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After the Bar

Professional Development

The Evolution from Law Student to Lawyer

Amanda Marie Fisher


  • Many law students resist embracing their role as future lawyers and instead remain in a student mindset; however, there is an important identity transition from student to lawyer that needs to happen between law school and obtaining licensure.
The Evolution from Law Student to Lawyer
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For most, law school is necessary to learn skills and become a licensed professional attorney. Even so, many law students resist embracing their role as future lawyers and instead remain in a student mindset throughout their law school tenure. However, an important identity transition from student to lawyer needs to happen between law school matriculation and obtaining licensure. Most people do not consider the identity shift until after passing the bar exam. By then, it can be daunting to begin thinking of yourself as a lawyer because many may have been in the student mindset for so long. It also may be difficult to find your own way among the stereotypes about what it means to be a lawyer. No matter what stage of your journey, here are five tips for making a positive transition from being a student to being a lawyer.

1. Recognize Shifting Institutional Objectives

Institutions in legal practice (think bar associations, law firms, government organizations, etc.) will have different objectives than legal education institutions. By taking a moment to think about these institutions from an organizational level and outlining their objectives, you begin laying the foundation for how you will fit into the legal profession. Understanding institutional goals is a great way to shift your mindset from student to attorney.

2. Define Personal Objectives

You will have different objectives as a lawyer than as a law student. Law school success is often measured by grades and overall grade point averages. Bar success is measured by pass or fail. Success as a practicing attorney is much more complex. Think through what success means to you holistically. Envisioning your success will help you create a plan with short-term and long-term goals centered around your personal and career ambitions. Personal objectives may be external, like getting promoted or making partner within a certain timeframe; however, they may also be more intrinsic, like finding a balance between work and non-work obligations.

3. Set Priorities

After defining your objectives, you will need to prioritize them. Keep in mind that priorities should be dynamic. What is most important to you as an attorney within your first year of practice may not be what is most important to you after five or more years. Further, events in your personal life may cause your priorities to shift—and that’s perfectly acceptable and admirable. So, make sure to reassess your priorities frequently and as necessary.

4. Set Boundaries

This is the hardest part because your life, including your career, is what you make of it. Most employers won’t set boundaries for you, and in worst-case scenarios, they may take advantage of employees. Your experience does not need to be defined by the previous generations of lawyers who were notorious for overworking. Remember that you do not owe explanations to anyone for setting your boundaries. Work is work, not life. Your off-work time is just as valuable as your billable hours. Depending on your practice area, there will surely be times that you have to work more than average. But that should be the exception, not the rule.

5. Keep a Growth Mindset

After becoming a newly minted lawyer, you should not forget your law school experience and student mindset. Legal education fosters a growth mindset, a critical skill for a successful lawyer. Lawyers need to be lifetime learners because laws change, and every case will present its own set of hurdles to overcome. Complacent lawyers are not effective nor necessarily successful lawyers. Keep the fresh eyes of being a student and approach each situation as an opportunity to learn. This perspective will help ensure a deep level of preparation, and with confidence comes from preparation. Confidence is crucial for lawyers. Whether you are facing the bar exam or your first jury trial, being thorough and prepared for whatever comes next is the best way to maintain confidence.

Be confident in your new lawyer identity and carve out the life you imagined. Coming out of law school, where grades and studying likely took priority over many other aspects of your life, the profession gains eager new members ready to make the years and loans from law school worth it. Shifting your mindset from student to lawyer can be tricky, but following these suggestions can help you settle into a healthy and long-lasting career.