Soldier On: Boot Camp to Law School—Time for Those Pre-Combat Inspections


The beginning of summer is the perfect time for law students to conduct pre-combat inspections (PCI). Pre-combat inspections are a management tool that the Army uses to make sure that every soldier brings to battle every piece of required equipment, every time. And importantly, PCIs ensure the equipment is in proper working order.

Pre-combat inspections consist of soldiers physically laying out for inspection each item of equipment they will need for a mission. The inspections are often highly regimented with detailed checklists and completed according to a prescribed layout diagram.

For instance, soldiers may be assigned a 5 x 5 foot area in which to display all of their equipment according to the diagram. Within that area, the soldier will neatly place equipment that they will need for the upcoming mission. And each soldier’s area will look identical, with all items placed in exact positions.

Once the layout is complete, an inspecting officer can simply walk past all inspection areas to see that nothing is missing or broken. This ensures accountability because soldiers are forced to demonstrate that their equipment is present and free from defects. Additionally, the PCI instills confidence because the soldiers can be assured that they have left nothing out.

The summer is an excellent time for law students to conduct their own PCI. In fact, ideally you will treat the beginning of each semester (including summer) as a new mission, and you will conduct a PCI on your equipment – equipment being those items critical to achieving your goals. Use this time to see that you have everything you require and to fix anything that is broken.

Similar to laying out Army equipment, you will metaphorically lay out everything that you will need to succeed in your mission. Think of it like a 5 x 5 foot area with separate spaces for you to place each important thing you will need to prepare for your future legal career. Below I’ve labeled for you three pieces of equipment to inspect during your PCI – we’ll call them reflection, revision, and review.

If you came to law school with the ultimate goal of becoming an attorney, then each semester is like a mini-mission. Your future attorney-self requires absolute success from you at each critical phase.


One of the easiest, but most neglected parts of your PCI, is for you to reflect on the semester that just ended. Analyze your habits to find out if you should fix anything about the way that you study or write for exams.

Likewise, if you maintain a log of attorneys with whom you have met – and you should – review your notes, and then reach out to anyone with whom you have not spoken in some time. It can be as simple as sending a friendly email to share your recent accomplishments.

Revise job-hunting materials

By now you possess at least a resume, an unofficial grade sheet, and some references. Hopefully you also have a professional writing sample and have written some cover letters. If not, now is a good time to edit a writing sample and to draft some cover letters to potential employers.

As part of your PCI, you should now purposefully look at each of these documents with a critical eye. Make necessary changes so that you will have perfect materials when it counts. Use Law Career Development and your professors to review your documents for clarity, style, and errors. You want your materials to reflect the most current and complete version of you.

Importantly, conducting your PCI at the start of summer frees you to intern and attend summer classes without the added burden of perfecting application materials under a tight deadline. Once On-Campus Interview season begins, you will no longer be one of just a few students working with Law Career Development to make sure you have tip-top materials. Instead you may incur stressful delays as you wait your turn to have documents reviewed. An early start saves you time and eliminates stress.

Review calendars

Begin thinking one and two semesters ahead about what you must do to accomplish your ultimate goal. This provides you with a clear path forward. You should plan your academic classes, internships, and other experiences important to you with an eye looking several semesters out.

Planning into the future ensures you don’t miss a class that is only offered once a year. It also allows you to sequence your internships so that they best align with your career goals. Once you calendar your critical items, you can better decide whether or how often to volunteer. You can even find time in your schedule to meet with attorneys and to attend local bar functions to learn more about life after law school.

Finally, if you plan to intern or apply for permanent government jobs, you should review the various agencies’ calendars. Many government agencies have strict application deadlines. Some arrive as early as the first week of September; and others, like the Department of Justice, require you to hand-enter your entire application. In essence, even if you have a perfect resume, cover letter, and unofficial transcript, you must still reserve several days just to input this information line-by-line, as the DOJ currently does not permit uploading application materials like the resume, grade sheet, etc.

If you think of each semester like a mini-mission, you can use the pre-combat inspection to make sure you meet the most important mission – becoming an attorney. By systematically assessing yourself each semester and fixing anything that needs repair, you will march toward that special day when you accomplish the ultimate goal that you set for yourself – graduating law school and becoming an attorney.

What are some other items you can add to the pre-combat inspection? Please share them in the Comments section below.


Julie Cummings is one of Ms. JD’s 2016 Writers in Residence. Her monthly column, Soldier On: Boot Camp to Law School translates valuable military skills into strategies for succeeding in law school.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/julieakcummings

Twitter: https://twitter.com/julieakcummings



I love this way of looking at the start of a semester.  For me, it’s all about the tools - I need a back-up toner cartridge, plan to get my laptop tuned up, all the dry cleaning has to be done and my closets should be organized.  With some fresh notebooks and an ample supply of my favorite ultra-fine black pens, I feel like I’m ready to take on any new challenge!


“What’s the difference between PCCs and PCIs?” - every training NCO

Write a comment

Please login to comment

Remember Me

Become a Member

FREE online community for women in the legal profession.



Subscribe to receive regular updates, news, and events from Ms. JD.

Connect with us

Follow or subscribe