Making the Transition to Law School

LSAC LawHub Webinar Series - Making the Transition to Law School

April 28, 2022

In this program, aimed at individuals planning to start law school by August 2022, you will learn the ins and outs of your next big step: law school. How can students spend their “0L” summer getting ready? What can students do to prepare themselves cognitively, emotionally, and financially for the fall semester, and what expectations should they set for themselves?

Full Transcript

SUSANNAH POLLVOGT: Hi, everyone, and welcome. We’re so excited to have you here. I’m Susannah Pollvogt, and I’m the senior director of legal education solutions at the Law School Admission Council. We’re here today to talk about the transition to law school. And before we get started, we actually wanted to ask you a question, and we’re going to open up the chat for a moment so that you can leave your comments there. And the question is this: We all know that law school is very exciting and you’re excited to go there, but it’s also a great unknown and pretty challenging. So we’d like to hear from you, what are your greatest concerns right now about making the transition to law school? And on that note, we will introduce ourselves to you. So, again, I’m Susannah Pollvogt. I’m the senior director of legal education solutions at LSAC. And before I joined LSAC, I was a law professor and associate dean of student success, and my job in those roles was to help students like you succeed academically in law school. And with that, I’ll turn it over to my colleagues. Let’s start with Bayrex.


BAYREX MARTI: Hello, everybody. My name is Bayrex Marti, and I am the dean of students at UCLA School of Law. And I’m really excited to join this conversation today.


ZACK DeMEOLA: And I’m Zack DeMeola. I’m the director of strategic initiatives at LSAC. I used to be a lawyer. And before I came to LSAC, I was director of legal education at the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, or IAALS. I’m glad to be here.


SUSANNAH: OK, great. Thank you both. So, to our audience, you have either been admitted to law school or you’re waiting to be admitted soon, and you probably have started to wonder about what is law school going to be like, and that’s what we want to address with you here today. I want to emphasize that we are here to help you. We’re going to help you brainstorm issues that you might want to be thinking about, and also come up with some solutions for the common types of issues that students face when they’re beginning to transition to law school and once they enter law school. I wanted to make one note, which is that most of our advice is kind of tailored with full-time law students in mind, but we know that there are those of you out there who will be part-time law students. Most of that advice will be applicable, but where it’s not, we’ll try to make a special note of that.

So first thing we’re going to start with is a real brass tacks situation. And we’ll go ahead and close the chat in a moment here. So one’s living situation, where are you going to live while you’re busy studying in law school? So Zack, you had a few thoughts about that.


ZACK: Yeah. I remember making this transition. And I don’t want to give specific advice because a lot of people are going to have very different situations, but I do want to outline some of the practical considerations that are worth remembering and thinking about. And the first real piece of advice I would give is that you really want to start planning early to make it as easy as possible on yourself. I’ve got a few things that I considered when I was going to law school that I think are useful for people here as well. The first thing you might want to consider is, what are the options at the law school that you’re going to be attending? And what I mean by that is, does the school itself have housing options or arrangements available to you? And if so, how soon do you have to make those arrangements? Sometimes you really have to do that early with law schools.

And then, what other resources might the law school provide for incoming students? Do they make it easy to find information on other types of housing options where you’ll be moving? The second thing I’d consider is, what about off-campus housing? Are you interested in renting a house or an apartment? Think about that. Think about what the rental market looks like. Again, what does that mean? Will you need help finding a place to live, and who would you go to find that help? Are you going to need roommates? And how would you find your roommates? Whatever options that you’re choosing out there, do pay attention to costs. You want to understand what living costs are now, and look at recent figures, given the current rental market, and factor those realistic numbers into your budget.

And we’ll be talking more about finances later, but the third thing I would also suggest is, think about what your current arrangements are. Don’t forget that. Do you have an existing lease, for instance? When does it expire? Do you have to give notice so as not to renew the lease? And if you have to terminate early, what does that look like? What process is there to do that? Can you sublet to another renter, for instance? Is there going to be a gap in the time that you have between moving out of where you are and moving into a place where you’ll be attending law school? And what sort of arrangements will you need to make for that kind of a gap? So those are the practical considerations that I would offer to students out there: Make a checklist, run through it, and really try and be as prepared as you can as early as possible.


SUSANNAH: That’s great. Bayrex, did you have any additional thoughts there?


BAYREX: I think just a few quick things. And I think we’ll touch upon some of this more detail a little bit later, but I would definitely reiterate thinking about knowing yourself right now and knowing what kind of living arrangement might be more geared toward your success, your ability to focus, concentrate, find balance outside of the law school. It’s your home. Try to think about what works for you, what’s worked for you in the past. The question of roommates, I think, is really important, even who those people might be. So are you going to be open to them being other law students? I think there’s a trade-off there, potentially, particularly if they’re other first-year students, because on the one hand, you’re all going through it together, but that also means you’re all going through it together. So maybe it might be beneficial to either explore other folks who are not connected to a law school, or upper-level students.

And I guess also, very quickly, are you moving with someone, right? Are you going to need to live with someone in your personal life? I think that can be more complicated, in terms of that choice being a collective choice. So starting to have those conversations is really important.

That’s great. And I just want to echo what you said there, Bayrex, about thinking about roommates. I’ve had law students who had undergraduates as roommates, and maybe the undergraduates were a little bit too much into partying in a way that wasn’t compatible with what the law students for trying to achieve. So thank you all for your comments in the chat. Those are fantastic. I’ve been perusing them. One of the issues a lot of folks are talking about is finances, and we understand that’s a really pressing concern as you transition to law school. So Bayrex, could you lead us off in terms of talking about students’ financial situation and some things they would want to consider there?


