Becoming a part of the Lewis & Clark family has been a lot of fun. The people I have met and the opportunities that I have enjoyed during my time here have validated my choice to become a Pioneer. Although I will miss the daily interactions on campus, life after graduation does not mean life without my Pioneer family. It seems like I run into a fellow Lewis & Clark Law graduate nearly every time I leave the house. Portland is a fairly large city, but the legal community here has the feel of a much smaller place. We’re all in this together, and the Oregon bar has been supportive and welcoming of new graduates. Attorneys are generous with their time, and offer helpful advice and reassuring words to this new J.D. as he seeks to find a place in the thriving legal community here.
It has been a great pleasure to share my experiences as a student at Lewis & Clark, and I hope that my blog posts have provided at least a small window into what it is really like to earn a law degree at Portland’s law school. Thanks for taking the time to visit, and I wish you all the best.
As the weather turns cold, and leaves change their colors, law students set up camp in the library, ready to pursue their studies for another year. A new crop of 1L students starts to settle in to the rhythm of law school, while the 3Ls begin to recognize that the end is near.
This fall term has been a blur, with work, school, and personal life all rushing headlong toward December. My summer externship ended in early August, allowing me a few weeks of rest and relaxation before resuming classes. Kayaking and some belated spring cleaning helped to clear the way for the final approach to graduation. The return to school was a tough adjustment after taking almost a month off, but it was great to reconnect with all the good friends I have made in my time at Lewis and Clark.
Early in the term, I finally had a chance to bring my band on campus, as we played for an ACLU event on campus. Although keeping up with non-school activities can be a challenge in law school, I highly recommend maintaining a creative outlet for yourself. People in the legal profession love to have something to talk about that isn’t related to law, and it never hurts to have something fun and interesting to digress on.
The last term of law school is a good time to reflect on the experience, and to look ahead to life after law school. Although the pressure of classes remains, the job hunt has become a bigger piece of the picture. As important as classes and job hunting are, however, it is the relationships we build during our time in law school that have the biggest impact. Friendships and professional connections are likely to have a bigger impact on your life after law school than grades or externships. Make the effort to get to know your classmates, and your professors, and your time in law school is well spent.
As the saying goes, the second year they work you to death. There is, however, an easy way out of this dilemma at Lewis and Clark: switch your class load to part time. I made the choice back in December to reduce my class load, and I couldn’t be happier. At that time, my expectation was that I could enjoy a reduced class load, and still stay on my original graduation schedule. I was wrong.
Instead, I’m switching back to full time status for my third year of law school. According to my sources, the third year is when they bore you to death. Rather than suffer such a fate, I plan to finish my J.D. one term early. Just one more benefit of Lewis & Clark’s vast array of scheduling options, in combination with a little summer school.
This summer, I’m picking up three credits through an externship. Volunteering my time for credit at the ACLU of Oregon has turned out to be one of the best decisions of my law school experience. Thanks to the extra credits, I am moving my graduation up to December of this year. On top of that, I am gaining incredibly valuable experience and perspective on the world of public interest law. I’ve had a chance to do meaningful work on the constitutional issues of the day, while also building my legal research and writing skills, and even had the opportunity to make a presentation to a panel of attorneys. The externship program has allowed me to structure my volunteering around my own educational needs, and has been great for my confidence and competence as a legal professional.
Of course, summer is not for work alone. I’ve also had a chance to engage in recreational activities, with a focus on running whitewater. Oregon is blessed with an abundance of wild and scenic rivers, and with a climate that makes summer the perfect time to explore them. Unlike the rest of the nation, temperatures here have remained moderate so far this summer, making outdoor pursuits a pure pleasure. My adventures have taken me to rain-fed coastal rivers, glacier-fed high-desert waterways, and dam-controlled whitewater in the lush Willamette valley.
I’ve found that keeping a balance between work and fun lifts my spirits, and also provides plenty of grist for conversation when networking. This is perhaps the most important, and most overlooked, part of being a law student. Making the connections you will need as an attorney is a crucial part of making the most of the law school experience. Career services at Lewis & Clark has great programs on campus, and the school engages in a lot of community outreach, but the key is putting yourself out there. Join a bar association or two, add yourself to some legal networking lists, and get some face time with the members of your preferred bar. There is no time like the present for making connections that will serve your future.
