Students considering law school often wonder what it takes to be a successful law student. There are several qualities that stand out: communication, persistence, flexibility, confidence, preparation, and of course intellect, and something I like to call “fascination.”
Students who are persistent tend to do well in law school. Whether it is reading and briefing cases, mastering intricate legal doctrine, or writing a legal brief, students who persevere have an advantage. Persistent students follow up on anything uncertain, making sure they get the answers to their questions, and connecting with their peers and professors regarding anything that is not clear. These students appreciate that learning the law is a marathon process, with challenges throughout the journey to the Juris Doctor degree, requiring fortitude and dedication. They are focused and make the effort required to get to the finish line.
Students who have a strong background in communication, written or oral, also do well in law school. The practice of law involves a lot of speaking, including speaking to clients (whether individuals, executives or boards of directors), other lawyers (including your adversaries), and of course, judges and juries. Law school simulates this through speaking with professors and fellow students. Being a lawyer also involves extensive writing, including writing letters, agreements, and court documents such as motions and trial briefs. Law school simulates this as well, through exercises that prepare you for the practice of law. Students with a strong background in speaking and writing tend to do well in law school.
Students who have the flexibility to see things from multiple perspectives also have an advantage. Every case law students read presents a scenario in which parties disagreed over the application of the law. Many times courts also disagree about the law, which generates multiple appeals. Successful law students are always looking at things from both sides, thinking about the arguments of the parties and the conclusions drawn by the courts. They interact respectfully with professors and peers observing diverse viewpoints, absorbing the arguments of all sides. The flexible students find, from time to time, that they are persuaded by an argument they did not fully appreciate at first blush, whether from their peers or their professors.
Successful law students have confidence in their ability to master the doctrinal material, which carries them through to mastery of legal doctrines that are challenging to learn at first, knowing they are following the same path that lawyers have taken for many generations. With confidence, these students keep focused on their goal of earning their Juris Doctor degree, and on their career goals of entering the legal profession.
Law students who exhibit preparation are bound to be more successful. Having read and studied the cases prior to their class gives these students a foundation for participation in discussion, the ability to answer questions, and the opportunity to ask questions in order to clarify details. Having established a solid understanding of key legal doctrine, prepared students approach exams knowing they will perform at a level that exhibits their mastery.
A capacity for analysis driven by intellect is a key success factor for prospective law students. Most successful law students have demonstrated this through their past performance in academic endeavors. Bringing a strong intellect to bear, in combination with the other factors mentioned, is a winning combination.
Successful students often bring an attitude of fascination to their study, which carries with it the ability to find the diverse subjects that make up the study of the law – whether it be contracts, business, constitutional law, or criminal procedure – intrinsically highly interesting. These students often find they really enjoy learning about subjects they’ve never had any exposure to previously, and they rise to the challenge. These students are always highly engaged and always asking “why?” Why was a particular legal doctrine established? Why is a particular law applied in the way it is? Why is the legal system designed with the features it has? This approach brings a deeper appreciation for doctrinal material and with that, a deeper understanding.
These are among the many attributes that go into making a student successful in law school, and in turn, preparing a law student to become a successful lawyer.