BAYREX: Yeah, I definitely have some thoughts. It could be its own ... It won’t be, but it could be its own six-part webinar series, I think. But I think things that we were trying to identify and think of, particularly those of you who have applied and are either awaiting decisions for the fall or definitely starting law school in the fall. So one thing I’ve found, in working with students over the years, to be thinking about, particularly in a full-time program, is understanding what a student budget is, really sitting down — and the good thing is all institutions that you’re considering or are definitely enrolling in this fall will provide you with a cost-of-attendance budget. It’s just really important to look at those line items, if you will, so not just the overall amount that you’re budgeted for the academic year, but what are those specific expenses, and really drilling into that to make sure that you understand which ones you might be spending less or more on and understanding how to finance that. But I think just knowing that ...

Let’s say you’re coming from working full time and going now to law school as a full-time student, that means, sort of obviously, you won’t have revenue. You’re not going to have a salary, so your finances during law school are really just, at least institutionally, are going to be financial aid, which is very closely tied to cost of attendance. So kind of thinking about, between now and then, what does it mean if I do not have the steady source of income or revenue twice a month or once a month? Where in law school, really, the aid will disperse all at once, usually at the start of each semester. So it’s kind of important to think about what adjustments, which almost anyone is going to have to make, or let’s say you’re living in a different place where the cost of living is just higher, rent is higher than you’re used to, or other expenses. So really thinking about and looking carefully at those cost-of-attendance budgets for the institution and asking questions for those financial aid offices. Are there possible adjustments? What does this mean?

The other thing is understanding that, going back to that piece, that cost-of-attendance budget has some flexibility at an institution, if you have special circumstances, but for the most part, it’s pretty strict because of federal government regulations. So you have to be really careful with how you manage your money during those nine or 10 months, because it’s not like you can just, not that anyone wants to do this, but even if you need it, to kind of keep borrowing more money, for example. That actually does max out, so it’s just really important to be thinking about that and how you manage that.

I think a great resource for those of you out there is AccessLex, which is a great organization that works in a lot of legal education, prelaw, post-law school, financial literacy. But relevant to this, they have free financial coaches that you can work with, they have student loan calculators, they have a scholarship database that you can go online to find. So again, AccessLex, that’s a great place to start with, and familiarizing yourself, getting to know the financial aid people at the law school, really working with them. You’re not bothering them. Trust me. They really want to be in contact with you and helping you budget. I think if you’re able to do this, which not everyone is, but if you’re working right now, then saving some money, using the time between now and when classes will start to put aside some expense, some money, some savings for things that might come up that you might need to deal with.

And then lastly, I would say, for now, is supporting others, which connects sort of to another point we’ll get into a little bit later, which is the extent to which your financial situation now might be connected to other people in your life, and again, having that plan in place about, “OK, if I’m no longer working and I’m now a student full time, at least during the academic year, and I’m not going to have at all the same income or money coming in, and the money I am getting is really tied pretty strictly to law-school-related expenses, who is, first of all, supporting those other folks? And how am I going to have that conversation with other people in my life?” I think that’s really important.


SUSANNAH: Go ahead, Zack, yeah.


ZACK: Yeah. I was just going to say, I remember making this transition over, and I didn’t have a whole lot of experience with doing monthly budgets for myself. And it is a skill. Budgeting is a skill. And so I would just encourage people to maybe get started now, if you haven’t done a lot of that in the past. And there are a lot of different tools that are freely available to help you set up a budget and track your expenses, but sometimes it’s kind of a shock to people to realize how much they spend on different things; they’re not intentional about it until they see the numbers. So get a little practice now if you haven’t.


SUSANNAH: That’s great advice. Yeah, law school can be a pretty lean time, so having those budgeting skills really, really helps. So another issue we wanted to address with you all has to do with family relationships, and this to me is one of the unexpected stressors sometimes of law school, that you are going through something very unique and your family may not understand exactly what that’s all about. So, Bayrex, do you want to share some of your insight on that dynamic?


BAYREX: Yeah, definitely. I know those are some of the questions or concerns that were raised in the chat too, which is ... I think particularly, not exclusively, I think particularly for first-generation students, you’re in a situation where either, if you’re first-generation college and you saw that then, and now will see it in potentially in a similar way in law school, or if you’re just first-generation graduate school, first-generation law school, which is that it’s very difficult for people who have not gone through it to understand ... And you actually will not have gone through it yet, so you, as an incoming student, are learning and making a transition, but then also managing expectations and sort of setting some healthy boundaries with people in your life.

And what I mean by that is, one, going back to the point I made earlier about the money or other ways in which you’re supporting other people, and particularly your family, kind of thinking, “OK, right now, maybe there’s a lot of time that I’m able to give to other people in my family or my life.” Maybe emotional support, presence. Maybe I’m the caregiver, either as a parent or in other relationships. Maybe I’m the person who’s taking people to appointments, right? Maybe I’m the person who is just available to sort of be there for someone else. Once you’re in law school, and again, especially in a full-time program, your time will be limited, your schedule will be limited, your focus, especially that first year, is going to be to make that academic transition and sort of prepare yourself to learn what this is like and what’s required of you. So again, I’m a big proponent of having conversations, just being very open with people: “I’m about to embark in something that is exciting and new, but challenging, and I need as much space as possible.”

