A letter to my 1L self: Steven Ngo, UBC JD ‘14, UBC BSc ‘08

After countless hours spent studying for the LSATs, writing personal statements and finalizing your applications, you are now about to start on your legal journey at the Allard School of Law. Congratulations!

You will be faced with different questions at every stage of your legal career. When I was at your stage, it was whether or not I had the right stuff to succeed as a 1L. Would I be able to make friends or form a study group? Where do I want to work afterwards? Public sector? Large firm? Small firm?

Having met many bright students across Canada during my time on the student recruiting committee at my firm, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, and as a director of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (Western), it has given me a different perspective on what works and what doesn’t. In no particular order, here are a few things that I would have told myself before starting law school – Buzzfeed style.

  1. Things always work out in the end. There will be times when it seems like the worst thing has happened. Maybe your MacBook died during an exam, because it was not plugged in properly (this happened) or a term paper disappeared when your hard drive crashed (this happened too). Things have a way of working themselves out in the end.
  2. Backup your files on the cloud. See above, enough said.
  3. Be nice to people, don’t be a jerk. The legal world is small. The last thing that you want is a reputation for being a jerk to someone during law school. At the same time, if you have a great reputation, people will support you and go to bat for you.
  4. Find a study system that works for you. You will be bombarded with study methods from well-meaning 2Ls, 3Ls and even lawyers like myself. Find one that works for you and stick with it.
  5. Ignore the rat race. It is easy to get lost in the rat race of comparing yourself against your peers, especially when it comes to exams and OCIs (on-campus interviews). Focus on yourself and tune out the chatter around you.
  6. Meet lawyers. We love talking to students. There are many organizations that welcome attendance by students, including organizations like the Canadian Bar Association or the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (BC). If you are unsure of what to say, simply use the following questions on repeat:
    1. What advice would you give to yourself when you were at my stage?
    2. What did you enjoy the most about law school?
    3. How did you end up in your current firm or career path?
  7. Explore. Law school is a great opportunity to try out different areas of law and figure out what you are good (and not that good at). Take advantage of this before it is too late.
  8. Read. With over seven billion people on Earth, someone has gone through what you are going through and distilled their knowledge into a book. Take time to read outside of law school. There are books on everything from succeeding in law school, interviewing at law firms or simply connecting with people.
  9. Take care of your mental health. Law is a challenging profession and it is easy to fall into the dark and deep rabbit hole of stress and anxiety. I remember listening to a keynote speech by one of the leading tax lawyers in Canada, Al Meghji. When asked about his “secret sauce” to success, he told us that his “secret sauce” was actually meditation (see Headspace). If it worked for him, it may work for us too.