Monday, May 11, 2015

Missouri Law Review Spotlight: David Ferguson

Hello, my name is David Ferguson, and I will be graduating from the University of Missouri School of Law in about five days . . .  is what I say in emails to perspective employers.  But that really is my name, and I really will be graduating this week.  Well, I won’t actually be there for the ceremony, but I’m getting the degree, so that’s the important part.  As a part of my commitment to the Missouri Law Review’s editorial board, in my capacity as an associate editor, I have been asked to write a short expose about myself.  I thought that would be sort of silly because it is unlikely that anybody cares, and if they do, they could take a look at my Linkedin profile.  Instead, I decided to come up with five tips for law school success (which have been presented in a very particular order). 

I don’t know that I am in any better of a position than any other 3L to provide these unsolicited suggestions.  But in my defense I will say that, by the time I am done, I will have (1) spent time at 3 law schools, (2) started out abysmally, but turned it around quickly (as evidenced by the fact that I have been given this assignment), and (3) been pretty successful as a collegiate intramural flag-football coach/player at two Power 5 conference schools.   Regardless, I recognize that this is sort of trite, but I always wanted to take a stab at it.  So here goes. 

1) Grades.  I’m sorry.  It sucks.  But it’s a fact of life for people enrolled in 99% of law schools (I think that’s the actual figure).  Maybe you don’t want to practice in big law.  Maybe you want to help cats (I know someone who is doing this).  But I can tell you for a fact that you are going to want to be in a position at the end of your 3L year where you have options, and the only way to do this is to have grades.   You don’t have to be at the top.  You probably won’t be at the top.  In fact, statistically speaking it is almost certain that you won’t be at the top (I’m looking at you), but you need to do the absolute best that you can.  From my relatively extensive experience at two law schools, law school success appears to have far more to do with diligent work ethic than intuitive cleverness. Of course having some of the latter is helpful (I have far less than I would like), but working your butt off is going to put you where you want to be, because from an aptitude perspective, the playing field is relatively even.

2) Law Review/JESL/JADR.  There's a lot of tedium involved in working on a journal.  However, my experience has been that the most beneficial aspect of working on a journal is learning how citations actually work, like really work, like in the weeds.  So do the Blue Book stuff; diligently.  In my experience it's unlikely that someone will ask you about Law Review/JESL/JADR in an interview.  But it's important.  So do it.  It is a box that must be checked. 

3) Don’t let anybody tell you, ever, not even once, that you can’t do what you want to do (within reason).  A good friend of mine from law school would often (still does) describe law school as a toxic environment.  I think that is an accurate description, to a degree.  Law school is incredibly competitive, especially if you are striving for relatively lofty ambitions: which most people are, that’s why they are in law school.   Of course all the really cool goodies are seemingly reserved for a handful of choice people; and to a degree that’s right.  There are certain things that you just aren’t going to be able to do in certain grade related circumstances (if you are at the bottom of your class you are not going to clerk for the circuit court); but from my experience, that category of unattainable grade related goody type stuff is far narrower than many people will lead you to believe.  If you want to work at a law firm in NYC after you graduate from the University of Missouri, but you finished your first semester in the middle of your class, that doesn’t mean you can’t still do that (although a lot of people will tell you that you can’t), it just means you’re going to have to work your ass off to make it happen.  It’s not going to come easy.  You’re going to have to network and follow every nook and every cranny and take chances and follow roads far less traveled, but at the end of the day, if you want it bad enough, you can do it: I mean you’re at the 59th ranked law school in the nation. 

4)  Surround yourself with people who believe you can do it.  This seems straight forward, but, in conjunction with #3, it is of vital importance.  Of course you’re family believes you can do this (I hope); I think it is the rare outlier law student who doesn’t have the full backing of his family, non-law school friends, and spouse/significant other.  However, outside of that group, finding people in the legal community, professors, advisors, legal professionals, who believe that you can do a thing, especially when that thing has not been done, or not by someone like you, can be far more difficult.  They are out there though, if you are committed, and believe that you can do the thing you set out for, people will recognize that; and those are the people you must gravitate towards if you want to succeed in an incredibly competitive goodie bag.  A touch of pragmatism can be good, you don’t want people who promise you the stars on a foundation of sand, but naysayers are a dime a dozen, counterproductive, and unnecessary.  As they say, haters are, in fact, going to hate.  

5) “It’s a tough galaxy.  If you want to survive, you’ve gotta know . . . where your towel is.”[1]  This advice is doubly important if you are being chased by Vogons. 

Never cared for conclusions.  Please review the preceding for more information. 

[1] The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Popular Theater Release 2005) (original on file with the author); see Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 18 (1979) (“A towel . . . is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have.”).