Law Students

Law Students

The Things Law School Doesn’t Teach You
By:  Sarah Pierce

I was very fortunate that my legal education began a few years before I ever attended law school. When I was 20, I got a job at a local bar association. Through this job I met many attorneys — all of whom told me “don’t go to law school.” After realizing that I was not going to change my mind, their second warning was almost always “law school won’t actually teach you how to be a lawyer.”

Since my time in law school began a little over two years ago, I have realized how right those attorneys were. Law school doesn’t teach you how to be a lawyer, it only teaches you how to think like one (and a lot of law). Law students are not taught how to do billing, how to handle clients, how to network, and a myriad of other skills that are necessary for any practicing attorney. These shortfalls in the system ultimately cost our future employers time and money.

Every law student should learn how to bill their time. If you don’t know how to do billing, I highly suggest looking up examples prior to starting a new job or internship. Every firm will utilize a different method to keep track of the firm’s billable hours, but take it upon yourself to understand the general concepts so that your new boss doesn’t have to teach you. Some attorneys might even assume that you already know how to bill, and they won’t bring up the topic until after you’ve been working for them for a week – this actually happened to someone I know. It may not sound very important, but simply knowing how to effectively bill your time will increase your value as an intern.

Another invaluable skill is the ability to handle clients. Personally, this is the most nerve wracking challenge for me. An employer will expect you to make a good impression on both the firm’s current and future clients. Because each firm is going to expect something different from their attorneys, it is difficult for law schools to address client interactions. Therefore, this kind of skill is best developed through practice. If you already have an internship, consider asking your boss to bring you along to client meetings, or go over the correspondence from other attorneys in the firm to see how they speak with clients. You do not want to be the attorney who becomes the subject of your firm’s first bad Yelp review because of an inability to communicate with clients.

Finally, the ability to effectively network is possibly the most valuable skill you can learn as a law student. In my opinion, law schools should stress the importance of attending networking events. You might not necessarily find a job at each event that you go to, but you will always make new connections. Networking gets your name out there and opens so many doors. I know the thought of talking to a bunch of strangers can be a daunting one, but the more you attend these events, the easier it becomes. Even if you don’t have the best grades or a perfect resume, networking offers law students the chance to impress potential employers and potential clients outside of the office.

Law school does not teach you how to make money for your firm, how to comfort a distressed client, or how to sell your services to future employers or clients. I do not say any of this to downplay the extremely valuable lessons that law school does teach us, but the truth is law school really does not teach us how to be lawyers. There is so much that a law student must learn outside of the classroom in order to be a good attorney, and it is up to them to take the initiative to do so.

Sarah Pierce is a 3L at Texas A&M University School of Law and has worked for attorneys since she was 19. Prior to going to law school, Sarah was an assistant for the Denton County Bar Association and ADR Program for over two years. She interned at the 442nd Judicial District Court for Judge Tiffany Haertling for her 1L summer, and she recently accepted a job offer from the firm of Bodkin, Niehaus, & Dickson, PLLC. Sarah is the president of A&M’s Women’s Law Student Association and the vice president of the Intellectual Property Aggies.

Views and opinions expressed in eNews are those of their authors and not necessarily those of the Texas Young Lawyers Association or the State Bar of Texas.

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