The law is all about the courts and judges. After LSAT testing and acceptance by law school admissions, you should make court attendance one of your priorities in your legal education. The work of attorneys gains the force of law once a judge signs the order. A wise law student will seek experience in the local court systems. Here are 10 tips to succeed in court as a law student.
1. Learn what court systems exist in your local area. In most areas, there will be federal courts, federal bankruptcy courts, administrative law courts, state courts, and local courts. State courts may be divided into general and special jurisdictions. Most municipalities and some counties will have courts. Make a list of which courts exist near you. Your goal should be to locate and attend all of these as time permits while in law school.
2. Visit the website of the court you wish to attend. Most federal and state courts will provide a docket on-line giving dates and types of scheduled cases. This is the best way to plan when to visit. There is nothing worse than dressing up and traveling to court to find the docket cleared before court even started. It is better to pick reasonably busy days with full dockets.
3. Dress like an attorney. Once you are in law school, you should act and look like an attorney when you are around practicing attorneys. You want to give the people you meet the impression that you have what it takes to work in their field. Do not go in looking like a college student. Look like a professional. Some courts will not allow you to enter wearing shorts or other casual clothes.
4. Arrive an hour before court is to be in session. Many judges resolve certain types of issues in chambers before the docket call. If you are lucky, you’ll get a chance to meet the judge before things get busy. You may be allowed to sit in on the backroom mechanics of the court system.
5. Announce yourself to the security officials at the entrance to the building. Tell them that you are a law student here to attend the court of judge X for educational purposes. Sometimes there are different security standards for officers of the court. You may be escorted or directed to the offices of the judge and court staff, which is optimal. Some courts, such as federal courts, do not allow cell phones and cameras.
6. Get to know the court staff. These people will be the ones that can make your experience great or terrible once you become an attorney. Introduce yourself to the bailiff, the court administrator, and the clerk for that particular jurisdiction. Learn their names and be friendly. Judges may come and go, and being friends with the court personnel can be a tremendous benefit to your career.
7. Show social deference to the judge. Most judges are attorneys, but they also deserve the respect of the positions in which they serve. Refer to the judge as “your honor.” If invited into chambers, remain standing until the judge offers for you to be seated. Treat the judge as a dignitary. You will see that the attorneys do the same. The judge will signal through conversations with others in chambers when it is proper to relax decorum.
8. If invited to chambers, accept. If invited to lunch by the judge, accept. Accept any offer from the judge. When you tell the judge that you are a law student, you will probably be invited to sit at the front of the court with the court officers. This is an honor, and it is wonderful training for your future career.
9. Take notes! You will be introduced to many attorneys, and it is great to start learning their names now. These will be your peers when you enter practice. Also record information about the proceedings so that you can formulate intelligent questions. After the court recesses for the day, many judges will ask law students if they have any questions. It is preferable that you do have a few. It shows that you are interested and learning.
10. Write a thank you letter to the judge. It is a great honor and wonderful learning experience to be invited into court. It is only proper to show your appreciation through a letter. Plus, this will reinforce your identity and character on the judge. You may soon be appearing before this judge on behalf of your client, and it will be a huge benefit to have already established a good relationship.
Check out this post for more law school student life advice: A Balancing Act: The Key to Law School Sanity
Every law student should seek out opportunities to provide pro bono services to worthy causes. Pro bono is a shortened version of “pro bono publico,” which means “for the public good” in Latin. Most state legal bar associations require attorneys to provide a certain amount of pro bono services each year. As a potential lawyer or potential law student, you should consider it too. Pro bono work looks great for law school admissions and can compliment a modest LSAT testing score. And it looks wonderful on a resume once you complete law school.
Law students are not allowed to offer unsupervised legal services to clients. However, law students can provide assistance to charity groups and can provide some legal services under the tutelage of an approved attorney. Virtually all law schools offer various opportunities for students to volunteer time for worthy causes while gaining valuable real-world experience. As an added bonus, students often receive credits towards completing law school.
During the winter break of my 1L year, I joined a public service group from my law school on a week long trip to help impoverished Mississippi Delta residents. The school paid for the hotel and contributed to gas money, and we students had to pay the rest of our expenses. The problems were sweeping in scope, and it was amazing to see the layers of legal issues spanning decades.
Part of our volunteer work involved interviews with the dozens of clients in their homes. This work is far different from merely researching legal topics in the law sources. It felt incredible to sit face to face with these needy people, feel a connection with them, and to give them hope.
My first experience with legal pro bono work felt great. It was a great experience that I hope to repeat. Some students on the trip wish to eventually dedicate their lives to service organizations. I hope to include pro bono work as a significant portion of my private practice. Regardless of how you come to offering services to the neediest in society, participating in pro bono work makes our profession better. I highly recommend that you seek out service opportunities before, during, and following law school.
If you’re still decided which law school to apply to check out another great post for advice: Choosing a Law School: It’s More than Just a Numbers Game
Law school has a history of providing very good job placement and strong incomes to graduates. After the hurdles of LSAT testing, law school admissions, the intensive course structure of law school, and the great trial of the bar exam; you are justified expecting a large income. Unfortunately, there are changes in the legal profession that include and transcend the poor economy. You should plan accordingly.
Even before the Great Recession, total hires by the largest firms had peaked. The trend is the same across the legal profession. There are less traditional legal jobs each year. It is unlikely that the prosperity of the old days will ever return in the form that was once enjoyed.
The legal profession resisted the effects of technological erosion that devastated other industries. After all, a skilled negotiator or trial lawyer is hard to replicate with a computer program. Yet many traditional functions of lawyers are now being streamlined and replaced. Consumers have access to increasingly effective legal search tools. It is not uncommon for clients to come with a deed or will in hand from an Internet source, seeking only review by an attorney. Many of the mundane tasks of attorneys is being automated, and this especially effects new entrants into the field.
In the arena of corporate law, two trends are revolutionizing the market. Smart new computerized data mining services are replacing some of the job roles of traditional new hires. Companies are developing information systems that can produce basic legal research and automatically generate legal product to be assimilated by staff attorneys. In addition, there is a trend a to outsource basic legal duties to young lawyers in India. Foreign legal experts can churn out formulaic corporate legal needs for review by staff attorneys here in the United States. Both trends compete with traditional entry jobs into the major law firms.
A common mistake is to assume that the economy will return to normal after the recession has passed. However, there are economic forces at work which are permanently changing the economy. Jobs are going to remain rarer than they once were. The repetitious activities that were bread and butter activities of professions will remain automated and farmed out, just as retail tellers are being replaced by checkout kiosks. It is unwise to plan for the return to normal. Instead, one should plan to excel in this new leaner environment.
Even while the legal profession is transformed and inefficiencies in the labor market are eliminated, the legal education community has responded by opening more law schools and expanding the available seats in existing schools. While the labor market deteriorates, there is a simultaneous increase in the training of new lawyers. The value of a J.D. degree is certain to diminish as supply and demand adjust to this disparity.
If you are determined to attend law school, you should plan accordingly. You cannot expect the long mentoring process as a new hire at a large firm. You can expect more competition for positions on all levels. It is increasingly important to build practical experience while in law school. You need to demonstrate that you are a functional lawyer with practical experience from the start.
Finally, minimize you debt during school. Increased competition will put downward pressure on legal salaries. The student with a low debt load can afford to undercut the pay expectations of the student with a huge debt load. Many of those law students taking on hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt will find that they cannot find jobs capable of retiring those debts at a reasonable pace. Keep your debt low and gain real-world experience during law school to best prepare for this new economic landscape.
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