Although my classmates and I have only finished one semester of law school so far, it feels like we’ve been there for a lot longer than that. As 1Ls, we’ve already experienced some of the busiest workloads that we’ll probably ever seen in school. We’ve spent hours pouring over Westlaw’s website doing research for our writing class. We’ve spent even more time in the library reading, outlining and studying for classes. We’ve taken part in a number of school and club activities. And we recently finished a dreaded law school final exam period.
After such a long semester, it’s really nice to have winter break now. For most students, winter break is a great way to relax and completely forget about school for a couple of weeks. For many of my friends, this means turning off the alarm clock and lying in bed for a few extra hours. Other friends are traveling throughout the US and some even outside the country. I personally have spent most of my time catching up with old friends, hanging out with family and my two year old niece, and doing some reading. But in just a few days, most of us will have to shift gears again, because school begins just one week from today.
So while all of us will still be relishing the finals days of vacation later this week, we’ll also have to start getting motivated for the second semester. This means finalizing travel arrangements, researching books and supplements for class, preparing resumes and cover letters for recruiting, and perhaps doing some reading before classes. And while none of these activities are singularly difficult, it’s pretty easy to put them off after a really long first semester and after the really short winter break we get at Northwestern. It will definitely take motivation.
One thing I learned last semester is that motivation is critical to doing well in law school. There are too many pages to read, too many concepts to learn, and too many students competing for top grades to do well without it.
One way to stay motivated is to think about the things that made you excited when you applied to law school and the things they want to get out of school. In law school, students are often motivated to achieve top grades, to work at a certain firm or agency, or to challenge themselves academically. In business school, students are often motivated to transition into a certain industry, to gain certain professional skills or experience, or to take two years to figure out exactly what to do. Personally, I tend to find my motivation from the academic challenge and from gaining specific skills and experiences.
For some, finding this motivation and working hard may come more naturally, but for others it could take a bit more work. This is especially true in today’s economic environment where recruiting numbers are significantly down and pessimism about job prospects reigns. It may also be true for certain law school students once grades come out in mid January.
But in my opinion, the horrors of grades and job prospects are not unique to today’s law or business students and should not significantly influence our motivation levels. Students have dealt with these issues for decades, and many have ended up at the best firms and most prominent positions. So more important than grades and recruiting statistics, students should try to keep an eye on the big picture and stay focused on the higher things that intrinsically motivate them. Whether they are compelled by a higher purpose to lead, a desire to change the world, an aspiration to give back to your community, or even the desire to achieve economic gain. And in my opinion, this last factor can sometimes be just as compelling as the others. For example, I have a friend at the law school now who is motivated to work hard and make a lot of money with the purpose of supporting their family after school.
And the good news for everyone is that any meaningful purpose you have will require more than a semester’s worth of effort and a single set of grades. So in the end, no matter which of the categories we fit into or how our first set of grades turn out, winter break serves as a good way to have a little fun, reflect, and find a higher level of motivation for next semester.
Hey all, I hope everyone is enjoying your holiday seasons so far. After chatting with a couple of friends this holiday season, it sounds like a lot of students, and even professionals, are spending a significant amount of time updating resumes and cover letters during the break. So I thought I’d pass along a quick article on job search tips from the WSJ, an article that was originally posted last week by my fellow Stanford blogger, Marquis Parker.
By now, I suspect that most of my MBA followers are familiar with Marquis Parker. If not, you should take the time to be. Marquis is Stanford GSB alum (Stanford is our connection) and after graduating from b-school he’s spent time at Mckinsey & Co and in the private equity space. Ever since starting at the GSB, Marquis has been one of the best MBA bloggers out there. In fact, he was part of the reason I began my blog. In a recent post, Marquis passed along this article about job search strategies, so given a couple of recent conversations I’ve had with classmates, I thought I’d do the same here.
Click here to see Marquis’ blog post. I’ve also copied the intro to his post below:
Excerpt from Marquis Parker’s Post from the WSJ
“As many of you know, the global economic downturn has left many people around the world, particularly in the U.S., without full-time employment as we approach the holiday season. This is an issue that has been top-of-mind for me lately because of a few friends who have been on the job market for a while and are starting to wonder if they’ll be able to find a gig about which they can be happy. As a result, I’ve been keeping an eye out for job-related resources and recently came across two articles from The Wall Street Journal’s website that could be of interest to folks in the middle of a job search. The first article provides advice on how to improve on a resume and the second gives tipcs on how to kick-start a job search that has stalled. If you’re looking for a new gig, both of these articles should be useful to you.”
Title: “Creating a resume that sells”
Author: Sarah E. Needleman
Source: The Wall Street Journal Online, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704431804574539403154677622.html
Excerpt from intro text:
“In today’s cutthroat job market, having a top-notch résumé is critical to success. But there’s a host of conflicting advice about exactly what makes a good résumé—and not every tip is right for every industry. To find out what hiring managers look for most in these documents, The Wall Street Journal introduces Résumé Doctor, a new feature in which recruiting experts and hiring managers critique readers’ résumés and suggest ways to improve them.”
