Legal Guide

Making the Most of Law School

Law school is challenging for students, and finding the right support and experiences can help students reach their potential. Most law schools offer mentorship and externship programs, which can help students advance their studies. A mentor can offer guidance and support, help the mentee understand more about the legal profession, and provide clear goals for progression. The externship can give students practical experience and insight into an attorney's work. Both of these programs give students more knowledge of the legal profession and enrich their experience at law school. Having a thorough knowledge of the law is vital to being a lawyer, but there are other important skills too, and mentorship and externship programs can help students develop these skills.

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) assesses the skills required to complete a law school's first year. LSAT tips can help you to prepare for the test and gain a place at law school. Cleveland State University offers an online Juris Doctor program that is ABA-accredited and designed to be taken part-time while students continue working. Graduates have expanded skills and are more effective in their work or are ready to take the bar exam and become an attorney.

There are four stages in training to be a lawyer: completing a bachelor's degree, taking the LSAT, enrolling in law school, and sitting for the bar exam. When the bar exam has been passed, a student could be offered a position by a law firm that accepts their interest. Employment for lawyers is projected to grow eight percent from 2022 to 2032. Demand for legal work is expected to continue, with individuals, businesses, and all levels of government requiring services in many areas.

Lawyers in the USA range from government counsels and defense attorneys to corporate counsels and legal aid lawyers. Lawyers can specialize in particular areas like family law, property law, intellectual property law, tax law, environmental law, and securities law. They can also become mediators, arbitrators, or conciliators. Some lawyers become judges or hearing officers, overseeing the legal process in court.


Mentorship is providing help and advice to younger or less-experienced people. A legal mentor is an experienced lawyer who passes advice, experience, and guidance to a law student or legal professional. Communication is fundamental to legal mentorship and can occur in person, on the phone, online, or via email. Legal professionals can find mentorships formally through a legal association, through their university’s legal department, or via networking.

If there is the option to choose a mentor, mentees can select a lawyer whose specialty aligns with their interests, such as family law, property law, or another practice area. Mentors can give objective advice, act as a sounding board for testing suggestions and ideas, provide motivation and encouragement for studying, and suggest ideas for personal development. Students can receive professional advice, including looking at future law careers. They could be supported in improving their application CVs and receive interview practice. This could be a vital experience that helps students understand legal practice as a business and what they can contribute to a company they would like to work for.

Having a mentor can give an insight into wider legal life, such as understanding the various types of legal staff within a firm. Mentors can advise on current issues within the profession and help the mentee understand the emotional and physical demands of the legal industry. Learning more about the profession can develop awareness of the choices available and give an insight into the type of practice to work in. The legal profession is always evolving, and having contact with a lawyer can give an insight that cannot be found in a textbook.

In order to be successful, mentorships require active participation by both parties. Despite being supported by the mentor, the mentee is responsible for their career and finding opportunities. Mentees can ensure they maintain contact with their mentor and be actively committed to their professional development. Each mentoring relationship should have goals to achieve. The mentor may foster the development of the mentee's practical skills and increase their knowledge of legal customs. They may improve the mentee's legal ability and professional development and encourage the use of best practices and high ideals in the practice of law.

Mentors carry out numerous tasks, such as supporting the mentee in creating a development plan with learning objectives for their current situation and for the future and identifying how to achieve them. They can talk through any issues requiring action or decision, challenging the mentee to address difficult issues and become more self-aware. Mentors can open doors by introducing other professionals and sources of information. They can recommend developmental tasks and opportunities that enable the mentee to address weaknesses and gaps in their knowledge and experience. They can coach in relevant competencies and skills and guide the mentee in developing understanding, beliefs, and attitudes related to effective performance.

Mentors offer advice and feedback and provide new insight into the journey through law school and onward. Law students are navigating their education and future careers, and they may not know everything about the different paths in the legal industry. Mentors have been through this and can answer questions about legal practice areas and provide insight into the types of law that match the mentee's interests. They can advise on how to match goals to educational and professional experiences.

First-generation law students can benefit from having a mentor to ease their introduction into the legal industry. Having a mentor can improve graduation rates and also improve law firm diversity. Law schools committed to equity are paying attention to recruiting, supporting, and retaining first-generation students. They want these students to have the tools and opportunities to learn about the justice system at law school and beyond. Lawyers with these backgrounds have competencies and perspectives that are much-needed in law. Attorneys with diverse backgrounds and experiences can contribute to a legal profession that benefits everyone.


An externship is a career training program that involves students learning from an experienced professional in the workplace. These programs take place during the school year or summer break for a set amount of time. Law firms typically offer externships to give students a practical learning experience. Many universities and law schools offer externships and have a designated advisor or career service officer. These programs are one of several ways students can start putting their knowledge and skills into practice.

An externship is similar to an internship, but externs collect academic credit for unpaid legal work. They must meet some requirements of the American Bar Association and the relevant law school. Students who receive academic credit must enroll in an externship seminar. In the seminar, students will reflect on their field placement experience, practice problem solving, set career goals, and discuss their role as lawyers and the structure of legal institutions.

The educational objectives of the externship include learning an area of substantive law or developing expertise at a higher level than at university. Externships are typically unpaid work but offer students experience in a particular field. The extern develops legal skills, such as writing, research, and analytical problem solving, and builds an understanding of a lawyer's professional responsibility. Under ABA Standards, externs should be given the work of a junior attorney, which involves engaging in and observing others performing legal work. The type of work each student performs depends on the individual placement. Activities can include conducting client or witness interviews; conducting legal research; drafting legal documents; reviewing or preparing transactional documents; attending a business meeting, court hearing, or negotiation; observing attorneys at work; and discussing an experience with a colleague, supervising attorney, or judge.

