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.