So it’s not pretending that you’re cutting people off or not available to them at all, but saying, “I do need some room here to focus on this, to see how it goes, to learn, to seek help as I need it. So if there are times when I am unable to either respond as quickly or go to a family event or maybe take care fully of someone else ...” And the good thing now, and I recognize there’s limitations on this, but try as best you can to use the time now, between now and starting classes, to see, OK, who will step in, right? Or is this a time when I can make this transition? Or maybe I need to defer for a year at a law school so that I can really make sure that this is as set up as possible, and letting people know that I just need a little bit of time, right?

Once I feel more settled, once I get to pick my own classes after the first year, my own schedule, once I go back to working in the summers, then maybe recalibrating is an option, but I think that’s important to think about the impact it will have on others, but also it’s OK to ask kind of permission, right? Let me be this full-time student. It’s hard, and I just need some time to make an adjustment. And it’s an investment in the family, because in the long run, if you’re able to do that success or do the academic piece as successfully as possible, then you’ll be in a position to support that family in the long run as well. So those are some things to consider. And very quickly, also long-distance dynamics. I think that being far way from people you love and care about, be it family, chosen family, or family you’re born into, et cetera, that could be an emotional stressor. So also thinking about, how are we going to stay in touch and connected if geographically, we’re farther apart.


SUSANNAH: And that really is the overarching theme, I think, which you’ll hear us all touch on, which is things will be different. Law school is different than a prior stage in your life. Your life will be different. And again, it’s really exciting, and also really challenging. And so just anticipate that there’re going to be changes that you and your loved ones will have to adapt to. OK, we’re going to talk a little bit about a bucket list. So the idea that there might be some things you want to do before you start law school. Zach, tell us a little bit about the idea of the pre-law-school bucket list.


ZACK: Right, the bucket list. So a bucket list could always be a trip that you wanted to take. Maybe you wanted to backpack your way across Europe, and that’s wonderful if you can do it, but it doesn’t need to be so grandiose to be meaningful. I think the real issue here is, law school’s a big commitment. Free time can be hard to come by once you start. And so if you’ve got some time before you join, you enter law school, make the most of it. And so I would recommend just thinking about, how do you ground yourself? I mean, how can you find an opportunity to revitalize and really do the thing that you love and take time for yourself?

And that could mean just going to a restaurant that you always wanted to try or hiking a new trail or visiting a nearby national park. It could mean just visiting friends that you haven’t seen in a while or seeing a band that you love or reconnecting even with family. But the real point is, what is it you’ve overlooked in your day-to-day living? Take a pause, allow yourself to take some time for yourself, and make the most of that time before you enter law school.


SUSANNAH: Great. Bayrex, did you have anything to add? No? OK, great. So we’re going to break it down a little bit more. What should you be thinking about and doing this summer before law school begins? So, Zack, you’re going to talk a little bit about what to do with your job.


ZACK: Yeah. Some more practical considerations, and then a little bit of suggestion. So if you’re leaving a job, of course, you want to give proper notice and you want to do your best to a wrap up any loose ends, tie off any projects that you may be working on, leave your co-workers in a good place to the extent that you can. You want to always leave a job with a good reputation. That will be important to your networking down the line, and you never know how those relationships will pay off down the line, too. If you have benefits that are associated with that job, just pay attention to that. If there are any gaps in, for instance, health care coverage, make sure you’re aware of that and know what your options are in that period.

But I’d also really recommend that people take stock of what they have learned so far in their work experience, and the current job that you’re in and jobs that you’ve had in the past. I think during those last few weeks at work, try to be intentional about identifying the skills and the abilities that you’ve had to foster and develop in this work experience and in others. Maybe even start to list them out, because it could be something as general as teamwork, right? You’ve really had to get better at teamwork or collaborating with different people. It could be something as general as client service, which for people in retail might be another way of just saying developing a strong sense of patience in helping other people. Or it could be specific. You know a lot about, for instance, the finances of a small business. These are good things to take stock of, kind of inventory and catalog.

And we’re going to discuss this more in a moment, but the point is you’re bringing a lot with you already to law school. You may not know it right now, but those things are going to help you eventually to be a better lawyer. So think about that and try and be intentional about it too. And the last thing I’d say is, if you have any mentors or people you’ve worked with that you develop close relationships with, I would highly, highly recommend fostering those relationships, keeping those ties, even though you’re moving off to another stage in your life and in your career, because those people have good perspectives and you’ve learned a lot from them already, probably, and that outside perspective can really help you to stay grounded. And it could be the beginning, again, of a network that you’re developing with this person and a kind of relationship that can help you develop as a lawyer too. So I would recommend people stay mindful of that too, those relationships.


SUSANNAH: That’s great. Bayrex, you’ve already talked a little bit about moving and what have you, but just a little bit more about logistics and timing of moving, and calendaring important and mandatory events at your law school.


BAYREX: Yeah. That’s really important. Yeah, I mean, I think a little bit of building on what Zack was talking about earlier, with just thinking about the living situation and housing, just really getting into the ... sit down and have the nitty-gritty list of things that you have to do with the move, thinking of lease terms, thinking of an existing lease, assuming you have one, or if you’re moving and it’s the first time you’ve moved. I mean, for some students in law school, this is really the first time they’re going to be living on their own or that they’re going to be living in a new state or a new location. It’s a big question if it’s on campus or off campus. So if you’ve never ... Even a simple thing in hindsight, which is, have you ever used movers? Are you using movers?

And if you’ve ever used them before, then you know that that’s not cheap, and it’s not something that you can just arrange at the drop of a hat. And if you’ve never used them and need them, then researching options. And if you’re not going to use them, then thinking, “OK, how am I getting there? Am I driving? Am I flying?” So really just actually having a plan of, how exactly am I going to make this work? Doing research, so talking to other current students or whoever the institution can put you in touch with to kind of figure out what they would recommend, especially, which is basically, I guess any current student at this point, but some people who’ve gone through the first year, right? Because I think one of the things that ... It’s hard to give advice that applies to everyone in this situation, but my recommendation, at least, is to be practical, but not to, as best you can, not to just prioritize cost.

