Thursday, September 20, 2012

Shedding the Stigma

Hello faithful reader! I hope all is well, whether you've just started your evening law school career, or are already deeply ensconced in the seemingly endless cycle of work, class, study, coffee, work, class . . . you get the picture. Now that I'm gainfully employed, I find myself wanting to focus more on job opportunities and the job hunt. You may have heard through the grapevine that the days of wine and roses for young lawyers are over (for further reading, see the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the Legal Whiteboard, and my personal favorite, Shit Law Jobs). I've never been one to lie to you, faithful reader. It's hard to find the job you want out of law school. But, it's even harder for evening students, and it always has been, so no great shock there. I know of a fellow evening student who was told that she'd never get hired because she went to school at night, while she was on the interview!

This has nothing to do with my post, but I just love Corgis!
Here's my beef: The fact that evening students are stigmatized when it comes to the job hunt is stupid! It's completely counter-intuitive, and it needs to come to an end. I never understood why being an evening student is seen as a negative by law firm recruiters. These are the same people who will exclaim "I don't know how you guys do it! I give you lots of credit!"  We don't want credit. We want jobs. Evening students have proven work experience, we "get" office politics, and obviously have presented ourselves in public without drooling - at least once - in order to get a job. What more do they need??

So, I think it's time to defy convention and fight the stigma (or "shed" it.  Like the picture. Get it? Nevermind.)  I've some up with a few ideas that may help:
  1. Use your cover letter wisely: Most Career Services offices will try to get you to write plain vanilla cover letters that emphasize your coursework, legal experience, etc.  Yawn!  Forget it; write what you want them to know about you. You're breaking your butt working, studying, and taking care of things at home--you're a multi-tasking machine! Let them know it! 
  2. Bring your experience to the interview: Many law firm interviews are quick and to the point, so you may not have time to really stand out to the recruiter. Make sure you bring your work experience into the discussion. But, not the way you normally would at a "regular" job interview. Analogize your outside work experience to the legal market. Have you done marketing research? Hammer the point that you are analytical and research oriented. Have you managed a staff? Make sure they know that you're comfortable with people, and could see yourself presenting to clients with ease. Maybe you're a techie? Talk to them about predictive coding and e-discovery. They'll never see it coming! 
  3. 'Splain yourself: I think part of the stigma surrounding evening students comes from the (incorrect) belief that evening students aren't as committed to the capital L "Law," and are only there for a quick career change. after all, if you really wanted to be a lawyer, you would have gone straight after college, like us committed day students! Of course this is poppycock, but it's another myth that probably has to be dispelled. Start your interview - even your cover letter - explaining your unique journey to law school. It will humanize your resume, and probably help a recruiter think about evening students a little differently. 
Remember that most recruiters were day-students as well, so they may think that being an evening student is admirable, but they won't really "get it," and they will bring their prejudices and assumptions to the interview. Dispel the myths for them with strong, persuasive arguments. Your work experience is not a negative; but you will have to fight to make sure it's a positive.  There is, as we know, no shame in going to law school at night.  You work harder, put in longer hours, have more responsibilities, and are arguably more dedicated to getting your law degree than your day student counterparts. Make sure you let people know it! 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Longest Month of Your Life

Hello faithful reader, who should not be reading this blog because you should be studying for your bar exam(s). No, wait! Don't go yet--I didn't mean to lay a guilt trip on you. You've probably inflicted enough of that on yourself already every time you watch a rerun of the Golden Girls instead of study. It's ok. You're not a machine, and you're completely allowed to take breaks and browse the interwebs once in a while. Just, not too much.

By this point you are about 4-5 weeks into your bar studying, and you are STILL wondering how in the h**l you are going to remember all of this stuff especially on a timed exam. Stop wondering because I'm about to tell you how. There is no trick to it--the key is to study and focus. ("Great. Thanks, Christine. So glad I stopped by for THAT little pearl of wisdom!"). Hang on, there's more.

I hate when people say that law school doesn't do enough to prepare you for the bar exam, although I have muttered that myself from time to time. But, it isn't really true. The law school experience teaches you everything you need to know to prepare for the bar exam. I know law school seems like a 4 year blur to you right now, but if stop and think about it, you'll get where I'm going. By the end of your first semester, you figured out what worked for you. You hated or loved highlighting. You thrived or failed in study groups. You depended on or laughed at flash cards. Mnemonic devises were friend or foe. Whatever technique you can think of, you already know what works. Great. Amplify that by 100 and you have a sure-fire personalized learning device for tackling all that messy law.

I deliberately haven't posted a blog about this yet because the first month you should be focusing on your prep-course study guides and completing their outlines (hint: avoid the temptation to turn those into mad-libs). By now you should have the outlines for the major topics completed, so start using those to study from and advance your special technique. Mnemonics worked for me. So did alphabetizing elements of certain crimes (New York can drive you insane with their degrees).  And now, since you really should be getting back to the books, here are my tips for not-at-all-guaranteed-but-very-likely-success on your bar exam of choice:

  1. Go back to the basics and study for the bar in your favorite way (Flash Cards, Highlighting and Summarizing, Mnemonics). Do NOT rely on straight reading the materials--that probably didn't work for you in law school, and it will work less now!
  2. Find your happy place and leave your laptop home. Mine was on my back deck on sunny days, and in my local library on rainy days--no distractions, nice and quiet.
  3. Read it. Read it again. Read it once more. Now explain it to yourself. If you can't conformtably repeat it or explain it out lout, read it again. 
  4. Commiserate, but don't complain. You still have a support network of people who went through this or are going through it now. Rely on them to break the tension, but don't kvetch. No one wants to hear it. You chose to go to law school, so your pain is self-inflicted. 
  5. Google what "kvetch" means if you're not from New York. 
  6. Remember that it is all important, even if the bar people tell you that it hasn't been tested in X years. Know it anyway. 
  7. Make sure you rest, but stick to a routine so that you don't over-rest (lazy).
And most importantly--avoid the people who are telling you that they're finding this process "easy" or "not that bad."  Those people are not putting the work in, and you might be tempted by them to ease up. Those people will also probably not pass the first time. You should be sufficiently stressed, almost to the point of hives. This is extremely important and many people do fail these tests. They are expensive, painful, time-consuming, and expensive, and you want to get it right the first time. You will not do that if you don't give these tests their due. Get them over and done with once, and then get back to your family and enjoy future summers. This one is a wash. 

Be this:

Not this. Ever:

Good luck, hang in, and pay your dues. It will be worth it come November!