Reflections After My First Final Exam

Constitutional Law has long been considered one of the hardest first year courses in law school.  Not only because the material is hard or because the issues are ambiguous, but also because it requires learning a lot of of information. And so the people that start studying early and put in more time tend to perform better than the rest of the class, which is the goal for most law students. Last night, I reflected a bit on what that meant to me, what it takes to achieve success after graduate school.

Having met a lot of successful people over the past couple of years, I’ve seen how so many things factor into becoming successful—getting started early, putting yourself in the right position at the right time, putting in the hours, having perseverance and stamina, and perhaps most importantly having passion.

Why? Because success is hard and competition can be stiff.  In law school, there are 65 students in each section competing on the same curve. And because of the law school culture most everyone puts in an inordinate number of hours studying and pulling all nighters, and so it becomes hard to differentiate yourself, especially in straightforward classes with less wiggle room for additional points on exams. In business school, everyone comes in with significant experience, some with pretty unique experiences and others from the typical “prestigious” jobs and industries. It’s even harder to differentiate yourself in that environment.

But school is a piece of cake when compared to becoming world class at the professional level—coming up with the next big internet start-up, making an argument in the leading supreme court case, winning a seat in congress, becoming a fortune 500 CEO, or being part of the banking team that takes the next Google public.  In fact, statistically speaking, you have a better shot of becoming a professional athlete.

Because in the end, there are too many things to wrong along the way. Internally, many people experience burnout over time, get overloaded with too much information, or loose motivation. Externally, people often give in to more lucrative opportunities arise, they concede to the herd mentality and change careers, and organizations often get the wrong perception of you because of something they don’t like in your background (stay tuned for a post on this).  And so like I’ve said before, Passion Is King! and it often times it becomes more important than anything else in your longer-term career success, especially when you’ve already found the activity that optimizes the mix of your passion and skill.

For example, if you don’t have the passion to study Constitutional Law, it’s likely you won’t get the top grade on the exam because it’s hard, maybe not even the median grade.  And what about the other 29 classes you take during law school, especially the curved ones, or with the professor you don’t connect with.  It becomes harder to stay focused, harder to turn down other opportunities, and harder to take risks because you have no skin in the game.  And in the end, it becomes harder, perhaps impossible, to get other people to believe in your idea, even if it’s a really good one.

There are plenty of JDs from all the top schools that experience this. They get good grades in school (mediocre grades in good economies), and then work at firms or organizations but never become the Managing Partner, can’t land a coveted GC role or break into new industries, and can’t garner the support to fund their entrepreneurial ideas.

Don’t get me wrong.  The majority of these folks go on to lead highly successful lives by almost every possible account. But for just for a minute, I’m talking about something a little more–like taking part in the Senate’s recent vote on health care (i.e. that also what our Con Law exam was about), leading the nation out of the current financial crisis, becoming the first diverse president, being the first woman elected to the supreme court, helping negotiate the rescue of imprisoned journalists by North Korea, or growing your high-tech computer start-up to become Silicon Valley’s most profitable and respected company and then being named CEO of the decade.

Northwestern Law and Kellogg are both great schools, and I suspect that most people here, if not everyone, will lead very successful careers. But I’m interested to see who will led by passion upon graduation, or at least  a couple of years after graduation.  This isn’t to say they won’t work at a firm or take a high-paying job.  After all, most students here have to pay back loans and really benefit from those jobs for a couple of years.  But it’s only to say that they’ll be ready to be decisive and make things happen when the time comes.

But for now, time to channel my passion to do a little studying for my Property Law exam on Friday. Good luck to everyone taking exams!

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010 Careers, Law School, Leadership

10 Comments to Reflections After My First Final Exam

April 27, 2010

bravo jeremy and best of luck on the rest of your exams.

April 27, 2010

That’s some great insight. It is so often the case that people get hung up on grades. Sure, the top performer in any top tier graduate class probably has an advantage since the job market is designed to find those people… but what about the rest?

I agree with passion, and as a current MBA student I’ll toss another “key to success” in there as well, and that is NETWORKING. The old saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” isn’t 100% correct but it certainly should not be ignored. Networking is your access to the hidden job market, and your access to the million opportunities you’d have otherwise not known about.

Combine an efficient and sizable professional network with passion and you will do amazingly well for yourself!

Good luck!

– Jordy

Jeremy C Wilson
April 27, 2010

@Paragon2PiecesThanks for the note and for the well-wishes. Fortunately, the biggest one is done, so it should be all downhill from here.

Jeremy C Wilson
April 28, 2010

@Jordy Hi Jordy, thanks so much for reading and for your thoughtful comment. Turns out your comment comes right in time, as I’ve received a couple of questions on networking recently and planned to address the topic in the upcoming weeks. I put a little prelude in my most recent post this morning but a lot more coming. So stay tuned, and definitely feel free to post a couple of comments along the way. Best!

[…] and stress, did find a few ways to buck up and keep on keeping on.  Northwestern ‘12 Jeremy reflected on his Constitutional Law final exam and how to stand out in a motivated crowd. Sue wasn’t the only ‘blawger’ sharing […]

Venita Brown
May 12, 2010

Great article! It was very inspiring and full of insight for me.

Jeremy C Wilson
May 12, 2010

@Venita Brown Thanks for the comment! Great that you enjoyed reading.

[…] have a natural interst in the subject, and in the end, its also likely you’ll do better (see my recent post on passion).  One thing some people like to do is hedge their bets study both.  Majors today are more […]

[…] they are passionate about what they are doing, something I talk constantly about here on my site (click here for recent post) So not only do they have good ideas but they actually have a real desire to go […]

[…] in their apartments or at the school studying while I was at the event downtown. (Click here for my follow up post on the Constitutional Law […]

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Jeremy C Wilson is a JD-MBA alumni using his site to share information on education, the social enterprise revolution, entrepreneurship, and doing things differently. Feel free to send along questions or comments as you read.


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The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect the views or position of Kellogg, Northwestern Law, the JD-MBA program, or any firm that I work for. I only offer my own perspective on all issues.
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