The suggestion, “You should get involved when you get to law school,” sounds like a trap, right? It sounds like a recommendation that is totally without merit (“Don’t you know how hard law school is, Mom?”), or a tactic among laser-focused students to try to distract other students.
But the truth is that the individuals in law school I have witnessed get involved are also the laser-focused, successful students. They are the high achievers of their class and the go-getters who are excelling in school as well. From my experience at FSU Law for almost two years, the Venn diagram of the high-achieving and the involved students looks more like a circle.
My explanation for this phenomenon is that people who can balance more are more successful. Staring at a book for eight hours of the day, spending four hours in class, and going home to sleep at night will leave you with a bad back, sore eyes, and burnout. Students who maintain no work-life balance during school will eventually find themselves looking for coping mechanisms to dissipate all of that stress. The real skill in law school comes not from being able to spend all of your time in the books but rather the ability to break up a day into tasks and be strategic with your time.
My explanation also comes from well-backed research. A prominent professor here at FSU Law, Lawrence Krieger, took time out of his schedule to speak with entering 1Ls at my orientation back in 2020. He talked about the significant stress law students face and the habits and activities they can pick up to maintain their health, their strength, and their sanity. His words have rung true for me all throughout law school, and I have seen the ways that staying active, staying committed to my hobbies, and paying attention to myself has been effective for me, even in the wake of not being able to spend 100 percent of time on school, which no one can do.
As you consider law school and enter your first steps on this path, remember that there will be people who seem to have their head in the books longer than you. But it is not “chair time,” or the amount of studying that will make you a good student and thus, a good attorney. It is your ability to focus, your ability to strategize, and your ability to connect with others that will ultimately land you a job and get you far in life. Yes, it is good to know the material for class and put the time in to read. But it is also good to be passionate about something and let the material come to life.
Many of my friends participate in organizations where they feel the most passionate. I am currently a member of the APALSA organization which was created to support and advocate for Asian American Pacific Islanders, OUTLaw which provides a platform for all students to learn about the legal issues facing gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other queer people, and Law Students Practicing Wellness. Many of these organizations allow students to maintain passion and connection around their cultures and identities while teaching others about their identities. I am proud that I go to a law school where both students and faculty genuinely want to be parts of these learning experiences. I have also served on mock trial competition teams for Phi Alpha Delta and FSU Mock Trial. By no means am I a leader in these groups but sharing in their involvement has given me a perspective and an energy from socializing that school simply has not.
Given the density of the material in law school and limited amount of time and energy, you may not have the capability to be involved in organizations the way you might have been in undergrad. For instance, you may not have the time or energy to be an officer in more than one or two organizations. But we all know from undergrad that it is not about the accolades that come from the position or involvement. Your involvement in law school with organizations and other types of activities should be about what you are getting out of it and what you are contributing to others. As long as you feel your experience with getting involved is benefiting you in your work-life balance, you are on the right track. Listen to that inner voice that tells you “Oh, this is a waste of time,” or “You know what, this really makes me feel passionate. I could do this for the rest of my life.” It is important to listen to that voice as you plan your schedule, especially as different pursuits pull you in opposite directions.
Make sure to get involved in a way that feels right for you, and don’t feel behind if others have their head stuck in a book while you are heading to an extracurricular meeting. We all need time to study and time to sleep and take care of ourselves. Make sure you are doing just that in law school, but then add on valuable opportunities where you see yourself getting involved. I can promise you that as you go through your law school journey maintaining this balance and awareness, your brain and your body will thank you.