By Caiti Galwey, JD Student
The myth of the “perfect” law student needs to be debunked. As a student entering the workforce, it’s important to focus on what you bring to the table and acknowledge that your uniqueness will aid you most during clerkship season and entering the profession. In this article, we’ll explore various aspects of the law school experience, including the relevance of grades and subject selection, the value of undergraduate experiences in finding your niche skills, navigating the clerkship season, and learning from failure. By understanding the importance of authenticity and the power of embracing failure, you can forge your own path to success in the legal profession.
The WAM Debate
As an EAGLE facilitator, one question I frequently encounter is whether grades matter. I have also interacted with high school students during open-day events, and this question is always at the forefront of their minds. While it is true that you shouldn’t define yourself by your grades, it is unrealistic to assume that they are irrelevant upon entering law school and the legal profession. Employers consider grades, but they are not the only factor determining your employability. I know people with high and low WAMs who have landed employment positions. It’s worth noting that there are programs, supports, and placements specifically designed to assist students who may require extra help or did not achieve the grades they were hoping for. Your background, skills, and experience are what make you a valuable asset to an organisation, and employers view you as much more than just your grades.
Finding Your Niche & Showcasing Your Skills
Law school attracts students from diverse undergraduate degrees and backgrounds, and I’ve had the privilege of interacting with many wonderful people. As a result, I often advise high school students to pursue their passions, as that may lead them to their niche. For example, I know someone who studied at the Conservatorium and found their calling in entertainment and media law, and STEM undergraduates who are now excelling in technology law and patents. By pursuing your genuine interests, you can discover your niche and achieve success in that area.
In terms of skill-building, every experience can provide valuable abilities relevant to the legal profession. For example, working in a team in hospitality or customer service can equip you with transferable skills relevant in legal contexts. The key is to reflect on these experiences and identify the skills you’ve developed, then showcase them to potential employers.
Selecting the Right Subjects
When advising on what subjects to study for a career in law, I often get asked about what employers are looking for. My response is simple: study the subjects that interest you the most. Pursuing what you are passionate about is more likely to lead to success, as you will be more engaged and invested in your studies, which in turn will likely result in better grades.
The subjects you choose to study are more than just content. For example, clinical positions offer an opportunity to enter or test a workforce environment, make connections, build skills outside the classroom, and gain valuable experience. Other subjects, such as master’s electives, might enable you to research and explore an area of law that you can specialise in and contribute to an emerging academic space. Some subjects will allow you to go overseas on exchange, and the experience can often be just as rewarding as the content itself.
When applying for clerkships and employment opportunities, having a genuine passion for the subjects you have studied can make a significant difference. Being able to speak passionately about why you chose those subjects and what you have learned from them will make you stand out as an authentic and motivated candidate.
Navigating Clerkship Season
Clerkship season can be a stressful time for law students. Even if you initially had doubts about pursuing it, you might feel compelled to apply due to peer pressure. It needn’t all be doom and gloom. However, it’s important to approach the process with a positive mindset and make the most of the opportunities it presents. For example, I found the process of drafting cover letters and refining my resume to be a fantastic opportunity to reflect on my accomplishments and consider what skills I had from all the different areas of my life. This can help you showcase your unique strengths and interests to potential employers.
The Law School hosts a lot of amazing clerkship networking events. Attending networking events is another way to make connections with professionals and learn more about firms and their culture. If you feel overwhelmed, consider going with a friend or reaching out to someone in advance for support. Preparing your personal elevator pitch is also important, as is acknowledging your limits – you don’t have to stay all night or talk to everyone.
Remember that networking doesn’t have to be limited to formal events. Reaching out to individuals on LinkedIn can also be a valuable way to make one-on-one connections and explore different career paths. By approaching clerkship season with a proactive and open-minded attitude, you can turn it into a valuable learning experience and take steps towards achieving your career goals.
Embracing Failure and Learning from Mistakes
While clerkships can be highly competitive and intense, it is essential to remember that they are not the only pathway to achieving your career goals. I know individuals who have landed graduate positions despite not obtaining a clerkship, as well as those who secured a clerkship but ended up in different roles. It’s important to take risks and try new things, even if there’s a chance of failure.
It’s also important to acknowledge that you may not have your career path figured out yet, and that’s completely normal. The JD program is designed to allow you to explore different areas of law and discover your passions. I only figured out in my fourth and final year what I want to do after the degree, and even then, I’m open to the possibility of that changing. By figuring out what you don’t like, you can get closer to identifying what you do like.
Carve your own path
In conclusion, navigating the law school experience can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that there is no one “right” way to do it. Success in law school and beyond is not solely determined by grades or following a certain path. Instead, it’s about embracing your unique strengths and interests, finding your niche, and showcasing your skills in a way that is authentic to you. Remember to take risks, embrace failure, and stay true to yourself. By doing so, you can carve your own path and achieve success in your legal career.