My dear law students,
Most days I tend to tell you what to do. How about I change track today and tell you what not to do, based on my experiences at law school.
Don’t worry, I don’t mean this to be prescriptive. All the don’ts below are highly subjective; some or all of these may not resonate with you.
But here’s hoping that some of you find your insights aligning with what I am saying. Here are five don’ts of law school life:
1) Don’t wait until you have read everything before you begin to write. The problem with ‘I will do all my research first before writing’ approach is that the best ideas for your research come after you start writing.
Writing sharpens arguments, makes previously held positions irrelevant and shows new avenues for research. Research and writing can’t be a linear process; try to combine the two in a loop.
2) Don’t avoid going to special talks. Law school after classes is a procession of special talks and if you happen to be in a law school with active student groups, you are done for-there will be lectures on intellectual property, environmental law, human rights, corporate law and whatever catches the fancy of the more enthusiastic student co-ordinators.
But here’s the thing. They are never a waste of time. I really wish I had gone to most if not all of the special lectures organised during my law school days.
If one wants to adopt a truly interdisciplinary approach, special talks are the way to go; you hear about different perspectives on a topic you have had only a narrow approach to before.
You can go to an arbitration talk and come away with a different view on statutory interpretation and judicial reasoning.
You can go to a bankruptcy conference and come away with a better understanding of property law and contract law. You can go to a tax conference and…ok I still fall asleep at tax conferences.
3) Don’t face problems in their entirety-break them into components. This was my biggest mistake in law school. I used to approach every task-an exam, a project assignment, a moot court or a conference-as a task I had to think about and act on as one whole thing.
What I should have done is to break every activity down into small components and tackle each of these one by one without being bothered about the whole thing.
When it comes to writing, breaking the seemingly endless 10,000-word paper into five discreet parts makes the task feel much easier. Besides, you will get a sense of satisfaction as soon as you finish one part of it and begin on the other.
4) Don’t think loud people are better. Unfortunately, I thought people who talk (and more loudly the better) are going to be better lawyers.
The problem is our profession is full of blowhards. But blowhards are not better lawyers for that reason. Please don’t be intimidated by loud people.
Your actions will eventually speak for themselves. Once people get to know your work and your attitude, they will respect you. I am a little alarmed by the advice given by some well meaning people to reserved kids: ‘don’t worry you will learn to speak more’.
I am not sure why lawyers need to speak more. Most speak far more than needed. If you are an introvert, don’t worry about speaking more.
In the end, if you are able to complete your work well and on time, you will be a prized employee whether or not you are vociferous in your opinions.
5) Don’t wait for one activity to finish before starting another. I always thought I should focus on one thing before embarking on another. Write an article before doing a moot court. Complete a difficult course before embarking on organising a conference.
All this serialising of law school activity was a mistake. Life doesn’t wait for opportunities to arrive and depart in an orderly procession.
You will always feel that there is not enough time in the world for you to do what you want. Multitask to the extent possible. You are in the prime of your life. Make the most of it.
School of Law
BML Munjal University