Going to law school will be one of the most rewarding, yet challenging, adventures upon which you will ever embark. I say “adventure” because that is exactly what law school is. It is a long, arduous journey filled with difficult tasks and unexpected obstacles. Now that I have the benefit of hindsight, I realize there are many things I wish I knew before going to law school — things that may have alleviated my concerns and uncertainties.
Don’t compare yourself to others
Starting law school is a lot like playing a new board game where no one told you the rules. As you move along, you slowly start to figure it out, but then a new rule is added, and suddenly you’re back to square one.
It is completely normal to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. When you start comparing yourself to those around you, it can become dangerously easy to fall into a cycle of constantly doubting yourself and feeling that you don’t belong.
If you find this happening to you, the first thing to remember is that you are not alone. Whether they admit it or not, every first-year law student feels this way in some capacity. There are ample resources on campus to support you throughout your law school experience, so don’t be afraid to take advantage of them. You earned your place in law school, so never doubt your abilities for even a moment.
Take advantage of CANs, summaries and study guides
Condensed Annotated Notes (CANs), also known as summaries or study guides depending on your school, are a compilation of previous exam notes, case briefs, and chapter summaries made by other students. They can serve as a crutch when you’re trying to create a study outline or preparing for an exam, but remember they are still a crutch, and you should never solely rely on them!
Law school exams are open-book, which means you are allowed to bring materials into the exam with you. This may seem like a huge win, but if you are not familiar with your materials or have hundreds of pages to navigate on the fly, you’re going to have a very difficult time finishing your exam within rigid time constraints. While you should certainly use CANs, it is wise to create your own outline that is tailored specifically to you.
Grades matter — but they’re not everything
Your first-year grades are arguably the most important grades of your law school career. When the summer job recruitment rolls around, employers will only have your first-year grades, and possibly your first semester grades of second-year. For this reason, you should take your first-year studies very seriously — the firm you summer with is often where you end up articling! Keep in mind that in law school, you’re marked on a “curve.” This means that grades are adjusted to ensure a “B” average is maintained.
Although your grades do matter, remember that they are not the be-all and end-all. While lawyers will look at your grades during recruitment, they will also look at you as an individual, your contributions to the community, and whether they think you’re a good fit for their firm.
Network, network, network
Your law school will likely offer a multitude of opportunities to network with firms across Southwestern Ontario and the GTA. During these networking events, you will get to tour law firms and meet lawyers. It is critical that you take advantage of these events. Networking gives you the opportunity to build connections with lawyers and leave a meaningful impression on the law firms that will be looking for students to hire.
After networking with several of the lawyers from Harrison Pensa during a London law firm tour in my first year, I immediately knew that I wanted to join their team. Harrison Pensa instantly stood out to me as a group of dedicated and compassionate advocates, and I was confident I would thrive in their team-oriented environment. Above all, Harrison Pensa is a community, and I cannot imagine myself anywhere else.
Katie Warwick has an undergraduate degree in history and communication studies as well as a master’s degree in communication from Wilfrid Laurier University. She completed her dual law degree at the Universities of Windsor and Detroit Mercy, and during her time there spent a summer working as a judicial intern in the United States District Court. Connect with Katie on LinkedIn and by email.