How to Overcome Competitiveness in Law School

Practicing law and being competitive go together. After all, your goal as a future lawyer is to win—win for your client, win for your firm, win for yourself. The law is often a zero-sum game and that means there are winners and losers. So you might think law school is like this too — a game of winners and losers, where if you’re not first in your class, you might as well be last. Movies and TV shows haven’t helped this image. How many times have you seen law students being portrayed as cutthroat, hiding books in the library, making fake outlines to throw the class off, or worse?
Luckily, law school, for the most part, is not like that. Everyone wants to do well, of course, but not willing-to-commit-petty-larceny levels. But if you’re wary of heavy competition, or just don’t thrive in that kind of environment, here are 5 things you can do to overcome competitiveness in law school:

1. Get an amazing LSAT score and get into the best law school you can.

So this seems counterintuitive, right? How will getting into a very competitive law school make you have to deal with less competition in the classroom? Think about it like this: students who attend top-ranked law schools are all virtually guaranteed to find a great job after graduation. This means that whether you’re number one in your class at a top school or dead last, you’re still swimming in the very best pond. In contrast, schools that aren’t as highly ranked tend to breed even more competition among their students because ranking may mean the difference between a job after graduation and unemployment.

2. Avoid it altogether by applying strategically.

Your law school grades are based on a curve, and you’ll be ranked compared to your class. Unless of course, you won’t. Some law schools have opted out of ranking their students, and some note your class performance with pass/fail. Focusing on your own performance helps keep some of that built-in competition at bay. This is where doing your research and visiting prospective law schools whenever you can before applying can be key. Some schools are much more collegial than others. Check out a class, talk to current students, meet alumni if you can. Go beyond the shiny brochures.

3. Be prepared.

The best offense is a good defense and the more on top you are of your work, the less threatened you’ll feel by your fellow classmates. Seems obvious? Yes. But the more prepared you are for class, the more “unmesswithable” you’ll be. What goes into being prepared? Do the reading. If there’s one piece of advice you’ll hear everywhere and should take to heart it’s to never fall behind on your reading or outlines.

4. Find your people.

Law school may not be the venomous snake pit you’re worried about, but it’s definitely going to be challenging. Make or find a study group and share the work, lean on each other, and learn how to collaborate and work as a team. After all, once you’re out in the world as a newly minted JD, you’ll learn very quickly that almost nothing happens in the world of law without cooperation.  

5. Find opportunities to do what you love.

Maybe your school and classmates are super competitive and there’s no getting around it. Luckily, law schools have tons of opportunities for you to do law “stuff” without grades or ranks getting involved. Instead of Law Review, check out legal clinics and affinity groups around topics you’re interested in, and volunteer your spare time there. Many law schools allow 1Ls to get involved in clinics in some capacity. Passionate about criminal justice reform, the death penalty, or immigration? Your school likely has a place for you to get involved.