By Raychelle Tasher • November 03, 2014•Law School, Curriculum and Classroom Dynamics, Other Law School Issues, Issues, Mentoring and Networking
In law school, many students choose expand not only their analytical skills but also their leadership skills. I can attest that by my 3L year, I was the National Vice Chair of the ABA Law Students Division, Secretary of my law school’s Student Bar Association, BLSA Recruitment Chair, Moot Court & Advocacy Board Executive Board Member and a host of other roles that kept my down time limited. I took advantage of every leadership opportunity presented and got involved in all types of organizations as a law student. Even though many law students feel as if you have to choose between being super academic or super extracurricular I know many law grads that successfully executed both roles and went on to have great legal careers. It can be done and here are 5 quick tips on how to become involved in law school extracurricular activities and student leadership:
1. Become a dues paying member of an organization.
Every semester I would put away $50-$100 from my financial aid to become a member of 2-3 student organizations. Some organizations even have free membership dues for the first year, or discounted dues. By paying membership dues you are entitled to the full benefits of membership in the organization of your choice. Many student organizations such as the ABA Law Student Division and the National Black Law Students Association offer their members benefits such as discounts off cell phone service, rental cars, hotels and Bar exam test prep. I think that membership in any law student organization is an investment. Becoming a member expands your networking base and can be used as leverage in interviews and on your resume. It shows employers that you not only excel academically but you are a team player and can work in small or large groups.
2. Attend local, regional and national meetings.
Many law schools factor in funding for student conferences in their annual budgets. In order to apply for these funds some law schools require that you are a member of an organization and demonstrate financial need. If school provides for this type of funding it is important to reach out to Deans at your law school, career counselors and academic dvisors. At my law school, our career services department provided lists of Bar Association meetings and CLE programs that were in our area. A group of us would see an announcement and split the cost of a rental car or hotel in order to attend the meetings to network. Because we were law students, many events were free or significantly discounted. Also, I recommend seeking sponsorship from your mentors or fellowships from foundations that provide funding for student activities.
Attending meetings can be a great tool if you are interested in practicing outside of your state or at a national law firm. Ms. JD is currently planning its Seventh Annual Conference on Women in the Law "Stronger Together" at UC Hastings School of Law, in San Francisco, California. The opportunity to network with law students and young lawyers across the country is truly invaluable.
3. Join a Committee.
Okay, you’re a 1L, and you are probably scared of adding anything else on your plate during your first semester and I agree! In my personal opinion I do not think a major leadership role such as President of an organization or even Vice Chair is a good idea as a 1L. Let’s face it, law school is a life adjustment and unless you have mastered the art of multi-tasking under significant pressure and intensity I don’t recommend it. As a 1L, I do think you should attend general body meetings and become strategic about your leadership roles. For example, if you want to become president of the Christian Legal Society, that is awesome! But be smart about it, seek mentors and guidance from those who have leadership experience. Talk to your law school Dean , professors and other law students about how leadership will affect your studies and social life.
If you are a 2L or a 3L and you have not yet made strategic plan to become a student leader, it’s not the end of the world. I would still take advantage of all opportunities to seek leadership, even if you are the underdog. Being a student leader is about having the guts to do the work that many people do not want to do. It’s about being a worker bee but also a strategic bee and placing yourself in the right organization, with the right group of people, at the right time. You never know what doors can open up for you, but you have to be smart about it. Remember to always protect your reputation and your brand.
4. Network. Network. Network.
The best thing about being involved in extracurricular activities as a law student is the networking. Trust me; you will never have as much free access to top attorneys as you do when you are a student. Build your network NOW! I can’t stress that enough. For me, I spent most of my 3L year developing my network so that when I transitioned from law student to practicing attorney, I wouldn’t have to start from scratch. Upon graduation, I maintained contact with lawyers and judges that I developed relationships with as a student. Many of these mentors and friends assisted me in the transition from law student leader into emerging leader at the State and National Bar levels. I think the toughest thing for my colleagues who did not spend time networking in law school is learning how to break into what seems like a “good ole boys club”. The advantage that I had as a law student leader is that I knew how to work the “good ole boys club” before I got into practice. Now, I jump at leadership opportunities and utilize my law school leadership to leverage positions in various local and national bar associations.
A great way to network with attorneys is by attending law firm receptions. Many law firms will host free events geared toward students. These programs provide an open atmosphere for law students to connect with local attorneys with different practice areas. By attending networking receptions you can get your name and face out in the community and in turn develop a positive reputation.
5. Get to know your classmates.
The competition in law school is stiff. No one trusts anyone and everyone wants to get ahead of the curve. However, reality will eventually set in, and you will quickly realize that the person to your left and to your right will be with you for the next three years in some form or fashion. Don’t be afraid to be open about who you are and what you want out of your law school and legal career. For example, I think it was around second semester 2L year that I realized that I wanted to practice bankruptcy law. I remember telling everyone that I wanted to become a bankruptcy attorney and that was my thing. Instantly I became the go-to person at my law school for all things bankruptcy related. People would send me clerkship opportunities, networking opportunities, all related to bankruptcy law. In the end, it really helped me brand myself. Now, please understand that not everyone knows what they want to do out of law school and many of my colleagues are still trying to figure out what area of law is most fulfilling to them. But, I think allowing yourself the freedom to speak openly about your interest, is a very informal way of becoming involved and sharing ideas. Often, you will find that your classmates can be your best resource and your best referral in the future. Get to know them early!
In the instance that you did not start law school the most pleasant light, it’s never too late to change your reputation. Law school is a journey, and many of you start your law school journey at 22-24, and trust me you at that age you do not have anything figured out. It okay! Continue to work on your personal wellness and you will rise to the top regardless of your situation or background.
Overall, I hope these tips encourage you to become more active in law school. Remember the key to becoming a successful law is not always about what you know, but who you know. Build your brand and build your reputation so that you can hit the ground running as a practicing attorney.
Raychelle Tasher is a Member of Ms. JD's Board of Directors. She currently co-chairs the Ms. JD's Seventh Annual Conference Committee, and coordinates the Ms. JD Fellowship Program. She is a Bankrutpcy Associate at a law firm in Boca Raton, Florida. She hopes to inspire law school students and first year associates to take on leadership roles through her blog.