[ Stephanie Baldwin, 2L at the University of Arizona ]
What a ride this second year of law school has been. The saying is, “1L they work you to death” (true), “2L they work you to death” (also true.) Now a lot of my “working to death” was all of my own doing. I took 18 credits, both semesters. I also completed 300-hour externships, both semesters, for no credit. In the fall, I continued working at my summer government agency job and in the spring, I had a stipend-based externship at a law firm. I was ultra busy, but I wouldn’t change a thing.
I believe 2L year is where you start to really see yourself as a lawyer. I am so grateful for all of the experiences that enabled me to know I was on the right path.
Here are the best decisions I made during 2L:
Joining a clinic
In the fall, I was a 38d (limited practice) student for the City of Tucson. I remember the call I had with my dad when I told him I had won my first bench trial. He said, “that is so great, what did the teacher say? I knew you were nervous.” I responded that I had not told them yet. Confused, he said, “wasn’t she there, it’s a class…” I laughed and said, “No, dad, this was a real case, and an attorney supervised me, as I did the case, in front of a Judge.” I don’t think I will ever forget him going, “WHAT!?!?” I learned so much during that clinic and it solidified the fact that I should pursue litigation.
Making the trial team
Because of my clinic, I knew I wanted to get some practice making a closing argument before I had to do it in an actual courtroom. This desire inspired me to enter the closing argument competition. I did well and received an invitation to join the trial team. Unfortunately, I had to turn down the invitation because I just did not have time to devote to it. This experience taught me to know my limits. Even though I declined, I knew I wanted to be on the trial team as a 3L student. I tried out again in the spring and made the team for next year.
Focusing on practice-ready classes
It feels like there are two paths and no, I am not talking about litigation vs. transactional, but rather to take bar exam classes or not to take bar exam classes. For me, I selected the experimental/practical course route. I do not regret this at all. This decision has really helped me excel at work. During my summer, I realized that while knowing the law is important, knowing how to conduct effective legal research, communicate with clients effectively to build trust and having the ability to write well is what seemed to matter most. Not only did this prepare me well for my externships but I discovered this is where I could excel in the classroom, as well. I learn best by applying what I learn in classroom simulations and my GPA got a nice boost as a result.
Putting in the work … a lot of it
Perhaps it is because I had a career before law school, but having externships during the school year has made my law school experience so much better. Each day I worked, I learned a new skill or more about my working style. I was able to be mentored by seasoned attorneys and learn from my mistakes, safely. Once we graduate, the training wheels are gone, and what we do could significantly impact a client. Working as an extern allowed me to experience many aspects of being an attorney without causing any damage to a case or client. I will be a more effective associate and attorney because of these lessons.
We all choose different paths in school, and there is no “right” or “wrong” way to complete your 2L year. But my advice is to select a path that will allow you to grow and blossom within the constructs of the legal field. I loved everything I did, but I also could have disliked it, and that would have been just as valuable as a lesson, allowing me to course-correct if needed.