My last two posts (here and here) discussed the impact of Baumol's cost disease (aka the Baumol effect) on the practice of law. There's more to say on that subject--especially with respect to how law schools are (and are not) run--but the subject of this post is law school orientation do's and don't's for new 1L students.
But first, two caveats: (1) my comments are based on my own non-scientific observations, and (2) all law school orientations are not created equal. Some are very good, and some are subpar. So with the disclaimers out of the way, here are my thoughts.
Tip #1: Don’t skip orientation.
Most new law students do attend orientation, but invariably some do not. Don’t skip it. It may not help you, but it really cannot hurt you.
Tip #2: Meet as many new students, faculty and law school staff members as possible.
This should seem obvious, but I am always surprised and somewhat disappointed when I attend orientation events and see new students just standing around. I do not mean to sound harsh--the natural tendency when you do not know anyone is to hang back. But remember that many of your new peers are interesting and dynamic people, and some will become your close friends. Your new professors can be interesting too, of course--and since they can help you enormously with career advice and job recommendations, you should talk with them. As for law school staff, they can make or break your law school experience. They often wield enormous power within the law school, so be nice to them.
Tip #3: Play well with others.
This too should be obvious. However, you will be in a room with scores of other driven, ambitious people, and your inclination may be to have your guard up and try to impress people. Just remember that orientation has no effect on your grades or class rank, but it has everything to do with first impressions. When you are running for student office or trying to find study mates, it helps to have made a good first impression, instead of trying too hard to impress people with how smart and accomplished you are.
Tip #4: Ask 2L and 3L students at orientation for advice on anything and everything related to law school.
Often there are second- and third-year law students at orientation as student mentors. Pick their brains. That’s what they are there for. You may learn nothing useful, but again, it cannot hurt you to try.
Tip #5: Listen to what law school professors, staff and students say (and do not say) during orientation to get a sense of your law school’s culture.
I can’t be too specific on this one, because the nature of law school orientations can vary widely. But hopefully you can get a sense of the internal culture of your law school during orientation.
Law schools are like law firms, in that they all try to say the same lofty and positive things. “We promote diversity.” “Our professors welcome interaction with students outside class.” “We value a well-rounded education.” “We pride ourselves on the excellence of our teaching.” Etc. etc. etc.
Now, I am not saying that these statements are false per se. In fact, I suspect they are usually true. The question, though, is to what degree they are true. All law schools are not equal, and all law school cultures are not identical. Some schools really do thrive on student-professor interaction, and some do value teaching more than others. Some schools have a vibe, because the school is on the move and doing a lot of exciting things. And some probably do not.
So here’s my point: people have a hard time faking joy or exuberance. Use that to filter what you are told (and not told) in orientation. Also, how do faculty members, staff and students interact with one another? Do faculty members approach you during orientation and talk with you? Or is there a sense of separate cliques? I’m not saying you should reach any firm conclusions based on any such intuition, but this is a useful approach for getting an initial sense of your school.
Tip #6: Don't hold a plate of food and shake someone's hand at the same time.
I did this at my 1L orientation, with disastrous results. Not only did I spill food on someone else, but it was my law school's dean.
No joke. I dropped an entire plate of food on Northwestern’s Dean Bob Bennett. Got potato salad all over his very nice loafers. He may have forgotten the incident, but I never will. I wanted to withdraw from law school on the spot and crawl under a rock, in that order.
So take it from me: if you are holding a plate of food and someone introduces themselves to you, DO NOT TRY TO SHAKE THEIR HAND. Just smile, nod, and hold your plate in a two-handed death grip.