Ask any law student to share their thoughts about winter break, and the answer is likely to be the same: it was too short. Dreams of playtime and travel easily give way to sleeping in and vegetating in front of the television, allowing overworked brains to rest and recuperate. Once classes resume, the challenge is to get back into gear for the term, and ramp up the hours and efforts devoted to study. This means getting up early in the morning, instead of sleeping until noon, and hitting the books daily, instead of the snooze button. It can be a rough adjustment.
As a 2L, the world beyond law school is also starting to come into hazy view in the distance. Even though 2L winter break marks only the halfway point of the law school experience, each term seems to fly by at an accelerating pace, and the job hunt is already starting to creep into daily consciousness. Although it is easy to pretend that law school is a purely intellectual exercise, the more salient reality is that law is a profession. The career fair in early February brings this reality to the fore for many students. Sitting down with sweaty palms for a job interview helps one recognize that law school is just a brief respite from the rat race.
The path to employment is highly dependent on what one does while still in school, but the time is short, and the task at hand is complex and daunting, especially for students that don’t have relatives in the profession or a specific career path planned out. The summer after one’s 2L year becomes all-important as a platform for building a professional reputation and beginning a career, but the challenge of juggling job applications, interviews, classes and volunteering can bring on a lot of stress.
The good news is that the career services staff at Lewis and Clark are eager and able to help. Their guidance, along with a generous selection of programs to help with interview, resume, and writing skills, makes the job hunt less frightening and much more enjoyable. Lewis and Clark students worried about the challenges of the current job market have great resources right at their fingertips. Plus, they serve snacks on Wednesday, so even if you’ve got this whole job thing wrapped up, there’s still good reason to drop in and say hello. Getting to know your fellow students and professors is bound to help in law school and beyond, but make some friends in career services, too. Don’t forget that there is more to school than classes!
Final exams for the fall start tomorrow – what better time to reflect on the term that was?
With the freedom to select a schedule from a very broad array of class offerings, how does one decide how to proceed? If you have a specific focus area, or are seeking a certificate, decisions about what class to take might mostly be made for you by the schedule itself. In my case, my intent was to explore a few different areas of the law while accommodating my extracurricular interests.
Thanks to the evening program at Lewis and Clark, there are a wide variety of classes and class times available for crafting a schedule, which made it possible for me to fit my schedule around work and volunteering, while still carrying a full load of interesting classes in a number of subject areas. Animal Law, Administrative Law, Bankruptcy, Business Associations, Capital Punishment and Constitutional Law II were my choices for the term – a mix that allowed me to touch on a few different areas of the law while preserving two days a week class-free for other purposes.
What other purposes? For one, the chance to volunteer my time with the Oregon Justice Resource Center (OJRC), an opportunity that grew directly from Lewis and Clark itself. In the current climate of reduced hiring, even volunteer positions are very competitive for law students, so it was a great pleasure to join the first class of students at this brand new non-profit, founded by three 2011 graduates of the law school. The OJRC assists local non-profit legal organizations with trial and appellate litigation on behalf of indigent, prisoner, and low-income clients in federal and state courts on a range of civil liberties and civil rights matters, including but not limited to the death penalty, immigrant rights, and unfair procedural barriers to the courts.
My role with OJRC has been as a volunteer supporting the Oregon Capital Resource Center with appellate advocacy as part of the Death Penalty Project. Working on real cases, with experts in the field, has been made possible by the dedication and hard work of the founding directors of OJRC, the open and collegial relations between attorneys in the Oregon Bar, and the flexible scheduling options that Lewis and Clark provides for students.
On top of my classes and my work with the OJRC, a flexible schedule also provided the opportunity to hold on to my part time job as a snow reporter for a local ski resort, Mt. Hood Meadows. Most students at Lewis and Clark seem to indulge some kind of athletic interests, including runners who ply the trails of Tryon Creek State Park adjacent to the school, bicycle riders who take advantage of the CATS towel program for commuting to school, and the crew of dedicated gym rats that work out daily at the student athletic center. Students here understand how to maintain a balanced life.
In the interest of keeping my own life in balance, this was my last term as a full time student at Lewis and Clark. No, I’m not dropping out, transferring, deferring or taking a sabbatical – I’m just switching to the ‘evening division’, which means 12 credits, instead of the 17 on my schedule this term (what was I thinking?). This kind of flexibility in scheduling sets Lewis and Clark apart from other schools, and allows students to make connections in the community that will serve us well as we transition from living as students to working as lawyers.