6 Extracurricular Activities
In law school, similar to your undergraduate experience, you will have opportunities to engage in extracurricular activities. Law school extracurricular activities tend to be valuable for career planning and are often directly related to the practice of law.
I. Why Get Involved?
It’s a good idea to choose one or two activities that appeal to you, since they are all ideal ways to network, find mentors, and add interest to your resume. They also provide different types of foundational skills that you might need in your career. Essentially, extracurricular activities are a part of your professional identity development, and they can impact your developing professional reputation. I discuss specific activities below in greater depth, but for example, joining a publication will help you build research and writing skills while participating in mock trial will help you develop your litigation skills.
Finally, they are opportunities to get to know your peers, alumni, administration, and faculty outside of class, which can be beneficial for many reasons. Studies1 have shown that students who are more actively engaged in the law school community tend to have overall better mental health and excel in classes. Because of this, I encourage you to find at least one law school activity that appeals to you!
With that in mind, be thoughtful in selecting activities because it’s easy to get overwhelmed and try to do too much. That is not a great idea. Law school coursework will keep you busy, and you want to be cognizant of that. You don’t want to overextend yourself. Moreover, these extracurricular activities are often viewed as professional commitments, so you want to make sure you can really commit the time needed for any given project. It is likely best to start slow when engaging with extracurriculars to make sure you can handle both the activities and your coursework. First-year students often underestimate the time commitment of law school and take on numerous extracurricular obligations, prioritizing them over academics. This can often have a negative impact on grades, which counteracts any potential gains from the extracurricular activities. Spreading yourself too thin, and joining too many organizations, can also make it difficult to demonstrate your commitment to one activity or group, and can also make it more difficult to pursue leadership opportunities in that organization.
You will have time during your first year to find out more about the different organizations that are available at your school. Any organizations that you join during your first year will likely not be a huge time commitment; the organizations might have meetings or events you can attend, but will not likely expect a full commitment. You should also note that while your law school may list quite a few organizations, some schools boasting close to 100, not all organizations are equally as active. This is something else you can investigate during your first year. You will have more opportunities as a second-year student to join competition teams, journals, or run for executive board positions in different student organizations. These upper-level opportunities are great ways to show leadership and areas of interest to future employers, but also come with added responsibilities and are a larger time commitment.
II. Student Bar Association
Your undergraduate school may have had a Student Government Association, or SGA. This organization was likely comprised of students elected by the student body to govern them and represent them to the administration.
Similarly, law school has a Student Bar Association, or SBA. The organization is made up of students elected by the law school to be the president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer, among other positions. There is also typically an election for class representatives, so that each class year (such as 1L, 2L, and so on) have representation as well.
The SBA typically governs other student organizations on campus, acts as a representative to the administration, advocates on behalf of student concerns, and plans events. The SBA will also have a connection to the American Bar Association (ABA)—a national association—through its Law Student Division. Again, this provides many potential opportunities.
The ABA, as well as other, local bar associations such as those at the state and city levels, have opportunities for students to become members and often have discounted student rates. They can provide great local networking opportunities if students plan to stay in the area and want to meet local practicing lawyers. Some association entities, such as commissions and committees, also offer the opportunity for student representation. Involvement at this level offers law students a front-row seat to legal developments in a particular legal interest or area of law.
While I mentioned above that most organizations make you wait until your 2L year to get fully involved, your SBA will likely have one or two first-year representatives, meaning you have the opportunity to get involved in the SBA right away. In addition, the events that the SBA plans, as well as their meetings, are open to all students. Even if you don’t plan to run for SBA office, keeping track of what they are doing, or going to their meetings, is recommended.
III. Affinity Groups
Most law schools also have affinity groups, such as the First Generation Law Student Group (FGLS), Black Law Student Association (BLSA), Latinx Law Student Association (LLSA), Asian-Pacific-Alaskan Law Students (APALSA), a Women’s Law Caucus or Women’s Law Group, Jewish Law Student Association, Christian Law Student Association, Muslim Law Student Association, OUTLaw (LGBTQIA+ students), Disability Law Students, Veterans groups, and so forth.
