This year, several fellow librarians and I at Texas A&M University School of Law have volunteered to serve as faculty advisors to incoming 1L law students. After meeting with our students, we all got together and informally discussed the advice we gave to our students. We quickly noticed that a theme emerged, and I wanted to share some of the advice we gave our students:
- It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to practice;
- It’s okay to change your mind about what you want to do;
- It’s to ask questions in class to seek clarity; and finally,
- Remember that you’re a human being.
It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to practice
I was a bit of an anomaly because I went to law school knowing that I wanted to be a law librarian. My colleagues did not. Most law students, including my advisees, have no idea what they want to practice after law school, but hearing their peers plan out their careers in the first week has put them on edge. I try to remind my students that one great thing about law school is that there are multiple opportunities to gain experience in different areas of the law to find your calling.
One of our professional staff members in the law library, Cara Sitton (she’s a rock star!), is also a full-time law student, the Senior Citation Editor of the Journal of Property Law, and a legal research and writing teacher’s assistant. Cara has offered to assist my advisees in deciding on moot court or mock trial (something she has previously done) by sitting on a panel or working as a witness for a mock trial audition. Even though other librarian advisors at other institutions may not have a Cara Sitton on their staff, what library advisors can do is make connections with 2Ls and 3Ls (perhaps law student workers in your law library) who have experience in potential areas of interest of your advisees. These upperclassmen can serve as mentors. Most faculty advisors are working at law schools that they did not attend as students, so bringing in a student’s perspective (particularly students who have taken classes taught by the same faculty teaching your advisees) can at times be more valuable to your advisees than your own experiences elsewhere.
My goal is to help my advisees get some experience in their potential area of interest to decide if it’s something they actually want to do. This leads to my second piece of advice: It’s okay to change your mind.
It’s okay to change your mind
One of my advisees has a criminal justice undergraduate degree. She is interested in both criminal law practice and possibly real estate law, but also expressed how she was not sure if she wanted to pursue a legal career in these areas. I explained that I could introduce her to faculty who teach or are clinical directors in her current areas of interest. However, if after working in either of these areas she finds that the particular specialty isn’t a good fit, she can change her mind. We have over 10 clinics at Texas A&M University that are cover other areas of the law including family law, intellectual property, immigration, and more that might be a better fit. It is okay to say “this isn’t what I want to do.”
A key point I reiterate to 1L students is that it is possible to change your mind. I aim to establish a relationship with my advisees so that they feel comfortable stating that they aren’t interested in what they thought they wanted to do. Moreover, I want to advise them on what other opportunities are out there if they continue to struggle with making a decision.
It’s okay to ask questions in class
Some law students come in with some legal experience, speaking in “legalese,” or with a family legacy of lawyers. This can be intimidating for first generation law school students who have no external resources or support systems outside of their own work ethic and perseverance.
The advice I give advisees is the importance of face time with their professors, especially if they need clarity on something discussed in class. I personally remember having to ask questions several times because I just didn’t get something. There were even times when some students would loudly sigh or roll their eyes if I kept asking questions. So, I would refrain from asking for clarity in class. In hindsight, I did myself a disservice. If I didn’t understand something, I should have sought clarity immediately – regardless of anyone else’s issue with me asking questions in class. I tell my students that the person rolling their eyes or loudly sighing is not going to take your exam for you. My main point is to use professors as an immediate resource for clarity. Lastly, I strongly encourage students to visit their professors during office hours. If you feel uncomfortable asking questions in class, write down your question and seek help later. That’s what office hours are for – use them.
As a librarian, I know that students sometimes feel more comfortable asking a librarian a question about an area of law. As an advisor and a librarian, we can point students toward study aids, practice problems and possible old exams housed in the law library. I also remind students that academic support provides additional assistance to students.
Remember you’re a human being
The first week of law school, I sat down in a chair outside of my last class to rest my eyes for a bit before returning home. I woke up four hours later in the same chair. I hadn’t slept well that entire week and I was just exhausted. I remember waking up upset at myself that I’d slept that long because I hadn’t allocated those hours for sleep in my planner. I cringe every time this memory crosses my mind. I’m human, and humans have to sleep.
I tell all students to remember to be human. My advice is to take a few hours a week to go to the movies with friends, have dinner with significant others, sleep a full night, read a story to their kids, or do some other activity where you are not simultaneously studying or thinking about law school. Law school tends to be all encompassing, and law students sometimes forget that there is life outside of law school. It is important to me that my advisees realize that there are people here to help them. I want to constantly remind them of that and look for signs of issues to get them some help if necessary.
If you are working at an institution that provides opportunities for librarians to serve as advisors, I say do it. Being an advisor lends itself to the very reason I became a law librarian, to help students learn to be the best advocates they can be. Serving as an advisor provides another opportunity for me to do that.