From practically the moment 1Ls step through the doors of their law schools, they worry about grades. With the current structure of post-graduation hiring timelines, this makes a lot of sense. Our 1L grades are indeed an important factor in our future success. They are, however, not the only factor. Students frequently focus on grades and exclude other law school opportunities. Through joining student organizations and engaging in other opportunities at Michigan Law, I was able to meet new people and greatly expand my resume to craft a more multi-dimensional me.
Pitfalls as a 1L and Interviewing
Perhaps the greatest challenge of interviewing is putting the best version of you on your resume. One of the great fallacies as a 1L is that grades will carry you. In 2019, law firms and other employers are not simply looking for the brightest students, but the ones with whom they want to work. As a partner once told me, there is nothing more boring than having a 20-minute interview with someone who has not been involved with anything at law school. When all of your 1L classes are the same, the importance of extracurriculars is that much stronger to set you apart. Even if you do have an elective, Corporations or Evidence will not differentiate you from the pack.
Another blessing and curse of the 1L program at most schools is that you are split off into sections. It is great to have a ready cohort of friends, but it also means that you are isolated from a large portion of your 1L class and have few opportunities to meet 2Ls and 3Ls. Extracurriculars are an excellent way to break this cycle and expand your circle of friends.
As a partner once told me, there is nothing more boring than having a 20-minute interview with someone who has not been involved with anything at law school.
The Cornucopia of Law School Opportunities
One of the best aspects of Michigan Law was that it actively encouraged 1Ls to get involved in activities outside the classroom. With more than 70 student groups and 20 pro bono projects, there is something for every interest.
At least at Michigan, being involved with an organization really means being part of the board. I have been on the board of nine different student organizations during the last two years, through which I have been able to meet dozens of fellow students. Without this experience, I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to meet other students with similar academic and professional interests. In particular, being the president of the Privacy and Technology Law Association and the Entertainment, Media, and Arts Law Students Association solidified my future practice areas of interest and allowed me to network with practitioners and partners from New York to LA. In addition, affinity groups like Outlaws and First-Generation Law Students arrange valuable mentorship programs with likeminded upperclassmen to help you along the way.
My pro bono projects were a wonderful opportunity to gain client experience and understand basic legal issues related to refugees and LGBTQ+ individuals. Pro bono projects allow you to cut your teeth on real legal issues early in your law school career. As our director of pro bono programs says, “it is probably not reading a Torts casebook that brought you to law school.” For the schools that offer them, 1L clinic opportunities are also a great way to gain client experience. Thanks to our Unemployment Insurance Clinic, I can even say I won my first case!
Some schools also allow 1Ls to become involved with law journals or work part-time. Being on a journal as a 1L helped me showcase my legal research skills during interviews. Working remotely part-time for a Middle Eastern music consortium in Chicago, although it wasn’t strictly a legal job, still demonstrated a set of skills and interests that rounded out an interviewer’s first impression of me.
Developing Skills, Signaling Who You Are
While grades are no doubt important, do not focus exclusively on them. As more students enter the legal industry, the hunt for jobs will continue to become more competitive. In the coming years, extracurriculars will become even more important to set worthy candidates apart. Furthermore, there is no way to guarantee an A in a class, but you can guarantee involvement in an organization.
That said, do not join groups just to have something on your resume; join them because you are genuinely interested in the topic. Your organizations are pieces of your story, and crafting them together into a coherent narrative will do much of the work for you. For me, wanting to work in technology and media law with a pro bono refugee practice only solidified after being involved in similar organizations and projects. Law school can be your oyster to try dozens of new things; you just have to seize the opportunities.
Michael Goodyear is a 3L at the University of Michigan Law School. He will be at a law firm in New York City following graduation.