The short answer: you can’t.
If you’re anything like me, you’re likely not satisfied with that answer. I certainly wasn’t. I get it. I’m a naturally anxious person – so every day I wasn’t doing something productive during my 0L summer, I was fretting. Sound familiar?
I have some good news. There’s actually a lot of super productive things you can be doing this summer, though, none of those things really have anything to do with “preparing for law school.” I’ll start with a few things you probably shouldn’t do.
Don’t waste your money on those “how to do law school” guidebooks, roadmaps, survival guides, etc. And do not, dear lord, do not take a law school summer prep course. Take it from a jaded 3L who has probably tried it all – there’s no one secret to doing law school right. The minute you accept that, you’re already ahead.
I neurotically read a lot of those books. All they did was somehow increase my stress and anxiety about this entire experience (s/o to my advisor who was on the receiving end of my weekly meltdown emails). The worst part about these books is that they all seemed to conflict with each other. One told me to do law review, another told me law review was a waste of time. One suggested if I’m not the last to leave the library every night, I’m the bottom of the curve; yet, to this day, my advisor is constantly in my ear about “it’s a marathon not a sprint.” Not to mention, every single one of those guides is tailored to one version of “success:” getting to “big law.”
What those books won’t tell you is that there’s nothing you can do to truly prepare for this experience (of course they won’t – how would they sell?). Every law school is different. Every law professor is different. Every class is different. And most importantly, every student is different, including you. No matter what anyone tells you, there’s no one way to study, take notes, or outline. There’s no one way to learn. There’s no one legal career either. You have to do what’s right for you. But you won’t figure that out until you finally start (and that’s okay).
So, instead of trying to game the system, what can you be doing this summer? I have a few thoughts. With that, though, I remind you I’m different from you too. What worked for me may not work for you. Consider this your first lesson: not all advice is the best advice.
Law school is intense. This is about to be the hardest you’ve ever worked, probably in your entire life. It will take both a mental and physical toll. It will also take a toll on your relationships (you won’t be as available anymore). The best thing you can do for yourself this summer is to relax, get some fresh air, spend some time with your loved ones, and, if you feel like it, think about some of the following:
Prepare to be online
I don’t care what the school, Dr. Fauci, the president, or anyone else tells you. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that most things can actually be done online. You might be lucky enough to be in person for your classes this Fall, but you shouldn’t bank on it. It’s not just about school either. Many Silicon Valley companies are beginning to realize that their employees are just as productive at home. Twitter, for example, announced they would allow employees to work from home indefinitely. Google is work from home until next year. My guess is that we really are seeing a “new normal” here, so we might as well get used to it.
Create a good, separate, work environment. You might consider investing in an external microphone, a nice computer monitor, comfortable seating, and noise-canceling headphones. A book-shelf for all your casebooks will be clutch too (unless you, for some reason, have a locker in your house). I emphasized “separate” because it’s immensely important to set your work/life boundaries early. This was true before the pandemic and it’s even more so true now. The number one issue I’ve found with working from home is that I don’t stop working. At least I could leave the library or the office. Work is work, home is home. Now, at home, I’ve allowed my personal/work life to blend…and work usually dominates. It isn’t healthy.
Some have asked about my take on online learning. I’ll be honest, I’m not enjoying it. I’m very extroverted and I love being on campus. Being online has really removed a lot of the experiences I loved about law school.
With that said, online instruction wasn’t too bad. It was a rough start because both the students and profs had to sharply and suddenly readjust mid-semester. But near the end of the semester, we all found our stride. Our profs are amazing. Every one of my profs went the extra mile to make the online experience better for us. It worked out alright.
I’m good friends with one prof who is actively taking an online course right now on how to teach remotely. That’s the sort of dedication that has made the transition a lot better than I expected.
You’ll need to be disciplined about your time/energy. Being online depleted some of my motivation and drive. But that’s recoverable. You just have to remind yourself why you’re doing this.
