How to Succeed in Law School and as a New Lawyer in the Age of Covid-19

October 15, 2020

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Excelling as a law student and navigating life after law school is challenging enough in a typical year – and 2020 is anything but normal. To help mitigate the added challenges that come with remote learning and telework, attorneys at top law firms share advice for the newest generation of legal professionals.

What are your best tips on how to study for law school exams, particularly amid the distractions of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Law firms recognize the challenges law students face because of Covid-19, virtual learning, and restrictions on study groups and office visits. Try to avoid the noise and focus on why you wanted to go to law school in the first place. Let your curiosity and passion for the law shine through on your exams. And trust that while grades are one aspect of the overall evaluation process, firms continue to give significant consideration to whether students possess the behavioral characteristics necessary to succeed at their firm.

Raj N. Shah and Kathryn Riley Grasso, co-national hiring partners – associates, DLA Piper

I always found the best exam prep was to take practice exams – ideally, exams that your professor has given in prior years and released as a study guide. I suggest asking your professors if they will make them available online. Take them on your own and compare answers with your study groups. And if you get stuck, check in with your professors. They want you to do well and will be happy to help.

Steve Nickelsburg, partner, Clifford Chance US LLP

One tip is to remind yourself that this is just a moment in time: If you can compartmentalize the time you need to study and take the exam, and tell yourself that when it is over, everything else can get your full attention, that may help with concentration. And don’t forget to go outside and exercise and to think about deep breathing/mindfulness activities – these can help keep you centered when you are feeling overwhelmed or off-kilter.

Liz Price, chief legal talent partner, Alston & Bird

I recommend putting together a study schedule to help stay focused. I typically set aside three to four days to outline each exam while classes were still ongoing, then dedicated half to full days to each topic during the reading period to review each subject. Make sure to also make time to take several practice tests, particularly if this is your first exam period.

Practice testing at a similar time and under similar conditions as the real exam, if possible, to get a feel for it and to start teaching yourself how to focus on an exam with so much else going on. And don’t forget to build in time for activities that you enjoy and will keep you sane, whether that’s working out, cooking, (virtual) game nights, watching TV, etc. Your mental health is more important than ever!

Danielle Desaulniers Stempel, associate, litigation, arbitration, and employment, Hogan Lovells, Washington, D.C.

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Law school and legal practice is a marathon and not a sprint. If the student is curious, open to feedback, and comes with a positive attitude, then their success should follow. I think many students feel like they should know exactly what type of lawyer they should be and what practice area they want to focus on, whereas it takes many people time to work out the best fit, and legal practice is constantly changing. I would also value law school colleagues and friends. These folks will likely become not just people to bounce ideas and questions off during practice but may even become their colleagues or clients.

Brian Jebb, partner, Allen & Overy

You are about to embark on what will hopefully be an incredible, decadeslong journey doing something you are passionate about. Don’t sweat the small stuff and the bumps in the road along the way. Enjoy the ride and stay focused on learning every day and developing your skills. If you enjoy what you do and take advantage of the opportunities that come your way, success is sure to follow. But remember that opportunities almost never take the shape and form you expect, and they don’t always appear when you expect. If you aren’t paying attention, you can miss them.

Raj N. Shah and Kathryn Riley Grasso, co-national hiring partners – associates, DLA Piper

I wish I’d known that the relationships you build in law school will be important over the course of your career. There’s a tendency in law school to be focused on your own performance, your own job search, and your own experience – but taking time to help out a classmate or just listen to someone else’s perspective can be equally important.

Over the long arc of your legal career, no one is going to remember the grade you earned in torts. But the relationships you build will matter for decades.

Russell Benjamin Hedman, senior associate, mergers and acquisitions, Hogan Lovells, Denver

Any advice for navigating remote working and learning?

First, set boundaries and stick to them. When home is your office or study space, it can feel like you are always working. Establishing both work and work-free spaces and time can help your brain turn on and off, even if your commute is just a few steps. Second, remember, you may be sitting alone somewhere, but there are many that are sitting beside you virtually – to help you and for you to help. Last, take a deep breath and try to think long term. The world will emerge from all of this; take comfort in that. In the meantime, stay safe and be kind to one another.

Sharyl A. Reisman, firmwide hiring partner, Jones Day

It’s helpful to think about what the positives are about this experience – from being able to sit around in shorts all day to taking the dog for multiple walks to saving on gas. Similarly, think about what you’ll take forward with you when this is all history – maybe it will be having monthly video chats with friends and distant family with whom you have reconnected over Covid-19, or a new hobby or favorite recipes. If you look for the positive, you can almost always find it and use that good energy to propel you to success.

Liz Price, chief legal talent partner, Alston & Bird

There is an upside to all of the virtual events: You can attend panel discussions and conferences that would have been a plane ride away before from the comfort of your own home. Take advantage of it.

But it’s also still okay not to be okay. We talk about the “new normal,” but even the most high-powered partners are struggling. It’s okay for you to be, too, and don’t be afraid to say so. People want to help, and they’ll be there for you if you need them.

Sean M. Marotta, partner, litigation, arbitration, and employment, Hogan Lovells, Washington, D.C.

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