By Victoria Percifield, Regional Director of Helix Bar Review Engagement
You’ve been accepted into law school. Maybe you’ve even had your first week or two of classes. And now you’re starting to settle in for the next three years. It’s at this point that many law students ask themselves: Should I join a law school student organization? And, if so, which one(s)?
It is likely that you were involved in on-campus organizations during your undergraduate experience, in fact, probably several: intramural sports, Greek life, affinity groups, honors organizations and even major-specific groups. If you are used to being very engaged with your school community, you may be eager to begin making connections within your new field of study.
But before you attend the upcoming student organization fair, let’s talk about the types of clubs you will encounter at law school so you can make an educated choice about which groups to sign up for.
Student organizations may be split up into two categories: clubs anyone can join and groups you must be invited into or try out for in order to join.
Anyone Can Join:
If you’re interested in governance, most law schools have a Student Bar Association, or “SBA.” SBA member positions are typically peer-elected rather than appointed. Each school’s SBA represents the student body as a whole and acts as the ambassadors between the students and administration. SBA is often responsible for school-wide social events and fundraisers such as Halloween parties or Barrister’s Ball (think end-of-the-year Law School Prom!). Being involved in SBA is a great way to become a standout leader and interface with your colleagues, administrators and faculty during your law school career.
If you are interested in joining a group of individuals with whom you share interests and/or identities in common, consider joining clubs such as Women in Law, Black Law Students Association (commonly called “BLSA”), Latinx Law Students Association (commonly called “LLSA”) or OutLaw Society (just to name a few of the most common organizations). These groups tend to be a favorite amongst law students as they provide an opportunity to connect with peers of similar gender, sexual identity or racial backgrounds or with those who have shared lived experiences. These organizations also host on and off campus events and are a great way to make lasting friends during law school, connect with the broader legal community in your area and advocate for causes that you feel passionately about.
If you enjoyed Greek Life as an undergraduate student, most law schools have legal brother/sisterhood chapters at their school – often referred to as “fraternities,” although they are gender inclusive. The two most common legal fraternities are Phi Alpha Delta (“PAD”) and Delta Theta Phi (“DTP”). These groups are usually very close knit and hold socials or events that include alumni. Joining a law fraternity, therefore, is a great way to network with recent graduates and begin making legal contacts within the community.
Finally, there are also many opportunities to join interest-based clubs for just about anything you can think of: Environmental Law, Business and Tax Law, Public Interest Law, Student Wellness, First-Generation Law Students and many more! These groups can be great to join during your first year because they offer opportunities to meet law school peers with similar interests as you but don’t often require the same time commitment as fraternities, affinity organizations or SBA.
Don’t see the student organization you are looking for? Maybe you are interested in Animal Rights Law or creating a disabled students affinity group and your campus does not have a local chapter. Ask the SBA or your school administrators about how to create a student interest group. Own your law school experience and make the most out of your social experiences, too!
If you’re interested in honors organizations and resumé-building, you may want to consider joining the Law Review, Trial Team or Moot Court. These organizations tend to be prestigious and selective. Law Review is for academically-minded students interested in honing their legal research, analysis and citation skills, while Trial Team/Moot Court tend to attract the up-and-coming litigators.
At some schools, you can grade onto the Law Review if you are among the highest academic performers in your class after the first year. But most students are invited to join their Law Review organizations after participating in a "write on" competition or try out that usually occurs during the summer between your 1L and 2L years. This process requires a lot of time and effort so, while being on Law Review looks great on your resumé, you can expect to work hard for your spot! And, once you're in, that hard work continues, which is why participation in Law Review will often earn you academic credit.
If you’re looking for a group that prioritizes the art of the spoken argument, consider trying out for your law school’s Trial Team during your second year. This organization looks great on your law school resumé and can also take up a lot of your time, so you will often earn academic credit for participation on a Trial Team as well. As a member of Trial Team, you will get tons of hands-on practice advocating for clients and arguing case-specific facts – sometimes even in front of real judges at local Trial Team competitions!
Can’t decide between Law Review and Trial Team? Consider joining your law school’s Moot Court Team instead. Moot Court Teams are typically comprised of pairs of brief writers and oralists who compete in mock appellate argument competitions. Many students feel this group is the best of both worlds in that Moot Court helps with your legal writing skills as well as practicing your oral argument talents.
Finding the Organization that’s Right for YOU:
Humans are social creatures – we tend to gravitate to individuals and spaces that make us feel at ease. And joining at least one on-campus organization while in law school can enrich your law school experience. When deciding which group to join, consider three things; (1) what has interested you in the past, (2) what works with your schedule today and (3) what will help you in the future. If you are a person who sees themselves running for political office one day, maybe joining SBA should be at the top of your list. If you feel drawn to trial advocacy work, Trial Team or Moot Court may be a good fit. If you don’t know anyone at your new law school and want to make friends, consider joining a law fraternity or interest-based club. But no matter what organization(s) you choose, making sure that you have ties to your law school and becoming a part of the community are sure-fire ways to stay engaged while in law school and make long-lasting memories along the way.
While it’s normal for 1Ls to get excited to join student organizations, before jumping headfirst into clubs remember that your time in law school is precious. You will have classes and reading assignments, and you’ll need to fit eating and sleeping somewhere in the mix as well. While joining law school clubs will look great on your resumé and be a great way to make friends, try not to join every single club at once. Read more about our tips for avoiding burnout in law school here. Consider limiting yourself to one or two clubs during your first year and then see what your schedule looks like in your second year before joining more. Most importantly, have some fun along the way!