First, this is not an article bashing law schools. Today, most law schools offer students a range of opportunities to gain exposure to the practice of law. Many schools have robust experiential learning programs that include internships, externships, clinics, and more. Also, students need to be proactive about getting everything they can out of law school by researching these opportunities and taking advantage of them. However, no amount of interning prepares you for what it is like the first time you are personally responsible for an important part of someone else’s life. Here are a few things I learned during my first year of practice:
- You are going to feel insecure all the time
And that is okay, because you actually don’t know anything, and you have a lot of responsibility. The first time this occurred to me, I was taking the statement of a twelve-year-old asylum seeker who had been sexually abused by a family member. I realized I was the only thing standing between her and having to return to live with her abuser.
After the meeting was over, realizing I was in way over my head, I promptly went into the bathroom and threw up (true story). I researched, consulted with colleagues, researched again, lost many hours of sleep, cried a bit, researched some more, and finally called my supervisor for advice. At first, I was hesitant to do this, because I didn’t want to seem like I didn’t know what I was doing. Hence, the massive amounts of research. However, I was still not sure I was going down the right path and knew I needed the counsel of someone who had actually done this before. My supervisor helped me tweak my game plan, and I quickly returned to my research, cry, and repeat cycle.
I cannot overemphasize how important it is for you to know what you don’t know and to not be afraid to ask questions. It is better to risk sounding stupid than to jeopardize your client’s case or your career.
- Substance over form
I have a vivid memory of writing a brief with wet, hot tears rolling down my cheeks as I tried to remember whether a period should be italicized or not. As it turned out, these things did not matter much in immigration court, or from what I hear, most courts, and I had wasted my time and energy stressing out about nothing. Now, in some courts and law firms, form matters more. However, it has been my experience that the actual substance of what you write is the most important thing.
I’m not saying to throw…