And what I mean by that is, being practical in the sense that if you’re going to a new area or a new place, maybe the easiest for that first year is if they have on-campus housing, then maybe that’s what you start with. Or if there’s housing that’s closer to the law school, but maybe a higher rent, maybe, if that works with your budget, even if it’s a little bit more than you want to be spending, it might be worth it that first year, versus in the second and third year where you’re picking your schedule, where you know when you have to be on campus, when you might know the place better and might be able to pick a neighborhood that doesn’t have a incredibly challenging commute and is also a lower rent.

And in terms of the dates, as Susannah was alluding to, please go to the academic calendar for your law school or reach out to your admissions office at that law school and say ... They’ll tell you, but just make sure you know the exact dates. When is orientation? Are there mandatory dates for orientation versus optional events? Are there check-ins I need to do? Are there things that ... Because those will be mandatory, and sometimes what happens is students will say, “Oh, I can’t go to this session because I’m moving,” or “I’ll be returning from outside the country or something the day before orientation.” And so basically, don’t make any assumptions about when you don’t need to be there. If there are dates there, you should ask: Is this mandatory? And if so, you have to work backwards from those dates. And that’s true throughout the year, right? You also have to ... And so it’s good to practice that now and to look at that academic calendar now, because in the future, you might have legal research and writing classes that have deadlines as well that are not going to be movable: midterms, exam schedules.

Again, now that you’re a full-time student, academics will come first, and those dates will not be flexible to accommodate non-emergency or non-urgent things that might come up. So it’s just really important to develop a familiarity with that academic calendar and to make plans around it.


SUSANNAH: Great. Thank you, Bayrex. I’m looking at the chat and ... Oh, Zack, please go ahead.


ZACK: Oh, I was just going to add to that. I think that, to the extent that you can do it, having a little extra time when you move, building that in, because the period right before classes start, orientation and so forth, it’s really important, as Bayrex said, but there’s an informal importance to it too. And that is, it’s this magical time where people don’t have really concrete or pressing responsibilities quite yet. All of that is on the horizon. So allowing yourself a little time to move in, settle into your new living situation, and then meet other law students during orientation, I think is so valuable, and I just wanted to put a little emphasis on that.


SUSANNAH: No, that’s a really good point. So I was looking at the chat and someone mentioned that a concern is transitioning into law school, the reading and the tests, and how to prepare in my 0L summer. Luckily we have an answer to that particular question, and that is LSAC’s program called Law School Unmasked. It’s a prelaw preparation program that’s running this summer on our LawHub platform. It is running from June 7 to June 23, and basically it’s your road map to the first semester in law school. We’re going to have experts in legal education from across the nation teaching you about different skills that you’ll need in law school, like reading and briefing cases, participating in Socratic dialogue, logical reasoning for lawyers, how to take law school exams. So I highly encourage you to participate in that if you want a closer look at sort of the academic expectations of law school. If you’re at this webinar, you are on our list and you’ll be receiving an email in the next few days, actually, about how you can register for that program. So, thank you for that question.

Bayrex, you were going to talk a little bit about the importance of thinking about accommodations prior to beginning your first semester in law school.


BAYREX: Yeah, that’s really important. And here, it’s related to disability accommodations. So this is something that, number one, strong encouragement and support for students who have either, if you’ve received disability accommodations already in the past and continue those, it’s important. Law school’s really not the time to give it a shot and see if you can approach the academic experience without accommodations. So if you have them, continue them. If it’s something that’s been suggested by a health professional at some point, then look into that, and I’ll explain what that can look like, but it’s really ... I think sometimes some students feel like there is a stigma. There can be a concern over using accommodations or seeking accommodations in law school or the confidentiality aspect of that, but I can assure you that at any institution, legally, it’s going to be very few folks who have any information about who has accommodations, let alone why they have them, and it’s just extremely important to kind of level the playing field, if you will. That’s what it ultimately is. It’s allowing you to be as well-equipped as possible to demonstrate your learning and your knowledge of these classes. So please do this, and please embrace it. And for those of you who are not familiar with this, a lot of institutions, you can receive accommodations for mental and physical health conditions, so make sure that you are looking at that information at the law school you are going to. They probably will provide you this information, but if not, reach out to them and say, “What is the accommodations process at the law school? What documentation might be required? What is the timeline?”

The reason we’re mentioning it now is because sometimes, or always, there will be a decent amount of documentation that you’ll have to provide to someone at the law school or on campus, so starting that process a couple of months beforehand is, I think, really helpful and important, so I would do that. And Susannah, I know you wanted to make a point too.


SUSANNAH: Yeah. Thank you so much. So yes, I want to stress, stress, stress, if you are entitled to accommodations, you definitely should take them. Law school is very intense, and you need to be on a level playing field, as Bayrex mentioned. There’s another piece to this, which is that your track record of receiving accommodations in law school will largely determine if you receive accommodations on the Bar exam. And of course, the Bar exam is a very highly time-pressured type of assessment. And so, again, if you’re entitled to accommodations, you really want to make sure to get them. And I’ll tell you a little story about a wonderful student that I worked with. He was fantastic. All his professors loved him. He worked in the clinic and his clients loved him. He was obviously someone who was destined to be a great lawyer, someone who really gave back to the community, but he had this sort of pride and wouldn’t take accommodations, even though he was entitled to them.

