Musings from a new attorney: what I wish I had learned in law school

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Law school teaches you the importance of Civil Procedure and Real Estate Law but tends to ignore the actual subjects future lawyers are likely to face on a day to day basis: from money management, to CLEs, to lawyer social conventions, if it’s not an archaic case or legal definition, you’re on your own. So much time was spent teaching students how to become litigators that they neglected to teach us some of the lawyer life skills that really matter.

As I reflect on my anniversary of two years of practice, I still feel like the wide-eyed 1L eager to learn it all. Here’s what I’m “studying” now.

How to Keep Track of All My Work Assignments. I’m a type A person. I have a color-coded planner, travel with a set of highlighters, and could probably write a Buzzfeed article on the “Top Ten Post-It Flags Every Student Needs.” However, I have found that these skills don’t directly transfer to an office setting. If I have two last-minute “emergency” assignments from two different department heads, which should I do first? Does a simple to-do list work, or do I need to be using some sort of computer program to track it? (And don’t get me started about billable hours.)

    Helpful resources: Monday.com, To Do List, RescueTime, Evernote and the like. There are a few books written on these topics including, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law and The Young Lawyer’s Jungle Book: a Survival Guide.

How to Manage My Money and Student Loans. Inflated student loans are an everyday topic of conversation, yet in a school that costs three figures I can’t remember one time where it was part of a class conversation. Sure, debt is always there as an undercurrent, but its more of a taboo subject. Think of it this way: you might be drowning in student loans, consumer debt, and insecurity, but not everyone is. That legacy student in the front row who plans on working for his father’s firm after graduation isn’t thinking about reselling his textbooks after each semester, he’s thinking about the fact that he parked in the handicapped space because he would rather pay the $150 ticket than be inconvenienced and walk a longer distance to class. I wish there had been some sort of 3L class that teaches you the financial side of being an attorney: which type of loan repayment plan should I pick? Who is responsible for paying my bar fees? If I have a solo practice, what types of expenses are deductible?

    Helpful resources: Udemy’s “Personal Finance 101” course or similar online finance lessons. YouTube also has a variety of professionals who record quick and easy-to-understand videos for an everyday audience.

How to Manage a Day Job, Networking, and CLEs. Straight question, straight answer: is time spent watching or attending a CLE program considered working hours? Is it ok to take time during the workday to do so, or do I need to do that outside business hours? Should I ask my employer to pay for my professional association memberships (especially if they are relevant to my job) or is that something I am responsible for? Clearly I have a lot of questions, but not a lot of answers. As a first-generation law student, I am terrified of making a mistake or committing some sort of work faux pas; it can be hard to find someone willing to answer these questions.

    Helpful resources: I’d also recommend The Young Lawyer’s Jungle Book here as well. In addition, if you have a trusted mentor or colleague, feel free to ask them as well.

If you find any helpful information or have any other questions, as always, feel free to reach me at agsumner@iu.edu.