Figure out what you want to do
This is the greatest piece of advice I’ve ever received in law school. The very first question my now Tech Edge advisor asked me was “what do you want to do?” I remember somewhat jokingly replying: “I want to be a lawyer.”
Actually, I think what I said was “I would love to work for Google.”
To which he replied “Okay but what are you doing at Google? What does your 9-5pm look like? Walk me through that.”
I had no clue. I bet you probably couldn’t answer those questions right now either. Those questions defined not just my entire summer but my entire law school experience, and now my career. It’s so simple yet so incredibly difficult to be concrete about what you want to do. You’re going to law school and that’s great. But to do what?
After that meeting, I threw away all of my law school prep books. Instead, I made it a mission to have a better answer than “I want to be a lawyer” by the end of the summer. This move unlocked my entire career and did way more for me than learning how to write the perfect outline.
I did a few things that summer to find my answers. For starters, I attempted to register for the patent bar, which failed miserably (to my advantage). Turns out, just because I’m a Computer Scientist doesn’t mean I have to do patent law. In fact, I HATE patent law (sorry patent law fans!). I’m glad I figured that out as a 0L rather than as a graduating 3L.
I also became a certified privacy professional. I studied for the certification for two weeks and passed it on my first try. That experience taught me how much I dislike privacy law. This was great. I was starting to realize that there were so many things I didn’t want to be doing as a lawyer.
Long, long, long story short, I had a mid-summer epiphany and discovered I really REALLY love Internet law. Specifically, I love intermediary liability law. And even more specifically, I love this one niche Internet law, Section 230.
I spent the rest of the summer reading and absorbing as much as I could about Internet law. I was constantly communicating with my advisor (renowned Internet law and Section 230 expert), asking all the “dumb” questions. I read every single paper about Section 230 I could find. I deep-dived the Technology and Marketing Law Blog and I Googled every single phrase, jargon, or concept I didn’t understand. I read A LOT of Techdirt and listened to tech law podcasts on my runs. I also created a Twitter accountwhich I would later use to build my entire “brand.”
When I returned to my advisor’s office that fall, I had a better answer: I wanted to be an Internet lawyer and a Section 230 expert.
I didn’t hit the ground running my fall semester. I hit the ground sprinting. When you’re able to articulate concretely what it is you want to do with your law degree, people notice. I was able to hold substantive conversations with attorneys at the millions of networking events we attended. Rather than “what commercial outline do you recommend for property law?” I could ask “so how do feel about <insert Internet co’s> fact-checking and misinformation policy?” Those attorneys noticed and the 1L summer job offers began to roll in.
So, what do you want to do?
Brand building and networking
Fun fact: you don’t have to wait until law school to start networking. Don’t think of networking as “networking” though. Think of it as making new friends. As I was figuring out what I wanted to do, I started making a list of people in my field I really wanted to befriend; and I did just that. BTW, this starts with your peers and faculty members too. Do not underestimate how powerful your law school network will be.
I personally find Twitter to be a better networking tool than LinkedIn. Half, if not all, of my Internet law connections, came from Twitter. I started by following the “big names” in Internet law and just reading, liking, and retweeting. I rarely participated in the conversations – they were way over my head. If you’re not sure where to start, check out #lawtwitter.
At the same time, I started attending conferences (yes, as a 0L). Often, I was usually the youngest and most inexperienced person there – talk about intimidating. The Internet law community is pretty tight-knit so it wasn’t all too surprising to run into people I had been following online all summer. I would literally just walk up to these people at conferences and say “Hi, I’m Jess, I follow you on Twitter and I’m really interested in what you do.” Boom, a conversation started, and a new friend made. Pro-tip: most “hot shot” experts in your field probably love talking to newbies. We aren’t as jaded or obnoxious as some of their colleagues. Plus, we’re like sponges, ready to absorb all of their knowledge and wisdom.
On that note, I’ve never had someone turn me away. Most of the pros understand the rules of networking. So, step out of your comfort zone, and just go for it. In fact, you have an advantage with everything being online. Attend as many webinars as you can and try to connect with the other attendees! Don’t count yourself out as “just a 0L.”
