The old saying that law school scares students to death in the first year, works them to death in the second year, and bores them to death in the third year may need an update. I’m sure it applies to some of my colleagues, but I’m not sure it matches the challenges of the current job market or the opportunities available to students in their final semesters. It probably made more sense in a job market that consistently paired law students with their future employers by the beginning of their second year. A probable full-time job on the horizon is a wonderful tonic for fear. In the current market some students still make that strong connection with a future employer early in the 2L year. Most people are discrete with their good news out of consideration for others still on the hunt, but September and October are very good months for some people. Others search through November and finals and into the spring, with growing apprehension. Time doesn’t end the fear. Jobs do.
I suspect that the right job also fuels the boredom promised in the third year. In my case, I felt a real reluctance to trade the live case or controversy work of my judicial internship for the hypothetical and theoretical challenges of a final year of coursework. My academic courses are great, but they can’t really compete with helping a sitting judge to apply equally intricate legal principles to the facts of a current case. I can understand why some (including our President) question the value of the third year of law school. As an opportunity to take more classes between a 2L summer and a permanent position, I’m not sure it’s a good use of everyone’s time.
But the third year can be more than a second second-year. I was lucky enough to get a spot in Vanderbilt’s Appellate Clinic. It has been an extraordinary experience. I am one of a half-dozen 3L students working with a Vanderbilt professor to brief an appeal. The intersections of substantive law, procedural law, and the human aspects of litigation are challenging and rewarding. We get constant feedback from each other and our clinical professor. We get to work with our client, advocating for her in briefs and communicating with her as the case develops. Collaboratively researching, writing, and revising (and revising and revising) a brief to get a result for a client is infinitely more interesting than outlining for exams.
Knowing that a client is depending on us to represent her interests introduces an excitement and a pressure that might be cousins to the 1L fear. Certainly some people might be bored with the work that we’re doing, but those people probably shouldn’t go into appellate litigation.
I’m fortunate. My 2L summer internship was one that I would have happily continued indefinitely, and I would have been just as thrilled to start my post-graduate clerkship as soon as I was offered the position. But as I sit here between the two, I am anything but bored.