Most entering law students know that legal practice is much different than law school. Yet you really don't get a sense of the difference until you're in the thick of things. From my experience, the biggest hurdle (by far) was learning the practical aspects of legal practice. This includes the actual law itself and certain soft skills that are critical to success within the legal field. It takes some time to learn how to actually be an attorney, yet it seems like the quickest (and best) way to learn is simply by doing.
The Importance of Practicality
Many law students complain that law school places too much emphasis on theory and not enough emphasis on practicality. Whether this is true or not, I discovered that I would need to quickly learn the law in order to provide value to my firm. As one example, during law school, I took my school’s standard civil procedure course and several other electives that touched on procedural issues. I felt like I had a general sense of the intricacies of a lawsuit, but knew I would have to learn quickly as a first-year litigation associate. Even acknowledging this fact, I was still surprised by how much procedure I had to learn during my first year. I felt like I was always behind the eight ball since there was so much that I didn’t know. On a positive note, though, I greatly improved my research skills and became more confident in my ability to find answers to questions from partners and clients, no matter how long it took.
But beyond the substantive law itself, you must also quickly learn soft skills that aren’t necessarily taught in law school. I’m speaking about managing the expectations of partners and clients, learning how to juggle different personalities and working styles, and managing your personal brand within your firm. You quickly discover that you are a professional and that your career is in your hands. Opportunities aren’t going to be given to you; you have to take action and pursue them.
The Bar Exam
As a totally separate point, the bar exam is a large hurdle that is stressful for almost everyone. Every law student works for three long years to obtain his or her J.D., but the experience can be for naught if he or she does not pass their state’s bar exam. While there are many prep courses that make the process somewhat easier, you will be spending two solid months studying for the exam. It certainly isn’t fun, but it’s something that everyone has to overcome.