And so then he went into the Bar exam and was not able to pass the Bar exam on the first try, and that started a process of documenting his disability and eventually — it was an uphill battle — he eventually did receive accommodations, and he just recently passed the Bar exams. So just don’t let concerns about appearances or anything like that get in the way. It’s a really, really important part of making sure you get the most out of your legal education. So we’ve talked a little bit about what to think about over the summer as you’re getting ready for law school. And next, we’re going to talk about what to do once the semester starts.

And I’ll start off here because it’s an issue that’s sort of near and dear to my heart. And this is really aimed at full-time students. Part-time students, of course, you may be working while you’re in law school; full-time students, please, please, please do not work during your first year of law school. And again, one of you mentioned this in the chat. Per ABA standards, ABA accreditation standards, you should be working 45 hours a week on law school. So you’re not just working ... In law school, you don’t just go to class and take notes. You have hours upon hours of reading, you have class attendance, and then you need to review your notes, and you need to outline, and you need to do practice questions, not to mention other activities like joining a study group, or a student affinity group, or something along those lines. So law school is your full-time job, and it’s a risk factor. Working while you’re in law school is a risk factor in terms of achieving the best grades that you want to achieve. So really try to plan ahead and think if there’s any way that you can avoid working while in law school, because the short-term gains in terms of maybe taking out a little bit less in terms of financial aid, it’s a sacrifice in terms of your long-term goals. You want to give your all to law school. Three years go by really, really quickly, and you want to make the most out of your time there. So Bayrex, did you have anything to add on that point about working while you’re in law school?


BAYREX: Probably just the same, but I think it’s important to really talk about it over and over. I mean, acknowledging it’s very difficult for a lot of students, so it’s not an easy sort of decision, it’s not easy financially, and particularly some of the things we also mentioned before, either your own personal circumstances or family or other people that you’re supporting, comfort level with debt. I mean, these are all things that can be really scary or just have an impact. I mean, it’s not to deny that it might be beneficial or least seem beneficial to have some of this, at least some income on the side, but I agree that it really is so new and challenging to just learn this way of thinking, this way of engaging with the material, the time, both in class and outside of class, that you have to dedicate to it. There’s also, I guess, two quick things: one, that there ...

And Zack sort of alluded to this too, when he was talking about orientation, that there’s aspects of law school that are not ... It’s not just class. So you might look at the class schedule and say, “Oh, there’s all these hours or all these points on the day or on weekends that I could do things.” But you’ll notice very quickly in law school, “Oh, there’s career events or networking events, or I want to go to office hours, or I want to connect with my classmates, or there’s study groups, or maybe an employer is coming to campus, or maybe there’s a student organization lunch program or evening program that’s a great networking opportunity.” So there’s just a lot of other things that aren’t mandatory or strictly academic in law school that are part of being a law student and will be very integral to your success as a lawyer, so it’s sort of almost counterproductive to do that now if it takes away from your ability to engage.

And the other quick thing is, my experience with students has been that when someone does, kind of on their own, sort of work on something, unless it’s something that they have full control over, basically meaning ... Sometimes it’s like, “I’ll do this whenever I can.” So one example, honestly, could be babysitting or something, right? If it’s something where that person’s like, “Yeah, if and when I’m available to do this, I’ll do that. And if I can’t, I won’t, and that the doesn’t really impact my relationship with that employer, that person who’s paying me.” Then that’s different, maybe, but more often than not, it’s something where there are expectations about deadlines and availability, and the students end up not realizing it was a mistake for them until it’s too late. They’re in a relationship with an employer or with someone where it just feels really stressful to get untangled out of it, right? So then at that point, it’s too late, right? At that point, they won’t realize it was a heavy burden until it’s mid-semester or close to exams and they realize, “I’m being pulled in all these directions and they all are very important.” So I really believe in giving yourself the time to view this as a short-term, it could be real, for sure, but a short-term sort of sacrifice or short-term choice that’s not ideal for the long game.


SUSANNAH: And I want to make a related point. This is something that we’ll cover in Law School Unmasked in June as well, but “calendaring” is a verb that that lawyers use, and calendaring is a really important skill related to time management. And that has to do both with putting important events and deadlines, exam dates, et cetera, on your calendar, but it also has to do with budgeting your time day to day, week to week. And when you budget your time, you’re going to want to account for a lot of different things: the activities that Bayrex mentioned, class time, preparing for class, reviewing after class, study group, going to the grocery store, getting to the gym, having time to socialize, et cetera.

So just realize, like a lot of other aspects of law school, calendaring your time, managing your time, you’re going to maybe have to raise your game a little bit in that area, not only to do your best academically, but to make sure you have a balanced life while you’re in law school. And on that note, Zack, can you talk to us a little bit about some of the relationships that folks will be forming once they start law school?


ZACK: Yeah, I mean, so there are a lot of people you’ll be in law school with. Obviously faculty and staff are always there as a resource for you, but your fellow students are going to be there. And I’ll probably just skip right to student organizations, study groups, the sort of things that aren’t immediately obvious to you when you think about law school, but Bayrex mentioned this too, there are so many other opportunities in school. And your interactions with all these different people while at law school are going to help for you to build a network, your own personal network of relationships that you can foster. You really want to think about, who can you learn from? Who can you ask questions to? And who can support you? And then also, in turn, it’s difficult, but who can you support? And one really good example of that is study groups. Oftentimes students will get together and figure out ways that they can study together and help support one another academically through the semester.