Externship programs offer the opportunity to experience a placement and a particular part of the legal system under the supervision of a faculty member. Externs will usually shadow an attorney and follow them throughout the working day. There should be time to ask questions. The externship program involves training students in legal skills by enabling them to work with practicing attorneys. Students gain insight and understanding of the legal system and profession and become more aware of attorneys' ethical obligations and professional responsibility. Students can learn from and reflect on this work experience. 

Externs can expect to gain feedback from the attorney they work with. Externships can be useful for clarifying goals and insights. They can provide knowledge and understanding of the standards of the legal industry and give insights into how to present themselves as a worthwhile job applicant. There will usually be a balance between observing and getting involved with the work being done. This provides useful experience in a professional setting with much explanation and context. Simultaneously, the organization is learning more about the student, their interests, and their potential. Externships are an invaluable way to get professional experience and can add a lot of credibility to your resume.

Externs can discover their strengths or aspects to improve. Working in a professional environment and connecting concepts learned in law school can also help expand knowledge. Working as an extern can mean developing employability skills, which can be useful in future jobs. These skills could include attention to detail, organizing work, or timekeeping. Externships can also teach how to respect colleagues and navigate workplace challenges and issues. Externships allow the student to develop mutually-beneficial relationships with legal professionals. They could lead to future job opportunities, and the student could apply for a position with the law firm where they had their placement.

Skills for being a lawyer

Knowing the law is essential to being a lawyer, but there are other important competencies too. Lawyers must develop various skills to succeed in their legal career. Mentorships and externships can provide opportunities to improve in many areas, and what is learned can be applied when starting work as a lawyer.

Communication skills

Excellent verbal and written communication are essential to a legal career. Active listening skills are also important when working with clients or colleagues to ensure all necessary information has been understood. Lawyers who work in court must be confident speakers for arguing a case, negotiating settlements, and explaining difficult information to clients. Written communication is important for drafting letters and legal documents. Lawyers must know technical and legal language and be able to write clearly and concisely. Communicating with a team will make output more effective and efficient.


Working as part of a team is an essential legal skill, as well as dealing with people from all levels of the legal hierarchy, from judiciary members to trainees and pupils. Lawyers must work well with people from different demographics, ages, and cultures. Solicitors often work in teams of trainees, associates, partners, and sometimes lawyers from other jurisdictions. Barristers must have close relationships with their clerks and often work high-profile cases with other barristers. Teamwork requires respecting every team member's role and having good communication skills, particularly active listening.

Creative problem-solving

The law has different avenues, arguments, and options for solving problems. A significant part of the job involves abstract thought, analysis, problem-solving, and creative consideration in order to think of new solutions to problems. Lawyers need great understanding of the relationship between the law and their work and know how to apply this knowledge to reach the best conclusion. Lawyers will have their perspective when addressing a problem and take steps when working on a case influenced by their and their team's desired outcome. Lawyers can create tailored solutions to problems, although it takes practice. They have to find creative ways to work within the legal framework. The outcome can rely on the lawyer's ability to present their point of view meaningfully and suitably. This ability can be particularly useful when working in commercial law with multiple stakeholders.

Research skills

Absorbing facts and figures, reading large amounts of information, analyzing material, and making sense of it are all part of a law career. Research plays a large part in a lawyer's everyday work. Lawyers use research skills when doing background work on a case, advising clients on complex issues, and drafting legal documents. Students can use their time at university to become adept at using the internet and library resources and building up a network of contacts. These connections could be useful sources of advice when starting a legal career.

Attention to detail

Lawyers need the ability to pay attention to detail. Successful lawyers can read and interpret complex legal documents, recall facts and information accurately, and identify inconsistencies between documents. Attention to detail is also useful when interpreting and researching laws and understanding case law and precedents. This skill is particularly important when assessing sources and documents. Having the ability to identify key pieces of information is important and can be used when looking for evidence to support a case or proofreading a contract where a missing detail could jeopardize the whole task. This skill can also be used to understand people by reading their body language and noticing nonverbal cues such as posture, facial expressions, gestures, and eye movements. Lawyers can practice their attention to detail by reading legal documents and looking for inconsistencies. They can focus on small details in documents and practice close reading techniques to recognize important facts, arguments, and rulings.

Commercial understanding

A law degree can lead to a diverse range of career pathways. Law firms and other employers are looking for graduates who are commercially aware. Understanding how businesses work, knowing the competition they face, and recognizing new opportunities in the market can make students attractive to employers. It is also useful for students to be aware of current developments in local, national, and world business, particularly issues that impact a law firm and its clients.

Lawyers must recognize the importance of keeping costs low, handling information confidentially, and meeting deadlines. To understand a client's business, lawyers must understand the wider social, political, and economic issues that may affect them. Lawyers must also understand the short-, medium-, and long-term implications of their client's business proposal and apply strategic thinking to the organization's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This means the lawyer can provide business-minded legal advice. Clients want their lawyer to fully understand the connotations of the social, economic, political, and technological landscapes and how this affects their business.

Students reaching their potential

Law students face many challenges at law school, and getting the right support can make their experience more rewarding. Mentorship programs ensure students are well supported and make the most of law school opportunities. First-generation law students can benefit from the guidance of an experienced mentor. Externships offer the chance to observe and be involved in real legal work and can motivate and give direction to the student. Most universities offer these programs, and students can use them to improve their time at law school and reach their potential. Knowledge of the law is essential as a lawyer, but there are other important skills too, and the mentorship and externship programs can help develop these skills.

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