Congratulations 1Ls and welcome to Harvard Law School!
As you will all soon realize, between its curriculum and extracurricular activities, HLS will be one of the most valuable resources in your life. However, with the multitude of opportunities for student involvement at HLS, there often comes a certain 1L anxiety, a notion that there are certain activities you “should” participate in by mere virtue of your attendance here, especially if other people are doing it as well.
The desire to throw yourself into every single interesting activity you come across is understandable, and we are lucky that HLS has so many attractive offerings. I am here to at least try to alleviate this anxiety with one piece of advice: eradicate the word “should” from your brain, at least for the next three years.
Instead, trust the instincts that got you here. 1L year is tough, but being selective and intentional with the extracurricular activities you decide to do can help make it less so.
One of the most positive ways this attitude impacted my life 1L year was my decision to focus my energies on the Recording Artists Project (RAP). In RAP, I served as a Team Leader, a student leader who guides a team of four during the duration of a project, in RAP for both semesters of my 1L year. RAP was the only SPO I participated in and the only organization that I pursued a leadership role in.
SPOs are wonderful organizations because you can work with real clients on real projects, something you can’t do in the formal curriculum. Coming into HLS, I knew that I wanted to join an SPO, and I knew that I wanted to join RAP because I wanted to learn about transactional law and I had a general interest in the entertainment industry.
However, after arriving on campus I began to doubt myself. I remember listening to my classmates talk about which organizations they wanted to join, and walking around the student activities fair with its myriad booths, each representing a different path that I might take. I found myself feeling an urgent sense that I must partake in everything. This sense was not driven by internal motivations. Rather, it was spurred by a perception of external pressure. I started thinking that I should not only join RAP and began to identify activities that I felt an HLS student “should” be doing or “should” be taking advantage of. “Why not?” I thought.
But there is a “why not.” If your heart and personal interests do not lie with what an organization does, that organization will only take away from the valuable time that you have and become an additional, unnecessary stressor.
I chose RAP as my primary activity because I wanted an SPO with substantive transactional work, interesting clients, and leadership opportunities. Thus, whenever I had to do work for RAP, it was never a burden, but instead an enjoyable learning experience.
Not only is a lack of selectivity and intentionality in choosing your student organizations harmful to you personally, your experience with the organization could be less enriching and will not carry as much outward weight as you want. Because I dedicated myself to RAP, I produced excellent work product, grew as a leader, and developed a close relationship with my supervising attorney.I was also able to host the Boys and Girls Club of America on campus — something I likely would not have had time for if I had overloaded my plate of activities. And when I got my summer internship, my commitment and purposefulness resonated with my interviewers.
When you choose your activities — and I do recommend getting involved with something — do so with a keen eye. You will inevitably feel a pull towards roles that you do not truly want, whether it’s when everyone in your section has seemingly joined multiple journals, or perhaps during the job-search period when someone says they want to work at X, and you begin endlessly wondering if perhaps you should also want to work at X.
It’s hard for a 1L to avoid the temptation to associate with a large number of organizations or to embody what an HLS student is “supposed” to be. That is not to say that you must or ought to only do one activity or pursue leadership in only one organization. There is nothing wrong with doing more activities if your interests naturally tend toward those activities.
Follow the instincts that got you here. Do what you want, not what you “should.” By applying this to your approach to 1L year, you will experience a fulfilling year of opportunities and growth rather than a daunting year of obligations and perceived shortcomings. Use the resource that is HLS to your strategic advantage, because you have all earned it.
This piece was a part of the 2016 orientation issue. To read more, click here.