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  • Writer's pictureTrudy Horsting

How to Make the Most of your Law School Experience: Insight from a Duke Law School Graduate

So you’ve decided to go to law school. It’s exciting! But it can also seem overwhelming. How do you ensure you make the best of your three year experience? How do you know you’re choosing the right concentration?

We sat down with a recent Duke Law graduate to hear his insight on how to make the most of your law school experience.

Choosing a Concentration

Although concentrations are typically a relatively small part of the law school curriculum, they are still something to think carefully about. Most of the curriculum the first year is the same across all law schools and all ABA accredited law schools will have essentially the same courses.

Since they’re not a major part of the law school curriculum, this Duke grad doesn’t recommend choosing a law school based on the concentrations offered. He certainly wouldn’t recommend choosing a school based on the rankings of the concentrations you’re most interested in. Concentrations, as he says, are just a cherry on top factor when deciding where to go.

There are many law school concentrations. Although a lot of people start law school with a topic in mind, you aren’t locked into what you initially think you want to study. He thought he wanted to be a prosecutor when he started law school. However, his path changed. A lot of students come in interested in public interest and many have very specific goals. For instance, they might want to study civil rights law or environmental law.

However, it is not unusual to change your mind. It’s important to stay open minded. You may learn of concentrations that you previously weren’t even aware of.

Making The Most of Your Time

The Duke Law grad we had the pleasure of speaking with provided many recommendations for how to make the most of your time at law school. He explained his personal biggest regret was not spending more time fostering relationships with professors. He encourages others to lean into that and not to be shy. Professors are in their job because they enjoy mentoring students and building those relationships can be invaluable.

He also encourages others to use their time to explore everything they want to. Join the club that sounds interesting, go to the guest speaker presentations, intern, volunteer, take the course that’s interesting to you, or explore any other option which may be offered to you.

In regard to course work, he recommends reading supplemental case studies to reinforce material learned in the classroom. Especially the first year, he explains that this is invaluable. He also encourages students to use any course supplements they can find. Law school is a relatively short time to learn quite a lot of information. It’s important to use the time you have wisely.

What to do Over Summers

Summers are critical in law school. They are a great opportunity to learn to network with law firms in the area and gain professional experience. That said, the first summer is very flexible.

The Duke grad we spoke to explained that students do a myriad of things over their first summer. They may intern for a judge, work in a prosecutor’s office, intern at a nonprofit, clerk, or have a completely different experience. The first summer is an opportunity to explore what you’re most passionate about. He encourages students not to feel like they have to follow any particular path that first summer. Any opportunity which provides substantive legal work is valuable. For instance, legal writing can provide a great experience which is great to have on your resume.

The summer of the second year is a bit more important. Most students want to work for a law firm. For most, the second year summer is a part of the hiring process. During the second year of law school, students participate in on campus interviewing. If the firm likes a student, they will offer them a position the following summer.

The best part is, at the end of the summer, many firms will provide a job offer to students who worked for them if they thought highly of their experience.

Focus on Mental Health

The law school grad we talked to also encouraged students to focus on their mental health. He explains that people go to law school for so many reasons and have so many different goals. It’s easy to become status driven and to allow anxiety to creep in. There are often high rates of mental illness, anxiety, and depression. It’s important to have a larger sense of self and to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing and that what you’re doing is a good thing.

Try not to be distracted by what other people are doing. Focus on what you want for your own goals. Talk to people and explore your options but don’t feel that you need to do everything other people are doing. Be true to yourself and what you came to law school for. It will all be worth it in the end.


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