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things I wish I'd known before law school

A bit ago, a co-worker of mine said that they were going to be on a panel for 1Ls about what they wish they'd known before they started law school. The other people in the discussion had some good suggestions, such as "what outlining is for" [*] and (new for the current state of the profession) "if your grades aren't very good in the first year, consider stopping before you incur more debt that you won't be able to pay off because the job market sucks."

Here's mine, perhaps a bit late (every school I ever attended started after Labor Day, so I find the idea that people have already started very weird), but all the same.

The first thing that came to mind: most legal writing is bad writing.

The goal of legal writing is either to persuade or to instruct. Neither purpose is served by unclear, difficult, or boring prose. Good legal writing is concise, is engaging, and helps the reader understand what is being discussed. Unfortunately, most legal writing fails to meet this standard, partly because of traditional style conventions.

It may be hard to realize this as a 1L because the content of the stuff you're reading is also new and confusing, but if you're reading the same sentence over and over again, the style may well be contributing. Try not to unconsciously absorb the peculiarly-inverted syntax, passive voice, and extreme length of bad legal writing, or you will (like me) spend much painful time trying to beat those tendencies out of your own writing.

(For an example and discussion of effective and highly-praised legal writing, see the links in this blog post.)

The second thing that came to mind was much more meta: law school is mostly wasted on law students.

I am rapidly running out of steam and this could turn into endless anecdotery, so let me sum up: take the black-letter courses because you never know what you're going to end up doing and if you've met the basic principles before, you'll be able to research your particular need much more effectively; and if those courses intersect with amazing professors, excellent, and if not, seek them out as you can, though you probably won't appreciate them fully until you start practicing.

The last one doesn't quite fit because it isn't something I wish I had known, but it's worth saying anyway: "asshole" is a failure mode, not a prerequisite for success. 'Nuff said.

[*] Outlining is organizing and distilling the course material into a concise reference document, in order to understand that material. But go ahead and participate in group outlines, because you should be outlining for yourself regardless and (if competitive advantage is an issue) other people's outlines aren't that much help anyway.

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