Title: “Giving a stalled job search a jump-start”
Author: Sarah E. Needleman
Source: The Wall Street Journal Online, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704500604574483430441125284.html
Excerpt from intro text:
“For many out-of-work professionals, finding a job in today’s market requires far more effort than it did in the past—and a lot more stamina. Last month, the Labor Department reported that it takes unemployed workers an average of 27.2 weeks to land a job, up from 19.1 weeks in September 2008 and 16.7 in September 2007. But career experts say there are several ways job hunters can revive a stalled search.
Taking a highly targeted approach, as Ms. Jones eventually did, is one strategy. Another is to focus on obtaining leads to unadvertised positions where the companies seek out their own applicants. Relying solely on job-board listings, which have been shrinking, isn’t enough these days. There were roughly 3.3 million jobs advertised online last month, compared with 4.4 million in September 2008 and 4.7 million in September 2007, according to the Conference Board, a research firm.”
Hey all, I hope everyone is enjoying December so far and that you have fun plans with family and friends for the holiday break. As I mentioned in my last post, I just finished my first semester law school final exams a couple of days ago, and just yesterday I left Chicago for the warm weather of sunny Arizona. But sounds like I was one of the lucky ones. Despite a small delay on the runway, I was able to escape the winter snowstorms in Chicago. Unfortunately that was not the case for my classmates.
Upon reading the news, it sounds like a lot of people had delayed flights. In fact, many of my friend never even took a step on the plane. I hope all those headed back east, especially out to Philadelphia and Virginia, are able to make out soon. The break is far too short to have to miss a few days due to “odd” weather conditions. Also, just wanted to give a big congratulations to those of you who just finished your first semester of law school or business school, It’s definitely a big accomplishment, and from what I hear it only gets a lot easier from here. I’ll let you all know if that’s true at Northwestern once the semester begins in a few weeks.
Anyhow, the point of my post here was just to pass along a quick website to you guys. A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a company named Glassdoor (Click Here for Website) If you have not heard of the company yet, you should take a minute to browse the website. You’ll see that it has a lot of pretty interesting career-related information, including reviews of companies, interview information, and employee salary levels, all of which are pretty important to anyone in the job market. While I don’t know enough about the company to vouch for every piece of information, most of what I’ve seen doesn’t seem too far off. To see most of the information, you’ll have to sign up with a user name and password. But that’s an easy process, and I’ve found the information here to be well worth the five minutes it takes to sign up. And the good news is that the site works for almost everyone, as there’s information here for those both in business and those in law.
It looks like Glassdoor also just came out with a Best Places to Work in 2010 list (Click Here for List). I’m not sure exactly how they analyzed the companies to come up with the rankings, but I suspect it has something to do with the individual feedback on the site. Have a look when you have a chance.
Here at Northwestern Law, we just finished finals yesterday. It was definitely a grueling process, but I think things ultimately turned out pretty well. And even though we only finished yesterday, I’ve already been reflecting a bit on my first semester.
One thing I’ve learned in the past three months is that the first year of law school is a lot about discipline. Students spend most of the day in class and evenings in the library or other study space reading and prepping for class. But this past semester there came a point for all of us where increased discipline didn’t help–cases were too long, material got harder, our energy levels were low.
The same was true when I worked in the consulting world before school. The further anyone made it up the career ladder, the more demanding the work became. While in some cases, people can cope by being more resourceful and persuasive–which was usually my strategy–most people cope by putting in longer hours. At law school, this translates into spending more time studying and less time on other activities–exercising, friendships, and relationships. Over at Kellogg things aren’t much different, except that student schedules are jam-packed, just with networking events, socials, and team projects rather than case books.
Here at Northwestern Law, older students talk a lot about studying smart rather than hard, in hopes to get some of that time back. For some that means not actually studying until the end of the semester; for others it means reading every day to avoid pileups during the semester; for others it means not preparing for in-class discussions but instead studying for the final from day one. People spend a lot of time strategizing about how they can optimize time.
Based on my experience in my first semester of law school, I think there is similar value to strategizing about your energy level. For example, thinking about how you use social sites like Facebook, email, and g-chat might help control your mental energy or concentration levels while you’re working. Taking part in activities that have meaning or give you a sense of purpose can also affect your energy, though prioritizing which activities qualify is can be a difficult process. Additionally, getting involved in activities relatd to your future career goals can give you quite a bit of energy, since these tend to be the things that you are passionate it about. And it goes without saying that investing time in friendships and relationships can be either a drain or refill to your energy, usually the latter. For me, I spent a lot of time thinking about all three of these during the first semester, as I met a lot of new friends here at school and as I put quite a bit of time thinking about professional activities. Conversely, I didn’t spend much time thinking about technology, though I know quite a few people who did. Overall, I think my strategy worked out pretty well. Although I had my ups and downs in energy like everyone else, and was not at my best during mid-term week, I was able to maintain pretty high energy levels all semester and peaked right at the end of the year.