And I think that I just want to raise awareness for everybody to think about that and to not be afraid to engage with your peers, with faculty and staff. They’re all there to help you. And finding people who you have commonality with can also support you if you’re intimidated about engaging with faculty, or your teachers, or your professors, I should say, or any other support at the law school. So, keep all of that in mind.


SUSANNAH: Very good advice. Bayrex, you were going to talk about an important issue, which is both physical and mental health.


BAYREX: Yeah. I think, thinking to the transition, and then once you’re in school, so it’s kind of a continuity or a continuum. So thinking now, and then once you’re in school, but preparing now, what are my physical and/or mental health needs? Right? So if that means I’ve been working with a particular professional, is that going to continue once I’m in law school? What are the factors that would determine that? Is it location? So kind of really thinking through the logistics of that. And if you can longer work with that person, then talk to that person about making a transition, finding new people, maybe referrals to people who could work with you once you’re a law student. I know there’s quite a bit of variability, maybe, depending on the law school and the campus, but a lot of times, there will be student health centers, there might be counseling services, either at the law school or at the university, that you should be looking at and tapping into. And if you don’t really ...

I guess, two quick things, one, if you haven’t ... I do think this is also time to, kind of similar, in a way, to disability accommodations, I do believe, especially with mental health, but it also can be aspects of your physical health. If there’s things that you’ve thought, “I’ve been meaning ... I’ve heard about this. I’ve been meaning to try. I’ve never done counseling, for example, or I’ve never had a therapist, or I know that my nutrition or some aspect of my physical health is something I want to pay attention to, or when I’m stressed, it can be particularly harder to manage,” then I would recommend proactively seeking out those resources when you’re a law student, as opposed to maybe waiting until something flares up or something is really at a really high-level intensity point, both because you may not be able to access that resource as quickly as you think, but also because maybe your strategies or the options are a little bit more limited at that point.

And quickly, one resource I want to make sure, because actually, regardless of what your institution offers, every state in the country, ever jurisdiction, has a Lawyers and Judges (or Judges and Lawyers) Assistance Program, so JLAP or LJAP. And your student affairs office will be familiar with those resources, and it’s essentially a confidential resource at every state that’s connected, but is connected and separate, for the Bar association or the state Bar, but these are current lawyers that are making themselves available to speak with current law students and other lawyers about mental health, substance use, stress, and frankly also building relationships.

So that’s something that if you’re, again, either concerned about confidentiality, just want to talk to someone about how law school might be a particular stressor, maybe you want to do that in a way that’s a little bit separate from the institution, and people who just know what it’s like to be a law student, and also what that particular state Bar, knowing what those resources, those free resources might be in your region, in your location. That’s also another plug that I wanted to make, is these Lawyer and Judges Assistance Programs.


SUSANNAH: Absolutely. That’s a critical resource. And again, it’s called JLAP, typically, or LJAP, depending on the jurisdiction, and the folks in your student services office will know about these resources. You can trust them and talk to them about that. Zack, you were going to talk a little bit about sort of something you alluded to earlier, which is taking inventory of the strengths that you’re bringing with you to law school.


ZACK: Yeah. Thank you. And I’m going to share just a few slides to illustrate a little bit of what I’m getting at here, but I want to kind of make the point that if you’re concerned that you don’t have what it takes for law school, that you don’t belong, you do. You do belong, and you do have what it takes. And you may not realize it, but everything you’ve done to this point has contributed to who you are and where you are. And I want to emphasize that with a study that was done by the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. It’s a mouthful, but it’s IAALS. It’s the organization that I came from, and they created a project called Foundations for Practice.

Now, I’m sure that many of you, when you think about what it takes to be a lawyer, you probably picture someone in a suit, maybe up in front of a judge at a court, or maybe your mind goes right to traditional legal skills, writing a brief or that kind of a thing. Well, that is. That’s part of being a kind of a lawyer, but IAALS created the Foundations for Practice study, which is the most comprehensive study of its kind, to really identify, specifically, what are the skills, what are the competencies, what are the characteristics that make up successful lawyers? And they did this by getting responses from over 24,000 lawyers in all 50 states. And so, what did we learn from IAALS? Well, there’s that practitioner, right? Being a practitioner coming out of law school, focusing on the skills that make you a practitioner does lead to being a successful lawyer, and those are things like legal reasoning and evaluating arguments.

However, foundations teaches us it’s only one-fifth of the picture. There are all of these other characteristics or categories that the foundation’s project illustrated to us that lawyers thought were just as important, things that people needed right out of law school to be successful, and that is being a problem solver, being a communicator, a self-starter, a professional. And what does that mean? Well, these are skills like resourcefulness or taking ownership over a project, sensitivity and compassion, teamwork, for self-starters, something like adaptability or resilience, courtesy and respect, or the ability to honor commitments. These were all things that our 24,000 lawyers specifically identified as critical to being successful as a lawyer. So if you take a step back and you take stock of what brought you to this point in your life, what work experiences, what personal experiences have gotten you there. Maybe you haven’t read case law before or you haven’t memorized a statute before; that’s OK. When I worked at IAALS and I worked with a variety of different lawyers, we talked about how students can really strengthen these key abilities.

And this is what it looks like. If you wanted to talk about commitment and focus, two critical things in the ability to succeed as a lawyer. Some of the foundations that I’ve already shown you, the specific skills are take ownership and honor commitment, well, mastery of a hobby or a musical instrument, or participation in athletics, volunteer work, starting a business or an organization, these are all things that can help you, as a student, develop those foundations, those key critical skills. Likewise, leadership and teamwork experiences. And when we talk about teamwork, we talk about teamwork and cooperation, courtesy and respect and compassion. Those were the specific foundations that lawyers identified. Well, team sports and activities foster these things. Management positions in jobs, leadership in school activities, all of these things help to develop those specific foundations. And finally, my last example here, overcoming obstacles and adversity. This is a big one. Lawyers recognize this and really emphasize the importance of it, and that’s the adaptability, resourcefulness, and resilience foundations I showed you from the previous slide.

