OFF THE RECORD - Seton Hall Law

Five Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Law School

Posted by John J. Zefutie, Jr. on 9/24/18 8:04 AM

seton-hall-law-students-walking-to-class

I loved law school.  I had great teachers, I made great friends, I was challenged daily with the material we learned in class, and (most importantly) I met my wife.  It was a glorious time.  And to all of the 1Ls, you’re in for the time of your life. 

To help you through your journey over the next three or four years, I’d like to share some tips and words of wisdom that I wish I had when I was in your shoes.

Don’t Take Shortcuts

Be efficient, but do not take shortcuts.  There are no shortcuts in practicing law, and there are no shortcuts in law school.  During your first year, it is imperative that you read the assigned cases (and not just the headnotes!), brief each case, and write your own study outlines.  It may seem like redundant work, but in reality you are training your mind to think about and analyze complex concepts and factual scenarios.  The more time you take doing that in law school, the better off you (and your future clients) will be when you begin practicing.

Start Networking Now.  

Networking is a crucial ingredient to a successful career, and you should start doing it now.  To be sure, your time in class and studying regularly are the most important things you need to do, but make time to reach out beyond the classroom.  LinkedIn is a great way to start.  But your efforts should not end there.  Take advantage of continuing legal education seminars—generally, they’re free.  You’ll learn about an area of law, and meet practitioners during breaks.  You also should not be shy about reaching out to SHU alumni for career advice.  I enjoy hearing from students and learning about their experiences and plans.  Further, the adjunct professors at SHU are a great resource for you.  One of my close friends got his first job through his Lawyering professor. 

Keep An Open Mind About Your First Job.

In a recent article published on Law 360, the authors noted that “Recent graduates are . . . facing less competition, in part because fewer people are choosing law as a career path. Graduating law class sizes have been falling after peaking in 2013.”  That’s good news and bad news.  The bad news is that, generally speaking, salaries have fallen for new associates at law firms.  But the good news is, there is greater opportunity out there for new lawyers.  Take advantage of that.  And do not be discouraged if you don’t land that big firm job out of law school. 

Many of my colleagues started at mid-size and smaller firms.  While their weekly paychecks were not as big as those who went to big firms, they learned critical skills such as how to draft a complaint, how to argue a motion, how to take and defend depositions, and how formulate an effective settlement strategy.  During that time, their big firm cohorts were spending days drafting footnotes, blue-booking someone else’s briefs, and reviewing documents.  Of course, these tasks are important, but in the increasingly competitive market, young lawyers who have litigation and trial skills are much more attractive to firms and clients because they do not have to be “trained” on the client’s dime.

Remember Your Classmates

After graduation, your friends, your study group, and your drinking buddies will become colleagues, adversaries, and clients.  Before you know it, you may be appearing in court before a judge who was in your first year torts class.   So, treat all of your classmates with respect and kindness. 

Define Yourself

OK, this isn’t just me speaking.  On my first day of school at Seton Hall Law, then-Dean Hobbs addressed the student body and told us (paraphrasing): “From this day forward, with everything you do and say, you define yourself.”  That is advice I really took to heart, and you should too.  What kind of lawyer will you be?  Will your classmates, colleagues, and future adversaries think of you as a lawyer of honesty or integrity?  Building that record starts now.

Topics: Advice and Tips, Alumni, Student Life, Internships/Jobs


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Seton Hall Law professors, students, administrators and alumni share advice and experiences about law school and life beyond the bar exam.

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