My Secret to Graduating as the #1 Law Student

My Secret to Graduating as the #1 Law Student (and Law School Prep Tip #6 Set Challenging Goals and Develop a Unique Strategy to Accomplish Them).

My decision to go to law school was not the most well-thought-out decision I’ve ever made. I think my exact logic for that decision was:  “I want something challenging but medical school is too long.” I didn’t even have any desire to practice law.  I was basically only going to law school because I wanted the intellectual challenge. (Side note: While I do not regret my decision to go to law school for one second, I also do not recommend that such big decisions be made with such little forethought!).

I began law school in 2008 at Wayne State University Law School.  Despite not having any lofty post-law school ambitions, in a spirit of competitiveness, I made it my goal to graduate as the #1 student out of my class of 200+ students. I did this in part because I am competitive (and, truthfully, I wanted the ego-boost that goes along with graduating as the #1 student) and in part, because I wanted to keep all of my employment options open when I graduated. Graduating as the #1 law student is a practical guarantee that one will be able to get a job.

At the same time, I felt arrogant having such a goal (who was I to accomplish something like that?) and I knew it would be very difficult as there were a lot of people with the same goal as me – and by definition, only one of us could achieve it. Moreover, there were two additional reasons I thought this would be an especially challenging goal for me:

  • First, I was not the smartest person in my class.  I didn’t get a 180 on the LSAT and I could tell there were others who understood concepts more quickly and at a more intuitive level than I did.
  • Second, I did not work the hardest. It was my routine at that point in my life to take every single Sunday off – something that I did not plan on giving up in law school (and indeed I kept that routine all throughout law school). Granted, I worked really hard the other six days of the week, but still, sacrificing an entire day so I could “take a break” was not something that, to my knowledge, anyone else was doing. Especially not anyone who wanted to graduate at the top of their class.

Those “weaknesses,” however, ended up serving as an advantage. I knew I could not solely depend on being smart since others were smarter. I knew I could not solely depend on working hard since others worked harder and longer hours.  I knew what I needed, instead, was a superior strategy.

So, the summer before law school, I developed a strategy that would maximize my chances of success in law school.  I learned as much about law school as I could. I realized how different it is from college (the classes, teaching style, assignments, exams, grading curve…it’s all completely different!). This led to the realization that I could not use the same strategy I used in college (which was essentially “work really hard!”) to succeed in law school.

The month or so before law school started, I made a list of the things I needed to focus on, a list of the things I didn’t need to focus on, and a list of skills I needed to develop. I knew well ahead of time how daunting law school final exams were and I knew that they determined 100% of a student’s final grade. I developed an approach to law school which allowed me to essentially study for the final exam from the first day of the first class. I came to law school equipped with a superior approach and a sense of confidence that I would not have had otherwise.  In the end, I was fortunate enough to accomplish my goal of graduating as the #1 law student out of over 200 students. Even more fortunate was the fact that I became more resourceful, creative, and motivated because of it. As a result, I strongly encourage everyone to dream big, set lofty goals, and always strive to look through the ceiling to the stars.

How do you set a good, challenging goal that will not only give you a sense of confidence, energy, but will pave the way to further productive goal-setting in the future?

  • First, clearly define your goal and learn as much about it as possible. My goal was to be the #1 law student. But that might not be your goal. If you’re going to law school, your goal could be make law review, become the class president, specialize in a unique area of law, start a club, non-profit or business, join a big law firm post-law school, or use your law degree to travel around the world.  Pick something that is very challenging for you, but not impossible. If your goal is too easy, you will get bored. If it’s impossible, you will feel discouraged. Something that is challenging, on the other hand, will energize you and help you to feel enthusiastic and passionate.
  • Second, set aside some time to ask: “What do I need to do to accomplish my goal?”  Find all the different routes that you can take to achieve your goal, then pick one (or a combination of them) or make your own path. Don’t think about how you will accomplish your goal in a vague sense. Figure out exactly what you need to do each month, week, and day. Make it concrete.

When you are considering how you will realistically accomplish your goal, list all of the obstacles that are in the way. Lack of money? Lack of time? Lack of (something else)?  Then think about how can you look at these obstacles in a different light and actually use them to your advantage. Remember, I thought that the fact that I was not the smartest person in my class and the fact that I didn’t work the longest hours were going to serve as huge obstacles but those two “obstacles” actually ended up working in my favor because it forced me to think outside the box and not depend solely on being smart or working hard as my path to success.  Thus, make it a priority to think of your “obstacles” as tools accomplish your goals in creative and unusual ways.

As you can see, accomplishing a challenging goal not only has the potential to lead to tremendous personal development, it also helps you to develop confidence, creativity, and resourcefulness. Good luck on your law school journey!


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