I saw a TV commercial yesterday that used the phrase to “fall forward” as a metaphor for learning from your experiences. I liked the association. When you deal with your share of disappointments in law school, it helps to keep in mind that you are learning to fall forward. If you play it safe, you eliminate opportunities for learning. It can be scary to fall, you can get injured. Lawyers may even be more risk-averse than the general population because the nature of their profession demands caution. But since some falls are inevitable, you may as well learn how to fall forward in law school, which is a safer environment than the real-world legal practice. So, how do you learn to fall forward?
- Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks when you can get a high potential pay-off. It may be worthwhile to join a law review or a moot court competition even if it means that you will have less time to prepare for your classes. The pay-off is the skills you develop participating in those activities that make you more desirable to the employers.
- Take challenging classes in the areas that are new to you. Stepping outside your comfort zone will increase you learning opportunities. Consider taking classes in other programs that are relevant to the area of practice you want to pursue.
- Make sure you expose yourself to the teaching styles of different professors.
- Ask questions in class if you don’t understand something.
- Get as much feedback as you can by voicing your opinions and comments in class and talking to the professors during office hours.
- Look for internship opportunities. Practice your job interviewing skills.
- Ask people whose opinions you respect to become your mentors. If they say they can’t for some reason, ask them to refer you to somebody else who may be in a position to mentor you.
- Participate in study-abroad programs to learn more about the legal systems of other countries and enhance your cross-cultural communication skills.
- Learn to network by attending conferences, bar association functions and reaching out to others.
- Hone your people skills by enrolling in a legal clinic or volunteering. Learn how to deal with difficult people.
- Don’t be afraid to negotiate better deals for yourself.
- Don’t try to hide mistakes. Acknowledge them and take responsibility for correcting them.
- Treat mistakes as learning opportunities. Determine what went wrong, what you should do to avoid the same pitfall in the future, incorporate the changes and move forward.
Learning takes courage. What else can you do right now that may look risky and uncomfortable but has a potential to bring a large pay-off for your future?