As I became more comfortable with my knowledge-base, I started to brand myself as a Section 230 expert online. I participated in more of the conversations taking place on #Section230 Twitter (getting myself into some hairy arguments here and there). My goal: any time Section 230 comes up, I want people to think “Jess Miers.” That’s how you make yourself valuable and indispensable. Become the go-to expert on something.
Pro-tip: permanently tattooing the law to yourself is a good way to get noticed…(I did say not all advice is the best advice though right?)
Find a mentor
You have your field-network and you have your colleagues. Both are great. But you also need one or two trusted law school/career mentors. This might be a professor, a student, someone at your current workplace, an attorney you met at a cocktail event, etc. If you can find someone that can double as both your law school and career mentor, even better. Though, I caution that your career mentor has probably been out of law school for a hot minute. 2Ls and 3Ls can make great law school mentors too. (But if your 2L or 3L mentor suggests you stop reading, steer clear).
My Tech Edge advisor just happens to also be my trusted mentor. As I mentioned, my advisor is a renowned Internet law and Section 230 expert. I’ve changed my path throughout law school a few times (that’s normal). Through all the twists and turns, I eventually realized my dream career is one very similar to my mentor’s. That is, in my opinion, the perfect mentor/mentee scenario. Find someone that represents where you want to be when you’re at their stage of your career. Find someone you can look up to and listen closely to that person.
I wouldn’t be where I am now without my mentor. He opened his Internet law network to me, helped me secure amazing jobs, taught me valuable career and life lessons, called me out on my shit, acknowledged my mistakes and helped me recover from them, and has been the biggest champion of my success since my 0L summer. Creating a strong mentor/mentee relationship with this person is arguably one of the best moves I’ve made for my career (and personal life). Remember, don’t think of networking as “networking.” Think of it as building really important, life-long friendships.
You’re going to receive a BOATLOAD of advice throughout your law school journey. Everyone will have an opinion about what you should or shouldn’t be doing. People will get in your head – it’s inevitable. Your mentor is the one person in your corner that will help you reset and get back on track.
Redefine your interpretation of “success”
We throw around the word “success” or “successful” a lot in law school. She’s so “successful.” Or “make sure to do xyz if you want to succeed.” Like I said, those law school survival guides often define success as acquiring some sort of big law job by the time you graduate.
I’ve seen it all. One of my best friends is going into “big law.” He’s successful; one is in the top 10% of our class. He’s successful. Another tirelessly dedicates herself to the public interest. She’s successful. Another, who came from a rougher past, has dedicated his entire law school career to reforming the justice system. He’s successful. Another is a major privacy law geek. He’s successful. Another wants to go into government. She’s successful. Another wants to work on the entire opposite side of the country. She’s successful. Another is a leading expert on net neutrality. He’s successful. Some are generalists; others are specialists; some don’t even want to be attorneys. They’re all successful.
I’m middle 50% of the class. As a soon-to-be Section 230 expert, I’m incredibly specialized. I also just signed a full-time offer with a major tech company as a policy specialist; a “non-legal” career. I’m successful.
There’s still a lot of “traditionalists” out there. They’re going to tell you that you aren’t successful unless you have the top grades, the top firm job, and you’re making top dollar. They’re going to tell you that you can’t work in-house for a tech company unless you go to a top school or work at a major law firm for several years. They’re going to tell you that if you aren’t outlining exactly like they did, you won’t make it. They’ll tell you that you have to be a generalist to be valuable. They’ll tell you that the only thing your law degree is useful for is being a lawyer.
It’s all garbage. You define your success. Spend some time this summer painting that picture. What does your success look like?
Most importantly, GET EXCITED about this adventure. There will be ups, downs, and everything in between. Don’t take it too seriously. Idk about other people, but law school has been one of the best experiences of my entire academic career. It flies by so fast. In a way, I kind of wish I was you!
You’ll be great.
Don’t hesitate to reach out if you ever want to chat more about law school or SCU Law specifically. Add me on any social media or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.