About a semester into undergrad a few years ago, I did something pretty crazy: I signed up for an extracurricular.
Revolutionary, I know.
This certainly wasn’t an unusual move, but it was pretty unusual for me. I did it on a whim, without any of my new friends joining me, and it felt really bold to just try something completely new with a group of strangers.
This spontaneous decision was one of the most influential ones I made in college, and it really shaped the entire experience for me. It helped me choose my major, it introduced me to people I likely never would’ve met otherwise, and it allowed me to develop new skills and hone those I already had.
While I still had this formative experience in the back of my mind as I stepped back on a college campus this fall at BC, I didn’t really expect to have a similar experience in law school. From what I had heard, the academics would be keeping me more than busy, and I didn’t anticipate having time to put energy into anything besides my studies. I started school with my head down, ready to focus on nothing else for the foreseeable future.
But, only about a week into this new experience, Boston College Law School threw me a curveball. The school was starting its first of two competitions — a negotiations tournament where you and a partner would go head-to-head with another pair to see who could secure the best deal for their hypothetical client. What’s more, while it wasn’t mandatory that we participate, it was highly recommended.
Oh, and if you wanted to participate, you’d have about three days to decide.
To say I was hesitant would be an understatement. I didn’t have any experience that would relate to the competition, and I didn’t really see myself as some shrewd negotiator who could talk anyone into anything. There was also the added pressure of having to decide whether I would sign up before I’d even gotten the hang of law school. I didn’t have more than just a handful of cases under my belt, and I hadn’t gotten into any sort of routine yet. How could I already add something else to my plate?
But, after some thought, I decided to sign up. I reasoned that it couldn’t hurt to try, and the worst that could happen was I’d lose in the first round and go back to putting all my focus into my work, as I had planned to do anyway. Plus, I was here to learn, so I might as well start.
Very early on, the benefits of this decision started to become clear. I was assigned a random partner, which allowed me to get to know someone from a different section for really the only time this semester. We spent a few hours each week going over interesting hypotheticals, coming up with strategies for our competition, and trying to think outside of the box so we’d have something in our pocket to pull out mid-negotiation if it started to go south.
There were certainly times when I was really busy, and the extra time I was spending on the competition felt like it could’ve been more productive elsewhere. But, for the most part, the time I spent working on these hypotheticals was time that I was able to spend using a different part of my brain. While most of my day consisted of reading, taking notes, and then reading some more, these exercises allowed me to think creatively and actually put some of my skills to the test.
What was even more gratifying was seeing that, while I still might not be that shrewd negotiator I was envisioning, I could hold my own in a situation that simulated real-life lawyering. I got really helpful feedback from various alumni who were judging the competition, and my partner and I made it to the quarterfinals before being cut.
While I could’ve stopped there and gone back to putting all my focus into my work, I found myself eager to learn even more after finishing the competition. So I stepped outside of my comfort zone once more and emailed an alumna who had judged one of my previous rounds.
If joining an extracurricular club was revolutionary for me, I’m sure you imagine how foreign networking felt. There’s something horribly nerve wracking about approaching a professional in your field, who you know is insanely busy, and asking them to spend time talking with you.
But it turns out people don’t mind doing that! The alumna and I talked for almost an hour about her experience in law school and how she balanced motherhood with school and later her career. She also walked me through the differences she found working in various environments as a lawyer, including big law, a small firm, her own firm, and earlier as a clerk for a judge. As someone who still isn’t sure exactly what type of lawyer I want to be, learning about her career was really enlightening.
Will either of these experiences be as formative as the undergraduate extracurricular turned out to be? Time will tell. But, you can’t have a new, eye-opening experience if you never put yourself out there. While it may be tempting to keep your head down in law school, as I initially planned, I’m thankful I picked it up here and there to take advantage of some of the opportunities around me.
Tess Halpern is a first-year student at BC Law. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.