SCHOOL SUPPORT MORE IMPORTANT THAN ANYTHING ELSE
When it comes to choosing schools, top law students also advise their successors to choose the school with the best “fit.” Each school, for example, possesses certain academic and cultural wrinkles, such as unique specializations or a stronger bent toward experiential learning. As a result, Vanderbilt Law’s Samiyyah Ali says, applicants must dig deeper than the school marketing pitches and into their own personal experiences. “Attending law school is an investment, no matter how you fund it,” she writes. “So make sure you have found the right fit for your interests, working style, and career aspirations.”
Even more, adds Boston College’s Andrea Clavijo, candidates should seek out a place that makes them happy. “I’m a big believer that happy people perform better,” explains Clavijo, who did a four-month externship with the U.S. Department of Labor last fall. “These three years won’t always be too pretty. If you’re taking the huge and admirable feat of spending three years of your life to join this profession, you might as well do it at a place you’ll feel comfortable and supported.”
“Support” is a consistent differentiator for 2016 graduates like Zeynep Elif Aksoy. George Mason Law’s upbeat approach and readiness to go above and beyond was the deciding factor in Aksoy choosing the school. She hasn’t looked back since. “Go to a school where people will believe in you and want to help you succeed,” she advises. “I was not a traditional law student. I had work and family responsibilities and English is not my native language. Also, going into law was a big career change. When I was deciding among law schools, what set George Mason apart was that faculty and staff looked me in the eye and said that I would do great.”
The supportive atmosphere spilled over into her studies. “Having experienced a variety of educational and professional settings,” Aksoy says, “I can easily say that being with people who believe in you and who want to help you succeed makes a huge difference. It brings out your potential. You want to do better and better.”
GO BACK TO BASICS AND FIGURE OUT WHAT MOTIVATES YOU
For Northwestern Law’s Jarrett Burks, fellow students were another support network to tap. “Get involved in student groups so you can find a 2L or 3L mentor,” he shares. “My mentor has provided me with resources, given me great advice, and helped alleviate innumerable amounts of stress that can come with being new to law school.”
Several graduates list attitude as a key factor to success once students arrive on campus. Often, first-year students find themselves staggering to class, hollowed out and lost, wondering if they’ve made the right decision. Dane Shikman has seen the phenomenon a lot. “All law schools are filled with people who complain and agonize the whole way to the finish line,” says the George Washington law grad and National Moot Court champion. “That, in my mind, is a recipe for mediocrity and misery.”
Instead, Shikman implores students to take control and remember what drove them to law school in the first place. “Find something in the process that you truly enjoy and nourish that thing so it can be what inspires you,” he stresses. “I happen to really like reading Supreme Court cases and listening to oral arguments, but for you it could be something totally different. To that end, if you can find something to get excited about, aggressively pursue it, perhaps fall in love with it, and I think law school will be a much better time.”
Beyond attitude, the Class of 2016 believes success is rooted in simply rolling up one’s sleeves and putting in the work. Count Andrés Cantero Jr. among those who place a premium on good old-fashioned elbow grease.
A highly decorated student whose credits include the highest award given to USC graduate students, the Order of Areté, Cantero doesn’t accept any excuses for failure. “Many students are discouraged from attending law school because it is hard, because the market for lawyers is impacted, because the legal field lacks diversity,” he says. “However, I made it, and there is nothing I possess that makes me any different than any other person. I may lack some experiences, the finances to make life easier, or the family to help guide me in my career choices, but in the end none of that stopped me. Why you ask? Well, I was prepared to put in the hard work needed to achieve what may have seemed impossible or unthinkable.
“So today, as you consider whether law school is in the future, all I have to say is: Nothing is impossible.”
His classmate, Madi DiPietro, has an even more blunt message for prospective students. “Don’t do it if you hate reading for hours on end. Don’t do it if you’re not willing to give 100% your first year. Don’t do it just because your parents told you to.”
AND REMEMBER: LAW SCHOOL IS A PRIVILEGE
Finally, 2016’s Best & Brightest counsel the next class to never lose sight of the big picture. For starters, explains the University of Minnesota’s Christopher Ortega, they can expect to have to swallow their pride. “Prepare to be in a classroom filled with students just as intelligent and ambitious as you,” he says. And the University of Texas’ Hannah Alexander reminds students to think of their experience in the broader context. “I would advise prospective students to remember … that being able to go to law school is a privilege.”
Perhaps the best advice comes from Northwestern’s Meghan Claire Hammond, who urges students to look carefully — but to not be afraid to leap. “Consider it carefully. It should not be your default option,” she says.
“However, once you have determined that this is exactly what you want to do — and nothing else — pursue it fiercely and do not let anyone tell you otherwise.”