Secret to Success? Think like a lawyer
If there’s anything I wish I’d known in my first year of law school it would be these two things:
First, find the best coffee... For me at least it’s a little place at the corner of two streets between the the Main Building and the Law Building, always brimming with journos from the nearby ABC studios. As it turns out, hacks know where to find a quality brew.
Second, shift your mindset from law student to lawyer-in-training. Law is intimidating; the lexicon bizarre, concepts often difficult to grasp, and there’s lots of it. It also portrays as an elite and authoritarian institution, beyond the reach of mortal, mere students. It is this point that one would be well-served to get around early.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, though often disputed, that lawyers, judges and legal academics are human. There are no ‘miracle people’ in law, they were all students once. Most worked hard and advanced through effort, and probably some luck along the way. At some point, usually admission, they transitioned from student to professional. But it’s possible to make the mental transition before that. You can see yourself, even early on, not as a lowly law student here on some kind of probation, but as someone who has chosen law as their career, now learning the tricks of the trade.
There’s a few things you can do to speed this process up. Shadowing a legal practitioner is one I’ve tried. Beyond providing plenty of practical context, it gives you the mental vision – you begin to see yourself as part of the profession. They might appear distant but you’d be surprised at how collegial the profession can be. Lawyers are - if approached genuinely, courteously, and respectfully of their inevitable ‘time poorness’ - often very willing to assist.
Remember: cold calling rarely works. Try to find someone that can give you an intro. Then make a genuine show of being interested and of someone they would want as a future professional colleague.
If you’re not quite ready to do that, do other law-things. No advice for firsties is complete without a Kirby J reference, so here it is: ”be a joiner…”. Join up for extracurricular activities, join societies, join moots. I’d suggest also volunteering for community legal centres or assisting advocates because it’ll make you feel the part. The experience and contacts gained will also help the transition to lawyer-getting-paid.
While we’re still students of the law, we’ll one day be its custodians. British philosopher Alan Watts says that wisdom comes from below, not above. Our common law system is predicated on stare decisis – standing by the matter. Our forebears worked by updating past wisdom, so don’t fear lawyers, judges and academics, respect their colossal knowledge and years of experience, and always be courteous.
Most importantly, remember that they were once you, and soon enough you’ll be one of them. In fact, you kind of already are.