These groups typically plan events, bring in speakers, and provide networking opportunities for their members. Some might also have formal mentoring programs in place. Some of these groups are affiliated with national organizations and plan larger-scale events with groups from other schools. Some affinity groups also attend national conventions, which can be a great way to network. Law students have the opportunity to become members of—and seek leadership roles within—affinity groups at the national level, as well.
If you are interested in affinity groups, be on the lookout to see if these groups do anything before your law school orientation. For example, the First Generation Law Student Group at my school often reaches out to first-generation students prior to orientation, and they typically host an event for those students during orientation. Other affinity groups often do the same, which can be a great way of meeting classmates and upper-level students.
Unlike competition teams or publications, affinity groups will allow you to join just as a member during your 1L year, meaning the time commitment might not be as high. Many students continue their membership during their entire law school career and often serve in executive board positions (such as president, vice-president, etc.).
If there isn’t an affinity group for you, start your own! My law school used to be for women only. When a few of us discovered this in our first year, we were ecstatic. We also found that, ironically, the Women’s Law Caucus had been defunct since the 1970s. We decided to remedy this and brought the group back to life during our 2L year. In addition, the next student and student group featured below were my inspiration behind this book!
“I co-founded Loyola University Chicago School of Law’s student group dedicated to first-generation law students called First-Generation Law Student “FGLS.” We started this organization because we began law school feeling very anxious. Although I had taken a summer class to help prep me for law school, once our classes got going, there were so many things that I just didn’t know and I couldn’t shake feeling inadequate. There were questions my first-generation peers and I had about acronyms, terms, the job search, interviewing, and note-taking that seemed to be a given for some of our other peers. While we eventually found each other, all of us shared the feeling that we started law school behind, and we wished we had more support. FGLS was founded to ensure incoming students didn’t feel this way.
Pre-pandemic events were well attended. It was clear that students wanted and needed this support. Through this organization, we were able to foster community and a support system, mentor students with practicing attorneys, and organize events catered toward being first-generation in the legal field. FGLS started hosting events for incoming first-generation students, connecting with them throughout the summer prior to their first semester of law school.
Our goal was to ease the anxiety caused by imposter syndrome, and we achieved that goal with every meeting.”
-Brenda “B.” Alvarez, Esquire
IV. Professional Interest Groups
At many schools, there are also student groups focused on specialty interest areas, such as entertainment law, environmental law, public interest law, immigration law, disability law, education law, health law, and other areas of practice. Similar to the affinity groups, they might host speakers or plan networking events. There may also be an overlap between the professional interest groups and affinity groups. You can generally join these groups as a member during your 1L year.
Schools also typically have honors organizations, such as Phi Delta Phi and Phi Alpha Delta. Phi Delta Phi is the oldest legal organization in the United States. Phi Alpha Delta is an international professional law fraternity and the largest legal organization in the United States. Both of these organizations are good networking opportunities. Organizations of this type will usually hold information sessions or meetings where you can learn more.
V. Law Review and Law Journal
If research and writing is something you enjoy, a law review, or law journal, might be ideal.
A law review or law journal is a scholarly journal or publication. Almost every law school has at least one publication, and some have multiple. Generally, there is a flagship general journal, and many schools also have one or more subject-specific journals. The flagship journal may be called a law review or a law journal. The flagship publication tends to have a broad, or general focus, while the other publications tend to be a bit more specific. For example, there are journals that focus just on environmental law, business law, criminal justice, intellectual property, international law, and more!
Students run and edit these publications, while the articles are authored by law professors and scholars from around the country. In the legal profession, these are the publications that practicing lawyers, professors, and judges use for research. They are the scholarship of the profession.
The summer after your first year, you will have the opportunity to “write-on” to join a law review or law journal, with each school and publication having a different method of choosing the students that join. Some schools have grade requirements, while others have a writing competition—and some schools have a combination of both.
If you join, because you are responsible for editing articles, you will spend considerable time checking the sources of the submitted article, which will help you fine-tune your legal research skills. An additional responsibility will be writing your own article, or “note.” Each publication typically chooses one to two student articles to publish, but even if your article doesn’t get chosen for publication, it can be a very good learning experience and can serve as a professional writing sample. In your third year, you may be given an opportunity to join the editorial board.
