African American Law Students: 5 Tested Tips for Success
Let’s not mince words: Law school is not fun. Even those enrolled at a law school with the most pleasant, welcoming students and faculty will be required to work harder and longer than they ever have in any academic setting. Because law school is so difficult, it is a very stressful experience. Unfortunately, it is even more stressful for African American law students and other law students of color.
Over the years, researchers have found that law schools are often hostile environments for students of color. The racism is sometimes overt, such as when a law professor’s statement that Black students are “rarely” in the top of the class makes national news. But most students report that the racism they encounter at law school is more subtle, such as fact patterns and law school exams that are racially insensitive. While racism is still an issue at law schools across the nation, the following tips will help African American law students avoid race-related pitfalls.
Tip #1 – Plan for the Bar – Now!
“I haven’t even started law school and you want me to think about the bar exam?”
You should be thinking about the bar exam before you set foot in the law school classroom for at least two reasons. First, keeping the bar exam at the forefront of your process will keep you focused during law school. The time, stress, and cost law school demands will be wasted if you do not pass the bar. Second, as previously discussed on this blog, despite popular myths, African American law students are perfectly capable of passing the bar exam. However, working during the bar exam is a strong predictor of bar exam failure. Therefore, students should plan from the beginning to avoid working during the bar at all costs. Applying for bar loans and scholarships early or saving a little money every semester can reduce financial stress. A little planning now can prepare you for bar success later.
Tip #2 – Join a Study Group
No one succeeds in law school without help. Therefore, study groups are a key component of law school success. While studying alone may seem more efficient, in law school, the saying, “Two heads are better than one,” really is true. While no one student will master every single law school subject, in a study group, there is likely to be one student who understands a subject better than you do. Therefore, study groups are crucial for law students.
Moreover, because law school imposes so many demands on students’ time, study groups give them the opportunity to share the workload with others. Group study gives law students an opportunity to compare and share class notes. It also gives them the opportunity to test one another. But best of all, study groups create accountability. While a lone student can justify putting things off, students who study together know that they must complete their assignments for the good of the group.
Tip #3 – Develop a Support System
As the research notes, African American law students often feel isolated. While this isolation is normal, facing law school alone can turn an already stressful situation into a completely overwhelming one. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with the isolation. Study group members can vent their frustrations – after they finish their work. In addition to study groups, groups like BLSA – the Black Law Students Association – host academic, social, and networking events. Additionally, most law schools have clubs or groups that bring together students with similar interests. While your studies should always be your primary focus, taking the time build a support system will keep you sane and whole while you learn the law.
Tip #4 – Do Not Fear Your Professors
One of the common themes in the research on African American law students is fear. Due to stereotype threat, African American law students often fear being viewed as less bright or less prepared than their white counterparts even when it is not the case. As a result, African American students are less likely to ask questions. However, this failure to ask questions can end your law career before it starts.
Most law professors use the Socratic method. In a Socratic classroom, the professor asks a student or several students a series of questions. The professor then responds with more questions. Because most students need time to adjust to Socratic discourse, the early days of law school can be quite confusing. Though most professors are happy to clarify, many students – African American students in particular – are afraid that their questions will make them look foolish. Wise students overcome this fear quickly. Professors are intimidating, but it is their job to help you understand the subject matter. Additionally, developing a rapport with your professors will pay off when you need recommendation letters. In short, swallow your fears and meet with your professors regularly.
Tip #5 – Believe in Yourself
Due to stereotype threat, many African American students believe that they are somehow less qualified than other students. Students must immediately destroy this false belief. The truth is that all law students – even those at the top of class – feel lost at times. When you doubt yourself – and you will – remind yourself that the admissions committee decided that you belonged in law school. Remember everything that you’ve accomplished thus far. Remind yourself that you are a force to be reckoned with. Tell yourself that your spot in the class was earned. If reminding yourself doesn’t work, reach out to your support group for a boost.
Congratulations on being accepted to law school! The law is an important profession and lawyers do important work. Now more than ever, society needs people who can advocate for the oppressed and less fortunate. The African American Attorney Network will continue to provide advice for African American law students during law school and beyond.