By Rebecca Fiss • February 03, 2013•Writers in Residence, Other Law School Issues
This month’s post is Part One of a two-part installment inspired by a conversation I had recently with a 1L at Bar Review (if you don’t know what Bar Review is or assume it has something to do with the bar exam, hold tight—a post about this all-important event is already in the works). The 1L asked me what I would do differently if I could do my first year at law school over again. I’m sure if I were given more time to respond, I could come up with a long list of things I wish I had done differently (isn’t that life). But as it were, I had to respond on the fly, and two things came immediately to mind. This month’s post is about Thing-I-Wish-I-Had-Done #1. Next month, Thing #2.
The first thing I wish I had done differently, and which I now encourage you, my aspiring social butterfly, to do is this: join a club. No, don’t just join it—lead it.
Now I know what you’re thinking: I don’t have time!
Tosh. No one “has time,” and yet somehow these student organizations all manage to continue in their existence, bringing in guest speakers and luring you to their meetings with free pizza. If you make time (e.g. by talking to 2Ls and 3Ls about the most efficient way to prepare for your particular professors’ exams), you’ll find you can (and should) do all kinds of things that don’t involve reading cases.
There are three main benefits of joining and taking a leadership position in a club. First, if you’re interested in a particular area of law—say, environmental law—being able to put on your résumé that you were vice president of the environmental law club is a much more persuasive way of communicating that interest to a prospective employer than just showing up at an interview and saying “Yay, environment!”
Second, and perhaps most relevant to you, given your presumed motivation for reading this column: heading up a club is an awesome way to meet people with interests similar to yours. Beyond having those basic law school-related gripes to bond over, you now have a common interest and maybe a similar career goal to discuss. And in my experience, it’s easier to initiate conversation with someone new when you already know you have something to talk about.
Third, being in a club leadership position can be a good pathway to beginning professional relationships, and to building leadership skills generally. Most student organizations have a faculty advisor, who you can visit to discuss what kinds of projects your club will get involved in (and even if your club happens not to have a committed faculty advisor, you will inevitably end up consulting professors for the very reason I just mentioned). And professors, especially ones in the area of law you want to pursue, can be invaluable resources. Depending on your club, you might even get to work with lawyers in your community—and if you do your job well, these kinds of connections can lead directly to jobs.
You might also be balking because, OMG, leadership means public speaking, right? Not necessarily. Clubs often have lots of positions, including secretary and pro bono coordinator, that won’t necessarily require you to speak to more than one person at a time. Everyone with leadership skills has had to develop them somewhere, and a position with your favorite student organization is a good place to start.
Now, if you’re one of those many lost souls (like me) who came to law school without a real idea of what kinds of law were actually out there or which ones interested you, then you admittedly have an extra obstacle to deal with. But, rather conveniently, attending a club meeting or talking to an officer to see whether you might be interested doesn’t result in automatic commitment to that club. I encourage you to attend every lunchtime club meeting you can manage during those first few weeks of the semester—you might be surprised by what catches your interest. Also, you’ll get a lot of free food.