Daily Dispatch

Business Development

Law School Regrets

By | Dec.19.12 | Business Development, Daily Dispatch, Networking, New Lawyers

I graduated from law school 30 years ago. When speaking to law students about how to find a job today, I mostly cover the basics. But I draw on my own experiences, too, and offer one bit of advice rarely provided by most career counselors. I arrived at this advice when, to prepare my presentation, I asked myself: “Knowing what I now know about legal careers after all these years, would I have done anything differently when I attended law school?”

It’s not that I wish I had studied harder and obtained better grades. Even if I had studied harder, that was no guarantee my grades would have improved. No, I was looking for some aspect of my behavior where I had more control over the end result. It did not take me long to think of the answer.

What I wish I had done differently was make more friends.

Make ’Em Before You Need ’Em

Certainly, I had my share of good friends, a few of whom I stay in contact with after all these years. However, looking back, I made no intentional effort to meet as many of my classmates as I could. Most of my good friends were those who shared my classes the first year, and as a second- and third-year student, I still sat with them. Even at parties, I still talked to the same people. Like most of my classmates, I rarely took the initiative to meet others. In retrospect, that was a big mistake.

There is a popular saying that you should always try to “make friends before you need them.” When it comes to law school, you have just three years to make friends. Even as a student, you might already need them. Good friends come in handy when you need a study partner, or when you’re a little short on cash and just need someone to buy you a drink.

Getting By with a Little Help from Your Friends

Taking the longer view, successful lawyers will “need” all of their friends throughout their legal careers. These friends are a good source of both information and clients.

  • Friends provide information. Information from friends can help you become a more successful attorney in two critical ways. First, friends can provide you with leads about jobs. According to conventional wisdom, the vast majority of jobs are filled through the underground network. In other words, these jobs get filled when friends tell other friends about these open positions. Also, once you begin practicing law, friends can provide you with information about getting things done more effectively and efficiently. They can give you a sample motion, tell you what it’s like to try a case before a certain judge, or tell you whom to call at a particular government agency to get the answer that you need.
  • Friends lead to clients. For those in private practice, friends may become clients or refer clients to you. Just ask any lawyer who has a significant book of business about his or her best referral sources. Most likely, the answer will include “a friend from law school.” Not all of your classmates will be able to refer you work, but let’s assume that about a quarter of them will eventually. Do the math. Who will have more clients? The lawyer with five friends from law school or the one with 50?

That exchange of information and those referrals won’t happen unless you stay in touch with your law school friends after graduation—in person, by mail or telephone, or through social media. Otherwise, how will they know where you ended up professionally—and which clients to refer to you?

James Cash Penney (yes, that JC Penney) once remarked, “Every business is built on friendship.” So is every successful law practice.

Roy S. Ginsburg is an attorney coach who works one-to-one in the areas of business development, practice management and career development. He has practiced law for more than 25 years in large to small firms and in a corporate setting. He is currently an active solo with a part-time practice in legal marketing ethics and employment law. Learn more about Roy at www.royginsburg.com.

What About You?

Knowing what you now know, would you have done anything differently when you attended law school? Advice for law students? Let us know in the comments below.

Illustration ©ImageZoo.

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4 Responses to “Law School Regrets”

  1. Mark Schwilden
    19 December 2012 at 7:46 am #

    Very true, I was discussing this just the other day with a colleague. I attended law school as a mature/professional student, therefore was a bit older, had a full-time concurrent career, wife/young child, etc. A bit tougher to make a broad network of school friends, but nevertheless very important. I now see my classmates from time to time at events, and even if I was on the periphery in law school and did not build deep friendships, the goodwill that kinship creates is invaluable. The beauty is, it doesn’t have to stop at law school: every transaction, file, case, professional development session, meeting, etc. that we deal with on a daily basis is an opportunity to apply your advice.

  2. Benjamin Jesudasson
    19 December 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    How true to both the article and Mark’s comments. I was an older student with young children when I started law school . Now after 15 years in practice, I am most thankful for the relationships I formed during those law school years. I am glad I belonged to a campus group (CLS – Christian Legal Society) where I met students outside just my classmates where I formed those deeper friendships. The grades and class standings don’t seem as important to the social skills and friendships gained during those years. So no regrets!


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