In a 2006 study, a group of Fortune 500 companies underwent a test where part of the group underwent self-management and energy management training. The study compared the results of the test group of companies against a control group of companies that did not. Using company-specific financial metrics (such as revenue, employee productivity, relationship management) to compare the two groups, the study showed that the organizations that invested more time in these activities were more profitable over time.
Personally, I like to think track and field runners as a good example of this concept, where top runners are not only aggressive in their training routines but also focused on managing their energy level. Through a long season of running hundreds of a miles, runners must eat the right foods, consume the right number of calories, keep stress levels reduced, and get a lot of rest right before competitions, all in addition to getting faster and eventually peaking at the end of the year.
Similarly, I think both students and professionals might be better off by spending a bit more time managing their energy levels.
Just yesterday my section had our Civil Procedure final exam. This exam was definitely the one that everyone in the section, and perhaps everyone in the 1L class, has been dreading. The subject matter of civil procedure is incredibly dense, highly technical, and is taught at a really fast pace. Furthermore, given a lot of people here at Northwestern end up going into corporate law, rather than litigation, many of my classmates are just completely uninterested in the class. But the good news is that it was our third exam, so we were able to adjust our strategies after a bit of trial and error on the first two exams. And we also had more time to study for it. Reflecting back now, I’m pretty happy with how the exam went. I was pretty well-prepared overall, and took a slightly different approach to preparing than I did for my first two. For my other final exams, I was a bit less organized, didn’t leave much time to go back and make corrections in the final ten minutes before time was up, and spent a bit too much time reading the questions. But fortunately, I still felt OK about those exams too, so I can’t really say for sure that my new strategy was more effective.
More important than my effectiveness on those past exams, at least as of today, is the fact that I’m almost done with my first semester of law school, with one more exam to take on Thursday. After being in final mode for about two weeks now, I’m sitting here on the top floor of the library typing this entry excited for Thursday to finally come because it feels so close. But I suspect that the next day and a half is also going to feel very long give the pure amount of review I plan to do. A lot of my classmates are pretty open about being worn out from school now, and everyone’s looking forward to being done. It’s definitely been a test of endurance and focus. Personally, I’ve really enjoyed the process, because with all the studying finally comes a level of mastery of the material that most of us haven’t had all semester. In addition, I finally feel like I have a lot more familiarity with the legal way of thinking, which ultimately is why many of us are here in law school. It’s certainly why I did. I think as a first year law student, it’s definitely important to try to keep a bird’s eye view of things and keep the big picture in mind.
In addition to getting through this finals period, some people are also thinking about jobs for the summer. Just a few days ago, I went to a reception downtown to meet with ten or so employers, including one company I’ve been in contact with for a few months now. It was a good mix of employers and a good number of them were dedicated to the non-profit or government space. The host speaker was Rob Huberman, the CEO of Chicago Public Schools, who I got to chat with for a few minutes after he spoke. I also spent about an hour chatting with a venture capital firm that was at the event. The firm was pretty unique in that they actually invested most of their funds in the non-profit and education space, making them more of a hybrid venture capital and venture philanthropy firm. I also made sure to talk a bit with the Broad Foundation and Education Pioneers, who in my opinion are the two pioneering organizations in the Education sector today. If you don’t know anything about them, you should look both of them up when you get the chance.
Aside from that event, just this morning, I had quick call with the head of recruiting at BCG (Boston Consulting Group) and we chatted a bit about upcoming consulting events, about the logistics for recruiting with them as a JD-MBA, and about strategies for the case interview. I also traded a few emails today with a local Chicago law firm. It’s a firm that I’m really interested in working for. Interestingly enough, the firm’s head recruiter emailed me first just to check in, so it’s nice to know that I’m on their radar. I’m really hoping to make some traction with the firm over the next few weeks and will be interesting to see how everything plays out. But as important as all the job stuff is, what’s mostly on my mind now is my last final exam.
My last exam is for my Criminal Law class. I’ve enjoyed the class all semester long, and I really like Professor Rubenewitz. While the course is a pretty easy to discuss at a high level, the content gets a bit more technical and difficult as you start digging into the details, so I’ve still got a lot of studying to do. The good news and the bad news is that the exam is actually seven hours long. So on one hand, that means I’ll have plenty of time to figure out some of the details during the exam. But on the other hand, the more time I spend on those details during the exam, the less polished my final paper will be. Like everything else here, it’s a tradeoff everyone has to figure out so everyone’s level of preparation will probably be different. Either way, it’s all been a lot of fun, and I look forward to the seven hour challenge on Thursday morning, and to a really fun night out with my 1L class and with my JD-MBAs on Thursday night.
OK, time for me to hit the books again. I’ve got a lot of Criminal Law cases and rules to re-read. But keep an eye on my blog over the next couple of weeks. I plan to do a lot of general reflection and writing after exams are over.
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