd.
- Having a basic idea as to the functioning of your Law school will give you a headstart in navigating through the challenges you will inevitably face.
- Talk to your seniors and learn more about how to thrive in your university. Seniors often give the best advice, as their experience is recent and firsthand.
5. Don’t give out free legal advice at the first sign
When your non-lawyer friends ask you about a case, or about a personal legal battle, it can be tempting to throw out your legal wisdom and have your moment in the sun. Realize that you are still learning and law only gets grayer as you delve deep. Certainty in law often means ignorance.
Law is a field which rewards specializations. If your friend has an IPR case ongoing, realize that you are no expert in the field, and your advice might be misleading or useless.
However, friends and family will continue to come to you for their smallest legal problems, and you will have to help them out the best you can. Just don’t go overboard and admit when you don’t know enough about a certain law or provision.
6. Practising self-care and striking a balance.
This advice is more general but applies to Law Schools specially as well. Pulling all nighters, eating fast food and staying glued to screens is the norm in Law School. In no time, you can become a slave to these unhealthy habits. Remember to be conscious about changing behavioural patterns, and be really careful about what habits you pick up.
Law school is also known to be an indulgent place. Alcohol, drugs and partying are a lifestyle. To each his own, i will not make any judgement on a person’s indulgences. Just make sure that when you indulge, you always do it on your own terms. Do it whenever YOU want to, and how much you want to. Peer pressure is a rabbit hole anyone can fall into fairly easily, be careful to never give in to your friends’ persistence, especially when it comes to alcohol or drugs.
Exercising regularly is good advice regardless of context, place or time. This applies to Law School as well. Your day could easily get so busy that you forget to take that one hour out of the day to go for a run, have a short workout in the gym or play a sport. Exercising and keeping yourself fit does not only have health benefits, but will also build confidence, keep you energetic and help you succeed.
Eating healthy is perhaps the most important of all advice. Law School is full of highly caffeinated people surviving on two cheeseburgers a day. Believe me, you do not want to be that guy.
Equally as important as your physical wellbeing, is your mental health. Daily life in university will bombard your mind with complex emotional, interpersonal and philosophical problems, and you need to understand that you cannot deal with them all at once. Do not let a person or an experience disturb you mental peace. Take time off to be alone, enjoy your own company and reconnect with yourself. The good part is, over time, you will realize that you have begun to understand people, their problems, their insecurities and their aspirations much better than you used to. University can teach you a lot about human nature and tendencies. Just try to absorb all that learning without sacrificing your mental health.
7. Learn to think for yourself
Be wary of people advising you. There is more bad advice out there than good. Every suggestion or advice you receive (including this article) needs to be rationalized and interpreted by everyone according to their own understanding. Don’t accept anything a person advises you to do without thinking it through yourself. That person may be an authority figure or someone influential. Influential people can hijack your mind and make you believe anything they want, be wary of their intentions and motivations whenever they advise you or tell you what to do.
In interpersonal and social scenarios, retain your individuality. Do not blindly follow the path that everyone is following.
Remember to not be affected by what people are doing around you. Anyone can easily make you insecure if you are not clear in your mind as to what you want to achieve. The smallest thing can make you feel inadequate, or that people are getting ahead while you are stuck in a mental rut.
Realize that people are as stupid and confused as you. They are also experiencing everything that you are with you and dealing with it in their own ways.
Do not do anything just to feel included, or to please someone, or prove a point. Clear out your aims and aspirations in your head and work towards realizing your goals. Law School is a single player game!
Law School, despite its challenges, can be the most enriching and rewarding experience of your life. It can teach you work ethic, how to build professional relationships, how to read and write better, how to network yourself and arm you with the skills that you need to conquer whatever field you choose to strive for success.