Once a military member has made the decision to enter the civilian world, and then made the decision to enter law school, it can be a shock to the system. Experiences in law school do not mirror the military very much, but there are plenty of valuable areas that transitioning military members can contribute to while they find their way through law school.
- Bring your military discipline to law school
The first tip I have is probably the most important to long term success. In law school, self-discipline and time-management skills are what set high-performing students apart from average students. Everybody that gets accepted or attends law school has proven academic skill, so thinking that you will succeed just because you got good undergraduate grades is short sighted.
However, transitioning military members come equipped with experience that other traditional students won’t have: experience in high-pressure situations with an emphasis on goal-setting. Those skills directly translate to law school. Effectively managing your time so that you can accomplish your readings, writing projects, extra-curriculars, self-care time, and possibly work is possible. Remembering what made you successful in the military and putting those skills to work in law school will bring success.
- Learn How to Network in the Civilian World
Networking in the military can be pretty simple: get to know your peers in your unit, get to know your chain of command, and get to know your peers outside of your unit. It is not so simple in the civilian world. Networking in law schools serves two main purposes: student network to assist in school and a professional network for jobs/careers outside of school.
There are many articles to assist with networking. A basic rule to follow to get you started is to give before you ask to receive. Have the mindset to assist others first and build a relationship, and if good will comes back your way, then that is a positive side effect. After this, don’t forget to follow-up and keep the relationship because you never know when or how long it might be before the relationship turns fruitful.
- Play up your Employability
Service develops integrity, responsibility, perseverance, as well as the other qualities mentioned in this article — qualities that appeal to employers in the civilian world. In fact, many U.S. employers have recruiters who look specifically for candidates with military backgrounds. These employers look for transitioning military members because they come with the work ethic to succeed.
In your application to law school and your resume for future employers, be sure to play this up. My resume usually listed my military experience as number one on my work experience (until I gained enough legal experience to put that first). This was because I knew it was a huge selling point, and one that really set me apart from other traditional law students.
- Veteran Perspectives on the Law Matter
The Socratic Method (asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas) used in law school is a valuable tool for the transitioning military member. The traditional law school student may not have the experience to critically think through both sides of an argument. But, the military trains that in veterans by forcing them to constantly think about not just what they are planning to do, but also the enemy. Use this skill to participate and help build relationships.
Also of note, one of the biggest struggles with the general legal profession now is lawyer well-being. There are beginning to be a lot more resources, focus, and professional organizations focusing on helping lawyers master self-care. However, military members may be able to have a huge influence in this area. Veterans already struggle with many different service related well-being struggles and know the resources that help. Using this knowledge will help you carve a niche and be a great resource to your peers.
In conclusion, if you’re ending your time in service to our country, and you want to head to law school next, definitely highlight that in your application package and legal resume. Your opinion not only matters, but is valued in a lot of areas in law school and the general legal community; so, speak up. Lastly, do not be afraid to seek help if you find yourself struggling, I would bet most, if not all, law schools have veterans groups to assist those in your situation.
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