By Nikki Datta • September 05, 2017•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence, Law School, Pre-Law
Fall always marks the beginning of school for me. I know the leaves change color and pumpkin spice lattes return to Starbucks, but as a college student in Manhattan, I don’t see the leaves and I make my own coffee to save money. What I do encounter often are the surface of my dorm room desk and the reading rooms of the library, places I haven’t had to visit in months. Students are lucky for many reasons, but I think this is one of the best parts about learning full-time: you get to have multiple New Year’s Days. One on the first of January, of course, and one on each first day of class.
With the return to the academic year, however, also comes the return to the havoc of work. Following in that spirit, I wanted to offer a few goals I have for the upcoming semester, and, simultaneously, to encourage my fellow upperclass pre-law students to commit to a vision of their own professional success.
- Identify post-undergrad plans. I have written about this before, and I will likely write about it again. Less and less people are going straight to law school, and it may be time for you to consider your alternative paths. To maximize the fun of graduating by reducing the stress of planning, start your exploration now! Lay out a spreadsheet and chart organizations, contacts, and deadlines for each of your paths. Figure out when you want to take the LSAT so that you can plan ahead for LSAT studying, and decide when you are going to go to law school. If you want to take time off, you certainly can (and should), but you don’t want bad planning to delay your JD even further.
- Personal development. You all know that I am absolutely crazy about learning and committing to developing soft skills. Choose the skills you need to work on – networking, professionalism, email etiquette, interview confidence, relentless discipline – and find ways to tackle them. Go to ten networking events this semester and aim to get someone’s card at each event. Sign up for ten interviews, even if you don’t want the job, and measure your success by how well you established a connection with the interviewer. Then, email the interviewer for feedback afterwards. Take a proactive approach to developing yourself while you have the time.
- Internships, internships, and internships. Start thinking about what you want to do next summer. It’s time to start charting the spreadsheet, writing down names of cool organizations and firms as you find them, identifying contacts, reaching out to establish networks, and marking down deadlines. Talk to friends, and see what they have done in the past. Begin to consider how you may deal with living expenses wherever you intern.
- Establish professional routines. Clear the noise. Craft routines that work for you to get your work done, whether that entails a routine for your morning, a work-out regimen, a night routine, or an after-class routine. Jump into the semester by scheduling in times to work on skills you want to develop – knowing the skills you need is not enough to build them! Consistent hard work will pay off.
- Have fun! Do something this semester that you haven't tried before, and make sure you don't let your professional development hinder your personal interests. Commit to something you are excited to try, and I'll be doing the same.
And finally, to first-years who are new to the pre-JD track: don’t stress yourself out. Don’t go to every law school event or try to attend every networking session. Focus on your classes to start off with a strong GPA, and stay away from the general fear-mongering tactics of your upperclass friends. If anything, give some thought to where you may work next summer. But overall? Take a few steps back, make sure law school is really your thing, and realize that most law school advice is common sense you could have found yourself. I’ll be a junior this year, and I still avoid law school events like the plague. As you get closer to applying, it’ll be helpful to get a sense of the culture and philosophy at different firms and law schools via these events, but, right now, you will likely just hear the same advice a few times.
Case in point: there are a lot of things to think about this upcoming semester. My hope is that you’ll set some clear goals that you can assess by October, when I check-in. Let me know what you’re working on below so I can take some inspiration from your aspirations this Fall!
Nikki Datta is a junior at Columbia University in the City of New York studying Psychology and Computer Science. She serves as Executive Editor of the Columbia Undergraduate Law Review and was most recently an intern at New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's Litigation office. She is also the founder and President of Columbia University Women in Law and Politics (cuwilp.weebly.com). Connect with Nikki at: www.linkedin.com/in/nikkidatta