While working while in school at the undergraduate level, studying abroad, responsibilities for family at a young age, these are all experiences that have already helped you to develop those foundations. And so when I say take stock of the experiences that you’ve had right now, and the job that you may be working in, or a job that you’ve had in the past, or even just your personal experiences, you think about how it relates to these very fundamental skills. They’re not traditional legal skills, but they really are the glue that holds together everything that a lawyer needs to do, in practice, to be good at lawyering. So I want everyone to remember that. And you can find these specific foundations and skills on the IAALS website if you go ahead and Google “Foundations for Practice.” Thank you.


SUSANNAH: That’s great, Zack. Thank you so much. And I love the message there. When you go to law school, you’ll be a novice lawyer. You’ll be a novice law student, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a whole backpack full of experiences and characteristics and skills that you’re bringing with you. So we’ve come to the Q&A section of our presentation today, and please realize that there’s a Q&A portion of Zoom that you can use to pose questions, and I’m also going to be looking at the chat for some of the comments that you made earlier. There were two, actually three points that were made that I wanted to just touch on briefly, because it’s not really the subject, necessarily, of this webinar, but I want to point you in the direction to get those questions answered.

A lot of people were asking about getting a good LSAT score. Practice. That’s the number one most important thing. Practice as much as you can. There was a question about the 45 hours per week for law school. That includes class time. The ABA standard is, for every one hour you spend in class, two hours outside of class. OK? Reading, preparing, reviewing, et cetera. And you typically will have 15 credit hours in your first semester. And then somebody, actually, a few of you talked about taking notes in your law school classes. It’s a great question. It’s not an intuitive skill. There are special ways to do it, and we’ll be covering that in Law School Unmasked. OK, so another question that came up repeatedly that I’d love for Bayrex and Zack to address is concerns of non-traditional students. You’ve been out of law school. Maybe you just took one gap year. Maybe you’ve been out for 18 years, maybe you have children; that’s definitely a big concern for law students. So what are your thoughts there? Let’s go ahead and start with Bayrex, and then Zack can jump in.


BAYREX: That’s a great question. And I think, I guess a lot of my response will tie back to some of what Zack was saying, those foundations, thinking about, as a result of your life experience and the stage in life you might be at, you are the strengths that you’re bringing, right? So I definitely understand there’s some questions about what the transition would be like, or am I equipped to do this academic thing if everyone else is coming straight through from law school. But in reality, you just have so many strengths that you are bringing and skills that are relevant to school, right? So I think sometimes the sense can be that if I’m a nontraditional student, that maybe I had these strengths, or maybe had these successes, but they’re not relevant, or they don’t transfer to being a successful law student in the classroom. But in reality, time management, the ability to handle that stress, to communicate efficiently, et cetera, those are all things that are relevant to doing well in law school.

I would say, besides Law School Unmasked, which I think would be incredibly helpful to those students and they should participate, maybe really quickly, I would say, be open-minded and flexible. I would say that to any student, right? I think there might be some things that someone coming straight through from undergrad will more quickly hit the ground running in law school, but I can assure you that there’s other aspects they will not. So it kind of balances that, in a way. But I think if you’re that student, I think coming into it, being open-minded, let me see what feels like it’s working, let me ask questions, let me go to office hours, let me seek the resources that the school makes available to me, either academic success, academic support, maybe it’s tutoring.

So I guess not letting things snowball is very important, right? Be flexible in terms of your approach, but there’s no one way to do law school, so it’s also important to just try. And then as you run into recurring questions or challenges, just say that, just tell someone, a professor or someone else, “I’ve kind of had a ...” Because there’s a good chance that’s normal. There’s a good chance that a lot of people, that that’s actually the nature of what you’re learning, is that it’s going to be challenging. But if it’s something else that could be tweaked or adjusted, then people will share that with you. So I think that’s important. And another thing that Zack has said that I wanted to reiterate, which is also other communities within the law school, right?

So if you’re someone who is out of school for a while or a parent or caregiver, there’s a very good chance there’s a student organization that is for other students who are in similar, again, stages of their life or with similar obligations who can share their experiences, their resources. So I would seek those out too, because you’re not going to be alone. You may not be in the majority, but there will be other students. And very quickly, I would say I found it to be that sometimes there’s more commonality among students who’ve worked even a little bit or who have children, regardless of age, than those same people with someone else who’s closer in age, but is single and hasn’t worked. So, I don’t know, my experience is that people are ... Regardless, students are going to be successful, but there’s not a particular sort of experience they have to have to do well, but that’s what I would recommend.


ZACK: Yeah. I really like what you said there, Bayrex. I mean, I also, I like that dynamic that you suggested, that some students ... Well, all of you will be coming into law school with different experiences, different backgrounds, and part of that may be that you’ve taken time away from school and you’ve worked for a while, and maybe you’re in your 30s, or maybe you’re older than that. It doesn’t really ... The beauty of all of that is that you are joining a community here. And so what I liked about, particularly what I liked about what you just said, Bayrex, is that students who’ve worked for a while may have had more opportunity to develop time management skills, to really understand how they work, to have that ability to sort of discipline themselves in terms of where they can dedicate the time, and so forth.

