You finished your undergraduate schooling, and the next step is picking a law school. The good news is a school has accepted you, but now what? Let’s take a look at what to do the summer before law school according to an actual lawyer.
A Lawyer’s Take
Full disclosure. Law Walrus is a practicing lawyer. I’ve been practicing since 1992 with a focus on the civil law arena. I’ve worked in a variety of capacities including from large law firms specializing in complex litigation to smaller firms catering to the adult industry(!) and now have a small firm of my own as retirement isn’t too far off [I hope]. Regardless, my views expressed below come from the perspective of actually going through the law school process. You will not get the vague observations you find on other sites.
How hard is law school? I’m not going to lie to you. Law school is stressful. When you are considering what to do the summer before law school, I strongly suggest you focus on relaxing and having fun. Law is a fascinating profession, but the practice is also a time hog. Law school is no different. Enjoy yourself. Maybe take a road trip.
What about attempting to get a head start on the first year by digging into, oh, the difference between copyright and patent law? Eh. You run the risk of learning the nuts and bolts of a legal concept, but not the conceptual theory behind it. Learning something new is difficult. Unlearning something you interpreted incorrectly and then trying to relearn the correct concept is much harder. In my opinion, you are far better off walking into law school on the first day mentally and physically sharp versus trying to get a start on the finer points of property law.
Are you still considering getting a head start? Here’s what one recent student had to say on the subject.
Stress Relief Habits
I’m going to be honest. I spent of my undergraduate career drinking pitchers of beer at a bar on a beach in a California town that will go unnamed for now. I was sufficiently intelligent that I managed to meander through a school in the University of California system, but I didn’t work particularly hard on my studies.
Law school is another story. My personal view is law school isn’t that difficult because of the concepts. It is difficult because of the workload. The work comes at you in volume and at speed. One morning you are learning the twenty-three exceptions to the hearsay rule  in the Federal Rules of Evidence, and two hours later you are knee-deep in arguing over whether an idiot who sets off an M80 at a party can sue the property owner when the idiot blows himself up. There will be a significant amount of mental stress because of both the need to memorize particular legal information and then argue the concepts in a meaningful way that doesn’t result in your hypothetical client being shackled upside down in a cell down at the hypothetical local courthouse.
a. Taking The Edge Off
Lawyers are infamous for turning to alcohol and narcotics to “take the edge off.” That approach is a slippery slope. In a recent study, 20.6 percent of 12,825 lawyers who participated were found to have screened positive for hazardous, harmful, and potentially alcohol-dependent drinking. Drug use rates are thought to be in a similar range.
Don’t get me wrong. A glass of wine isn’t going to kill you, but one has to be diligent about high-stress moments. With this in mind, let me recommend less damaging approaches.
b. Better Approaches To Stress
Daily exercise is a tremendous option. My second year of law school was a close run. I was either going to strangle one of my professors or get in the best shape of my life. Fortunately, the gym became my second home. I even discovered I have these things called “abs.”
One of my classmates was a young lady from Philadelphia, so she was already a bit stressed before the beginning of our first year. She took up meditation and yoga. Another classmate took up the vile act of running. You would occasionally see him running up and down the neighborhood in the middle of the night as he questioned whether humanity really needs water in light of the sheer stupidity we find in the field of water rights law.
Humor aside, you need to have stress release habits in place before starting school. Develop them during the summer if you don’t have any in place.
Real-World Practice Of Law
When considering what to do the summer before law school, let me give you an insider tip. Law school is intense. If you are a normal human being, your emotional state and confidence are going to bob up and down through the three years. You will experience periods where you feel like an idiot and know – absolutely know – that you are not smart enough to be a practicing lawyer.
Well, I’m pretty sure you are plenty smart enough. And I say this without ever having met you. Why? My friend, it is time to take a trip to reality land. Yes, Law and Order is fascinating. Suits as well. Sadly, the real-world practice of law might play out a tad bit differently.
a. Build Confidence
So, where are we going before starting the first year of law school? To the courthouse. You should take a day to walk around the local courthouse and watch the legal proceedings. Something will quickly become evident. Many lawyers are…awful. I’ve seen a lawyer who – attempting to argue an idiotic position – was shut down by the judge only to ask, “Did you read my brief?!”
You are going to be very confident at the end of the day that you – yes, you – can practice law. Heading to a courthouse is an excellent strategy for dealing with nervousness before the start of your first year in law school. In fact, I recommend you head to the courthouse at least one day each semester of law school just to give yourself a pick-me-up. It will do wonders for your confidence.
b. Quality Lawyers
Does this mean all lawyers are bumbling idiots? Not at all. Once you’ve had your fill of the Keystone Cops…err lawyers, approach a bailiff during a break in one of the courtrooms. Tell the bailiff you are preparing for law school and wonder if the bailiff knows of any ongoing trials where the opposing counsel are excellent. The bailiff should direct you to the appropriate courtroom if such a trial is underway. Watching two outstanding lawyers in action is a treat and, if you are interested in litigation, you will have something to aspire to as you begin school.
Law School Realism
When considering what to do the summer before law school, having a realistic expectation about the subject matter of the first year term is critical. To be honest, the subjects will be a bit tedious. Your first year will be about laying the foundation upon which your professors will build more advanced concepts in the second and third years.
My personal hell in the first year of law school was real property law. I’ve been practicing since 1992. Not once have I had any need for a single concept I learned I property law. So, imagine my surprise when I was forced to take property law and learn the ins and outs of the concept of adverse possession, which basically boils down to the idea that if you’ve squatted somewhere for long enough, it is yours. My misery in the class was such that the dean nearly expelled me for suggesting I would adversely possess the professor’s brand new jaguar if she didn’t move on to a new subject.
If you are expecting to be participating in dramatic mock trials the second week of your first term…yeah, probably not. The first year is all about learning the nuts and bolts of the law – procedures, verbiage, etc. The second-year is when you start learning how to put the nuts and bolts into unusual configurations that drive your professors mad. The retired judge who taught me trial skills was surprised, but not overly impressed, when I whipped out a scrabble board as part of my opening argument one day. [Imagine my nervousness when I tried a case in front of him a decade later.]
If you are wondering what to do the summer before law school, I strongly suggest you rest up and get your mind and body fit. You don’t need to look like a CrossFit model, but develop a routine for burning off stress. Then head on down to the local courthouse for a real-world education on the practice of law.
To your success!