Law Pre-Grad Intern Patrick McMillin
I always knew I wanted to go to law school but could never supplement that conclusion with a strong reason as to why. Being a Government major or having people tell me I'd make a good lawyer just weren't sufficient reasons. I needed to know for myself why law school was a good fit, and the IE program has afforded me such an opportunity. In essence, my internship experience gave me a chance to take law school for a test drive and discover if it was right for me. As the semester comes to a close, I've concluded that law school does in fact fit me well, and I can affirm that statement as a result of the IE Internship.
This semester opened my eyes to the world of law school. One thing I was exposed to was just how grueling law school can be. There's no way to sugarcoat it- law school is tough. I first became aware of this when I was simply trying to coordinate with Eliot, my grad mentor, to find a good meeting time. He was always either in class or at home/in the library studying or doing research for his major paper assignment. I did see him in the gym a few times, which was a reassuring sight to see. Law students can have a life outside of books and studying, but nothing compared to undergrad. Law school is a full time job, and that's why it's recommended that law students, particularly first years, reframe from holding a job outside of school.
The first year of law school was of special interest to me, because it's the year that every law student claims to be the hardest. But what about the first year makes it so grueling? Having gone through this internship, I can pinpoint three main things that contribute to the frustration/exhaustion/headaches of 1Ls. First, law school requires students to learn a new language- the language of the law. Like learning any new language, learning the language of the law can be awkward and difficult, especially at the beginning. It takes a while to get the hang of it and requires a lot of practice. One law student I talked to recounted how, as a first year student, it took her hours to read only a few pages because the terminology had to be slowly decoded in order for her to understand the material. While learning the language of the law may be a slow, and at times painful, process, it gets easier the more you're exposed to it and the more you encounter it. The second challenge of the first year law student is getting used to the copious amount of reading. In undergrad, students can often get away with not reading course material, but the same cannot be said of law school. The use of the Socratic Method forces one to thoroughly prepare for class, and such preparation comes from reading the assignments ahead of time. Each class period presents an opportunity to be called on, which is why law students take reading and preparation very seriously. In sum, the reading is difficult and there's a lot of it, but that's just the nature of law school. The third factor that makes the first year extra strenuous is the unique exam structure. In particular, many classes administer only one test at the end of the semester, and that one grade is it. The book I read for this internship, One L by Scott Turow, does an excellent job of describing what a one-test environment does to students. It creates an elevated level of anxiety that has real mental and physical effects on students. Harvard Law School, the school Turow attended, even had a regular psychiatrist on site to see students. Not only does this one test determine one's grade, but it also can affect such things as the kinds of jobs you can get over the summer and whether you'll be considered for a coveted spot on the university's law review. That one test, then, carries with it a number of implications that add pressure to the grueling first year of law school. Unlike undergrad where several assignments contribute to your final grade, and it's ok to have a bad day here and there, law school's exam structure is very unforgiving dues to it's all-or-nothing nature.
Up until this point, I've painted law school as a miserable experience comparable to torture. But there are several redeeming qualities of law school that make it all worth it. For me, the two things that I found most exciting were the incredible people you're surrounded by and the well-rounded curriculum law school offers. UT is a top-twenty law school, meaning it can recruit some of the best students from around the country. As a result, these bright students challenge each other on a daily basis, which encourages students to think to new levels. A university can have a really great faculty, but if the students aren't intelligent and driven, then a student's ability to grow diminishes. On the second notion of a well-rounded curriculum, a legal education teaches more than the law. You get lessons in philosophy, economics, ethics, and history. My grad mentor even had a class in the LBJ School that dealt with political campaigns. For someone with a wide range of interests like myself, the law school curriculum is a good fit because it's diverse and caters to the well-rounded individual. In summation, law school may have its rough spots, but the intellectual stimulation and wide array of available courses make it a worthwhile experience that challenges the student to learn.
This internship not only gave me a chance to look ahead at what law school may be like but also gave me a chance to examine the present and determine what I can do now to aid in my getting into law school and then succeeding once there. First, read, read, and read. Eliot advised me that I should always be reading a book, regardless of the subject, just so the idea of reading all the time isn't a shock once in law school. Also, take advantage of the writing centers on campus. Law school expects to see competent writing from the beginning, but it also expects to see that writing improve. Now is a good time to start fine-tuning those skills, so when law school arrives I'm at least open to the idea of editing, revising, and receiving constructive criticism of my work. Finally, take the LSAT seriously. A prep-course is undeniably in my future. Usually weighted on the same level as GPA, the LSAT can be the make or break factor for many an aspiring law student, which is why I plan on preparing extensively for this part of the application.
The IE program has given me an opportunity to see law school up close and personal, more than any book or brochure could ever convey. I would recommend the program to anyone interested in law/graduate school because you get to experience law/graduate school for yourself, devoid of any filters or biases. From this experience, I've concluded that law school is certainly a viable option for my future. While I'm not ready to commit just yet, this internship has given me enough substance to make an informed decision once that time comes to make such a choice.