Joining law review or journal is a great way to fine-tune your legal research and writing skills, as well as your editing skills. Because of this, it is often a great extracurricular activity if you want to potentially clerk for a judge or join academia. Keep in mind that joining a publication will be a significant time commitment and a considerable amount of work, but it is often worthwhile for both the experience and the impact on your resume. Most law schools will offer academic credits for being on law review or journal, which count towards graduation requirements, but this varies from school to school.
Exploration Exercise: Law School Publications
VI. Competitions: Mock Trial, Moot Court, Dispute Resolution
Law school also gives you the opportunity to try out for competition teams. Most schools offer different kinds of competition teams to hone different skills; among them are mock trial, moot court, and dispute resolution teams. Depending on the school you attend, there may also be client counseling, negotiation, arbitration, and other “lawyer” skills competition teams. The opportunity to try out for these teams typically arises the summer after your first year. The competitions allow you to practice your advocacy (i.e., lawyering). Schools may also offer credit towards graduation for being on competition teams.
Moot Court: Moot court focuses on appellate advocacy. Remember in the chapter about reading, we discussed how many of the cases you will read will be appellate opinions? This means that they were not written as a result of a trial, but rather, the decision at trial was appealed. That means that the losing party asked the appellate court, or the court above, to review the case. In an appellate case, there are no witnesses and no new evidence is presented—everything is based on the proceedings that occurred at the trial level. Instead, both parties prepare written documents called briefs and have a set amount of time to argue their position. A good example of an appellate court is the Supreme Court of the United States.
For moot court teams, students are presented with a problem that they will argue in front of a judicial panel, usually comprised of three judges. While the students present their arguments, the judges will usually pepper them with questions. Students have to defend their position while presenting case law in support of their argument. Students who compete in moot court typically also have to write a brief in support of their argument for either the petitioner (the party asking for a lower court ruling to be changed, also referred to as the appellant) or for the respondent (the party asking for the ruling to remain, also referred to as the appellee). Being on a moot court team is an excellent opportunity to hone your legal research and writing skills, and is frequently seen as a prestigious accomplishment. In addition, arguing a case while having to think on your feet and answer questions is a great way to practice your advocacy skills. Finally, as many of the judges are local practicing attorneys and judges, this is another great way to work on networking.
Mock Trial: Mock trial is exactly what it sounds like: a pretend trial. Most will already be familiar with mock trial based on what you have seen on TV and in the movies—a lawyer presenting a case on behalf of a client and questioning witnesses in front of a judge and jury. Different schools have different systems for mock trial competitions, and some have extensive try-outs to select competitors. Some will have just a few, select teams; others will allow students to form multiple teams. Some schools will compete in regional, national, and even international competitions, while others will have internal competitions.
Typically, each competition “round” consists of four students total, with two students acting as attorneys or witnesses for each side. There also may be volunteer witnesses. Every team in the tournament is given the same “problem” or case to work on, sometimes months in advance, though it will depend on the competition. Being on a mock trial team is usually a big time commitment, with many hours of practice to prepare for competition.
These are great opportunities if you are interested in being a trial or litigation attorney, meaning you are interested in practicing the type of law that requires trials. Not only does this type of extracurricular activity help immensely with the skills you will need for trial work, but it will also be appealing to future employers and a great source of networking.
Dispute Resolution Teams: At some schools, you will also have the opportunity to take place in dispute resolution competitions. Dispute resolution is how we typically refer to things such as negotiations, mediation, or arbitration. It is essentially resolving a dispute without going to trial. However, they still involve a lawyer, and these competitions will judge your skills in that area.
If you were like me entering law school, you might be thinking “What on EARTH does mediation mean?” Mediation is when parties decide to hire a neutral party to facilitate a conversation and help resolve a dispute, rather than proceed with a trial. Arbitration is when the parties hire one to three neutral people to decide a matter, so it’s not a trial but is often binding like a trial. This means that mediation is a facilitated conversation, whereas arbitration leaves you with a final decision. Negotiation happens in various areas of law, whether it be negotiating a contract, or a settlement. These are skills that lawyers use every day, no matter the area of law you choose to practice in. This also makes them valuable skills in both traditional and nontraditional legal jobs.
