How is Life as a Lawyer Different from Life as a Law Student?

How is Life as a Lawyer Different from Life as a Law Student?This week we welcome back guest writer Marissa Geannette to discuss the differences that come with being a practicing lawyer once you’ve left law school.

By now, you’ve probably heard that law school and working as a lawyer are two totally different things. Some go so far as to claim that nothing you learn in law school prepares you for the “real” world. While I don’t agree with that, there are definitely huge differences between life as a law student and life as a lawyer.

Some law students get anxious, wondering what working as a lawyer will entail. It’s a big change, that’s for sure (and I’m not just talking about how much, or little – if you’re going into corporate law – you’ll be using Westlaw or Lexis). But it’s something that you can prepare for by knowing a little bit more about some of the key differences between student living and lawyer living.

1. As A Lawyer, You’ll Have Less Focused Time And Face More Interruptions

As a law student, you might be used to having large chunks of time to focus on one task. Maybe it’s reading for class or preparing your journal note. Whatever it is, you likely have time to sit in the library or in your home office, uninterrupted, and work on your assignment. The only distractions are those that you allow into your cubicle.

As a lawyer, don’t count on having these same large amounts of free time in your schedule. There are simply too many other people – partners, supervisors, coworkers, clients – who will be asking for your time.

One way to combat this lack of alone time is to block out time on your calendar for focused work. But, you have to make an effort to do this. Because if you don’t fill up your own calendar, someone else will, and the only time you’ll be able to find some peace and quiet to work will be late in the evening (which is not something you want to make a habit of if you can avoid it).

2. Your Schedule Will Be Less Predictable

Law school is tough, but it isn’t filled with a lot of scheduling surprises. At the beginning of the semester, you’ll already know, for the most part, when every assignment is due and the date of every exam. If you manage your schedule and time well, you’ll have plenty of time to get everything done without ever having to pull an all-nighter or cram session.

That all changes when you work as a lawyer. Unpredictability becomes the norm. It depends on the type of law you practice, but most lawyers frequently deal with last-minute requests, emergency client calls, and other things that force them to juggle their schedules, stay at work later than expected, and otherwise change their plans. Going into practice with an open mind and a little bit of flexibility can go a long way.

3. You Have Colleagues Now, Not Classmates

Law school has a way of bringing people together and bonding them for life. There’s something about 1L year that’s hard to explain to others who didn’t go through it with you. Your law school classmates make for a great support system and confidants.

When you start working as a lawyer, the people you’ll see every day are no longer your classmates but your colleagues. Remember when you go out for happy hour or job-sponsored events that you might want to set different boundaries with your work colleagues than what you have with your law school friends.

There’s a time and place for complaining about work, your significant other, and personal problems. Those topics are best saved for those you don’t work with (at least until you get to know them and know who you can trust).

4. You Will Produce More Work Product

Gone are the days of endless reading and outlining cases. Sure, there will still be times when you will immerse yourself in research and reading, but, for the most part, work as a lawyer is much more focused on your output.

You will be producing way more actual work product as a lawyer than as a law student. This might be in the form of writing briefs, drafting motions, preparing memos, drafting deal documents, or preparing for a closing. Be prepared for a much faster paced schedule and turn-around time on your assignments.

5. You Are Not The Priority – Your Clients Are

In law school, you are your primary focus. Most law students worry about their grades, their classes, and their job prospects. Everything is centered around you, the law student. And that’s how it’s supposed to be!

Lawyers, though, have an entirely different animal to worry about and focus on – their clients. The clients and their demands become your primary focus once you start to practice. This doesn’t mean you forget about your own needs, but it does mean that your clients are number one (within reason). In practice, this means that when a client makes a late-night request for a new draft or asks for a conference call in the middle of the night, you’re going to make it happen.

Life As A Lawyer Is An Adjustment, But One You’ll Be Prepared To Make

Just like any major life transition, transitioning from full-time law student to lawyer might come with some bumps along the way. Law school doesn’t necessarily prepare you for day-to-day life as a lawyer, but rest assured you will be well-prepared to do the work. And, soon enough, you’ll settle into your new life as a lawyer and wonder why you ever worried about it in the first place.


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About Marissa Geannette

Marissa graduated from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in 2009 where she was a member of the Law Review. She began her career in the corporate department of White & Case LLP in NYC and spent 8 years as an associate there. Marissa is passionate about educating law students and recent law grads about Biglaw and career paths one can take after law school (both traditional and non-traditional). She wrote her book, “Behind the Biglaw Curtain” to help demystify Biglaw for those beginning their careers. Whether it’s in Biglaw or not, she believes that there is a satisfying career out there for everyone (even if it’s not the traditional one you thought you were “supposed” to have).

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