Make it Mean Something: Amateur Advice for Your 1L Year

So many possible directions. You can download a copy of the Disorientation Handbook here.

A week ago I attended “Disorientation,” an all-day event organized by New York City branches of the National Lawyers Guild, a group “dedicated to the need for basic change in the structure of our political and economic system.” It was an illuminating day, with sessions ranging from the highly practical (a training for “street law” classes that the NYU NLG organizes) to the somewhat more theoretical (a panel on the fundamental differences between traditional adversarial law and the more holistic and collaborative integrative law). The day was also a great opportunity to meet students at NYU and other New York City law schools who share my interests and values, and to hear from practicing lawyers who are translating those values into meaningful legal careers.

One of my take-aways from Disorientation was that a lot of 1Ls are hungry for connections between law school and the passions that led them here. And although I hear it a fair amount from public interest students, my guess is that, regardless of your interests, the 1L curriculum doesn’t align perfectly with your goals. Here’s the advice that I’ve requested and received (at Disorientation and beyond):

Get involved. NYU Law has many opportunities to get out of the classroom and see your passions in practice, not to mention the range of options that exist outside of this (or any) law school. Major benefits to getting involved include: remembering why you’re doing all that studying, providing context that can actually help you understand and cultivate curiosity related to your classes, and getting you out of the high-stress law school atmosphere.

Read interesting things. Law is everywhere: news, history, political commentary, etc. Whether you’re passionate about musical theater, international travel, civil rights, or video games, I’m confident you can find books and articles that apply your coursework and the legal field in general to your interests.

Talk to 2Ls, 3Ls, professors, and professionals about your interests. Talking to people who have been in your shoes is a great way to challenge your own assumptions, give you a vocabulary for discussing and investigating your passions, and broaden or focus your goals as needed. Not to mention that the legal profession is a small world: the same people who share your interests now might be the people deciding whether to hire you in three years.

I think, therefore I am…a future lawyer.

Take time to reflect and be critical. From what I understand, filling your exams with theoretical critiques of law will not a top grade make. But that doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time to think hard about the implications of our legal structures in different areas. In fact, that kind of thinking can help you foresee and overcome “hypos,” the hypothetical situations that professors will use to stop your class comments in their tracks unless you’ve thought of them first. But more importantly, you’ll be happier and more successful in the long run if you don’t simply accept everything your professors say, but are instead forming opinions and making choices throughout law school.