Some law schools offer credit for being on one of the competition teams, but not all do. There are dispute resolution teams all over the country who compete with each other in regional, national, and international competitions. In fact, some schools have teams specifically devoted to a specific area of law, such as sports law negotiation or international commercial arbitration.
Exploration Exercise: Competition Teams
VII. Teaching Assistants/Tutors
Most schools have opportunities for 2L and 3L students to be teaching assistants or tutors. Each school has a different method for choosing these students. If your school utilizes teaching assistants or tutors, you will notice that the tutors will show up in your first-year courses and they will frequently host review sessions to answer questions.
Tutors or teaching assistants typically work closely with your professor to help provide guidance and feedback to first-year students. These students are also fantastic mentors! In return, the teaching assistants or tutors typically receive payment or course credit for their work. Being a tutor or teaching assistant can also be included on your resume.
If this is a project you might be interested in, talk to the teaching assistants or tutors you meet during your first year. Ask them about their responsibilities and how they were selected.
VIII. Research Assistants
Law school may also provide the opportunity to be a research assistant for a professor. At any given time, most of your professors will be working on their scholarship, which means they are doing research in order to write a law review article or work on a book. They will often want to hire research assistants to help them with these projects. This can be a great opportunity to work closely with a professor that you admire, especially if you are interested in their area of research. It may also be a paid position or a position for academic credit, which is a bonus!
Typically, professors seek out 2L and 3L students from the classes they teach. Some schools might have a formalized process for this where opportunities are posted, but others have a much less formal process. If this is something you are interested in, make it known to your professors.
IX. Study Abroad
While not strictly an extracurricular activity, most law schools offer study abroad programs. These are typically offered during winter or summer break, and provide opportunities to take classes and earn credits in a unique or interesting setting. If you are interested in studying abroad, but your law school doesn’t provide a program, check with your administration (or student handbook) to see whether you can participate in another school’s program and transfer the credits.
This can be a costly endeavor, since it may involve international travel. Look into the various programs your school might offer and do not hesitate to talk to financial aid about whether loans can help to assist with the cost.
X. Presentations, Panelists, Conferences, and Symposiums
You might notice that there are constant announcements for things happening at your law school, whether it be a guest speaker, symposium, panel, or another similar event. I would recommend that you make an effort to attend some of these, especially if they line up with your interests. Law students frequently come to law school with either a firm idea of what they want to do with their law degree (and that can change), or they have no idea what they might want to do or what options are available to them. In general, extracurricular activities are a great way to explore various areas of law. Specifically, listening to guest speakers and attending events are a great way to explore what types of law and practice are out there, and what might interest you.
These events might be put on by professors or student organizations. For example, the school’s law review might hold a symposium and invite the professors that published pieces in the law review to speak about their research. Affinity groups or professional interest groups might provide relevant speakers, or hold a panel discussion on a current topic of interest. These are all great ways to learn more about the areas of law that interest you, as well as network!
Your school might also host conferences or continuing legal education (CLE) events. While these are typically geared towards practicing attorneys and professors, they might need student volunteers. Again, this is a great way to get involved, learn more about an area of law, and network. For example, my school regularly hosts a Women in Litigation Conference and an Antitrust Colloquium. While these events are geared toward practicing attorneys and professors, the faculty members that plan them use students to register participants, help the speakers, and generally volunteer at the event. In return, students get to meet people who are in their area of legal interest, and sit in on discussions they might find interesting. It can also be a great boost to your resume and is another way to get to know your professors outside of class.
Now that I’ve gone through the various types of activities you can engage in outside of class, what might you be interested in?
Jot down a few of these groups or activities that interest you now, and make it a point to learn more about them in your first semester. At the end of the semester, come back and revisit this list to determine if your interests are the same or have grown or evolved as you have broadened your exposure to the practice of law.
Remember that law school involves more than just the classes and you get out what you put in. That means that being involved and engaged will be good for your mental health, good for your sense of community, good for networking, and good for your resume. It’s a win all around!
Now for a little mini quiz!