Students that are coming right out of undergraduate school, on the other hand though, are really adept and familiar with the academic setting, academic resources, the flow of an academic calendar and that kind of a thing. And so that’s different, but what I would encourage all of you to do is to support one another. So there’s a lot that both of those kinds of students or those types of backgrounds can do, can lend to one another, right? And student organizations, study groups, all of those things that we’ve been talking about are good avenues, good pathways to meet one another. You will learn a lot from your professors. You will learn a lot from the experience, but I really encourage you to learn a lot from one another too. And remember that this is a community. You’re going to get a lot from the community. Put some back in. And that’s what I would say.


SUSANNAH: I agree so strongly with what both of you have said. There’s not one model for who is a law student. There are many, many different models for who is a law student, and many, many different paths to success. And I think law school gets a bad rap as being very competitive, but actually what you’ll find is that these folks are your future colleagues, and the more that you all can support each other and lift each other up, the better off everybody is going to be. There are a couple more questions about Law School Unmasked that I wanted to quickly address. First is that, yes, it will cover outlining, and it will cover mindset for law school, how to develop a winning mindset for law school. So that will all be in there.

And also, for those of you who are working and have family commitments, the majority of the program will be short asynchronous modules that you can take at any time. It won’t take more than an hour per day, at most, to get through that work. And then there are a few live webinars, but those will definitely be recorded, so you can watch those later. We really want to make it easy for you to participate. So another question, and this kind of goes to that theme of we’re all different: Any advice for a first-generation law student? I’ll start with you, Bayrex, and then Zack, please jump in.


BAYREX: Yeah. I know we touched on some aspects of what that experience may be. I mean, one would be ... I mean, it’s the same point over and over again, but you’ve got this, right? You are admitted to a law school because the professionals who are responsible for building that class and that community are confident that you have the strength, the skills, the experience to do the work. So please, just anytime something is happening or that you’re feeling out of place or feeling like an imposter or that you’re not supposed to be there, push back on that very strongly, because the people who’ve done this for many, many years and have all of that and all the information, they are confident that you can do it, so you can. So part of it is the psyching up, in a way, and the emotional aspect. But the other thing I would say, one, there are other first-generation students, and there’s actually other first-generation students who are now working at the school.

So seek those organizations, go to your student services, student affairs folks, see if they have resources they can connect you with, because there’s a very good chance that there is already a cohort of people who are available to speak with you, including faculty, who themselves were first generation and will give you some advice. The other thing I would say is, and I keep saying this a lot, is ask for help, right? Because one difference that I do notice is that students who are not first generation, students who know lawyers, have known many, many, potentially many lawyers, they will either have access to information or won’t hesitate to ask, because they believe it’s their education and they should get that information, whereas I think a lot of times first-generation students might think that asking for help is a signal of “I don’t belong here.” And no, what it shows is that you are efficient and self-aware, and that instead of wrestling with a problem or a challenge unnecessarily, at some point, you’re like, “I tried to figure this out and I still have questions, so I’m going to ask someone for help.”

Or if you have personal issues, things that are going on outside of school that are impacting your academics, there are resources and options at your school, I promise. That could be extensions, that can be financial resources, other things to help you manage that. And it is OK, as a law student, to go to someone and ask for help. It’s not expected that you will just power through whatever you’re dealing with plus school. So please talk to your school’s version of me or someone else. But those are things that I would tell first-generation students, because they are incredibly successful. They’re some of our more successful alumni at any law school, and employers are really looking to hire first-generation law students. So if nothing else I said matters, then that’s one thing I can tell you, is that they literally will reach out and say, “We want to connect with first-gen students, or we have mentoring programs that we want our alumni to be involved with.” So come at it, again, with confidence, but also that it’s OK to ask for support and help.


ZACK: Yeah, and I’ll build on that a little bit by ... This is a message that I think is relevant for first-generation law students, but all law students, and it’s back to some of the themes we’ve been talking about. There are a variety of paths to success. You will hear, when you go to law school, that there is one formula for success. It involves this or that or the other thing, and that everyone needs to do it. That’s not true. For instance, writing onto law review can help you to develop quite a few skills and it could be helpful to you, but it isn’t something that you have to do to be successful in any case. It’s one option, one great resource that law schools offer, but you might feel pressure from others. You can write your own path here.

And this goes back to the foundations, back to what are you bringing with you, because it’s always important to remember you’ve come here with a set of abilities, you’ve come here with some strengths, relatively speaking. What does that mean for you as the individual? There is not only one type of lawyer, and one size doesn’t fit all. So remember, why did you come to law school? What is it about your experiences that shaped you? And who can you talk to to learn what array of options are in front of you to then direct your own path? Because that’s actually what law school can provide to you. The community of students that you have, the community of excellent faculty, excellent staff, the extracurriculars, the student organizations, what that is is a whole array of options for you to self-direct yourself as you move your way through your path toward graduation. And so, do your best to make use of those, and always remember what you have coming in.


SUSANNAH: I love that. Thank you both so much. We are at time. I wanted to thank everyone at attendance for your great questions, and I’m sorry we couldn’t get to all of them. To answer one quick question, Law School UnmaskedTM is a hundred percent free to anyone who is starting law school this fall. And again, we’ll send out an email about that in the next few days with a registration link. And I want to just echo the point that both of my colleagues here made: Everyone’s a beginner when you start law school. So maybe your mom’s a judge and your dad’s a corporate lawyer; you’re still a beginner when you start law school. So just realize you’re there to learn, and you’re all in the same boat in that respect. So, thank you again so much for attending today, and you know how to reach us if you have more questions.


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