This article was originally published in The Barrister, the official monthly publication of the Camden County Bar Association for which DeMichele & DeMichele attorney MATT ROONEY serves as Young Lawyer Trustee.
By Matt Rooney Or at least you SHOULD have learned these things. In 2015, there is an extremely active debate roiling in American legal circles about the value of a law degree after an entire generation of lawyers graduated only to find few jobs and falling salaries to compensate them for historic student debt loads. Attendance is dropping as a result. My experience? While no one is going to defend the prices, what I learned over those three years was ultimately worth just about every penny spent, and to the surprise of none, those lessons rarely directly related to the actual subject matter of my classes: (1) Perseverance
Law school attendees often didn't have to work too hard to get good grades in high school or college. Unfortunately, life isn't that easy. For starters, you're almost guaranteed to take some lumps your first year studying the law and that's a very good thing. The fictional Thomas Wayne once rhetorically asked his son, the future Batman, “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” No one is going to hand you a cape or a batmobile at law school graduation (I wish!), but the ability to handle adversity without constant praise to buoy your ego is no less potent a weapon for aspiring superhero lawyers. The Judge, adversary, and high-paying client don't care about your feelings.
(2) Time Management
Professional practice is completely unpredictable because life is unpredictable. Client crises (real or imagined), urgent calls from the Court, heated calls from an adversary, and the sometimes seemingly-arbitrary demands of your managing partner won't wait to happen at your convenience! Law school students learn that important lesson and develop an ability to organize and prioritize accordingly in order to be prepared for anything.
(3) Social skills
Yes, you should be able to make a friend and land a date by age 22+… ideally. Learning to interact on an adult, professional level is another matter altogether. Introductions? Networking? Managing awful personalities? Working collaboratively on complex projects to meet deadlines? Learning what's appropriate and totally out-of-bounds in each social context? Law school is boot camp in this respect if you made an effort to come up for air and leave the library at least once every few weeks.
(4) Communication skills
Smart ain't enough. Some students begin their law school careers with plenty of intellectual prowess but a less-than-impressive ability to express it in written or spoken form, and whether you choose a transactional career where you never see the inside of a court room or a litigation practice where you're rarely at a desk for more than five minutes, an inability to communicate will ultimately prove professionally fatal. Law school cures this deficit for (most) students in need of corrective action. You have no choice! Professors force you to think on your feet and Type A “gunners” in your classes are always ready to force an issue. ANY issue. 24/7. A bit annoying and often nerve-racking? Yes, and that's the point! It's invaluable practice for the future.
I touched on this point above in item #1. Most law students got there in the first place because they performed at a high level academically throughout most of their respective educational careers. Suddenly, on day one of 1L year, they're thrust into an environment where everyone is accustomed to earning straight A's, landing on the Dean's List, scoring well on standardized testing, and participating in an obnoxiously absurd amount of extracurricular activities. You aren't so special after all, huh? And I know we're the self-esteem generation and everyone is supposed to feel special at all times but, if I may be so bold in offering a partial dissent to this cultural trend, I believe a little lesson in humility is extremely useful in the nascent stages of legal career.
Learning, of course, does not stop at the classroom door. Join our Camden County Bar Association's Young Lawyers Committee! Grow, learn, network, do some good and have a lot of fun with other millennial lawyers in our South Jersey community. Contact me at [email protected], find us on Facebook (facebook.com/camdencountyyounglawyers), and follow us on Twitter via our handle: @CCYoungLawyers for updates, event information, and a million ways for you to get involved and make a difference.