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The Journey: Full Circle

By: Joel Montilla,

Staff Writer


As I get ready to graduate in January 2016, I wanted to reflect on the journey that has brought me here and share my experiences with you all. I'm in my last term of law school with all core classes already completed, having only my externship and bar exam skills left to complete.

A little over two years ago, I wrote an article for The Pillar sharing my experiences as a first term Cooley law student. The article was titled, “Through the Eyes of a First Term Student.” It can be found here: 

For starters, I am still happy I chose the Lansing campus for all the reasons discussed in my previous article. At all times, there was truly a team behind me cheering me on and they were always available if I needed any kind of help in my day-to-day journey as a law student. This is not to say that the other campuses were not viable alternatives, but the location of the school within the state's capital was a big plus because it allowed me to run into local politicians, businessmen, and influential people. In my second to last term, I transferred to the Tampa Bay campus to be in the state in which I would eventually practice.

The routine I adopted in my first term remained the most important part of keeping me in the game throughout my journey as a first-term student to graduating senior: that of developing a relationship with your professors while in their classes. Getting to know your professor and his style are very similar to the legal profession where you have to understand opposing counsel's approach or a certain judge's expectations about courtroom conduct and procedure. It's an adaptation of sorts. That is, it is extremely beneficial if you adopt this strategy early on to get to know who is making the ultimate decision in your case (as a law student on the final exam in week 15). Also, you develop some great relationships that could come in handy down the road when looking for letters of recommendation or if you simply want to build your professional legal network– Cooley professors are well seasoned veterans with a plethora of knowledge that you could you use to your advantage. I strongly encourage you all to take advantage of this opportunity. Don't let it pass you by.

As far as reading, it doesn't become easier or unimportant as you progress beyond your first term, but you ultimately adapt your reading to what your professor wants from in-class discussions. Some professors want to discuss cases to help students grasp concepts of how the law developed and how certain judges ruled or dissented (disagreed) on a particular topic. Others want to discuss topics covered in the cases but not the cases themselves. Both strategies are important. However, remember that some classes are code classes and others are element driven. Regardless of style, reading comprehension is an essential part of being a successful law student especially at Cooley Law School.

One of the biggest lessons I learned while reflecting on my journey is that law school can be accomplished if there is a will to prevail, commitment to the journey, and the discipline to stick to the structure you and your Faculty Advisor discuss. The classes you take and when you take them could play a big part in your success as a law student. Faculty Advisors are well equipped to go over a plan that works best for you. Stay the course on the plan you discuss with your advisor and NEVER attempt to build your own schedule without first speaking with your advisor. Attempting to structure your own schedule without first speaking with your advisor could cause issues when trying to finalize the necessary classes for a particular concentration. Selecting your own classes may also burden coursework in a given term because some classes are harder than others and choosing all difficult courses in one term may be very challenging. Spread out the difficult classes and develop a class load you can manage - your advisor is there to help you with this and discuss your options.

The above structure works for your educational success. However, don't forget your personal life which can be derailed if you don't maintain a healthy balance between school and social activities like I described in my first article. Each term, while dealing with normal law school rigors, you must maintain an out-of-class routine that helps you manage the stress that comes with seeking your J.D. For me, personal growth activities like running and working out at the gym helped me contend with law school stress. Being a part of the Student Bar Association (SBA) was another out-of-class activity that allowed me to reduce anxiety through projects that helped me hone my skills as a leader and as part of an organization full of different personalities, goals, visions, and desires. Find whatever works best for you and stay committed. This journey is primarily educational, but it is equally personal in that it helps you make connections on which you will rely throughout law school and beyond to achieve established goals. Enjoy it. Embrace it. And tackle it head on.

Looking back, I am glad I wrote for The Pillar so that my experiences could be memorialized and I could write this article as a full circle of my law school journey. I would encourage those reading this article to reach out to The Pillar’s editor and get involved in sharing your experiences, both on and off campus. It's a great tool that allows you to connect with others who may be going through similar struggles like yours or those who need advice on their own law school journey.

Good luck out there.