Knowing the law vs. Practicing the Law

Guest blog by Courtney Boykin, 3L at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law

When I first started law school…

I, as was any other typical 1L, was confused as can be. I wasn’t abreast to the culture of law school. Despite my school’s attempt at introducing me to the culture through orientation, I couldn’t quite get into a steady rhythm. I spent most of my time plowing through cases and trying to figure out what I needed to know. Even after passing all of my exams, I felt like I knew absolutely nothing. I’d memorized enough to get me through the tests, but beyond that, I felt that I couldn’t actually articulate what I’d “learned.”

Interestingly, leaving the classroom REALLY helped me master certain topics. Once I started interning at different legal placements, things started to make sense…at least a little bit. (I always joke that it took me getting out of “Contracts” to actually learn the basics of “Contracts.”)

I said all of that to say, it’s really difficult to gauge whether or not you can be a successful lawyer without actually “doing” lawyerly things. In my experience, I’ve found that Final exams, while VERY (VERY!) important, only test your ability to regurgitate and apply the law, not necessarily the practicalities of the law. It’s only when we see and experience the practicalities of the law at work do we really understand it.

If there’s one piece of advice that I’d give a 1L, 2L, or someone interested in law, it’d be this: Capitalize on experiential learning opportunities.

If your school has an externship program, utilize it. If your school offers simulation courses, take them. If your school provides resources for internships, use them.

Take your core classes, but don’t underestimate the power of those experiential courses. They really help bring the law to life.