12 Life-Changing Lessons I Learned in Law School

life-changing life lessons from law school

$91,000.

That’s how much money the average law school student borrows.

Not only did I graduate from law school, but I also obtained an LL.M. (Master of Laws) degree while living abroad in The Hague.

So, you can imagine the whopping amount of student loan debt I managed to rack up!

Anyway, I was having a conversation the other day about how I’m not practicing law these days.

And after I calmed down from my financial anxiety attack, ☝ I remembered something important.

A fancy degree wasn't the only thing I got from my expensive education.

I also learned at least a dozen life-changing lessons!

Which, in many ways, is even more valuable than a “piece of paper”.

And now, my awesome (and lucky) readers, I’m sharing them with you for free. 🤗

Here they are-

12 Powerful, Life-Changing Lessons I Learned in Law School:

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1. Work smarter, not harder.

Economy of Effort

In law school, it seemed like there was never enough time.

Between all the assigned reading, briefing cases, writing memos, preparing for mock trials and studying for finals, I was always working on something.

There were times when I pulled all-nighters.

Or forgot to eat.

Or didn’t shower (gross, I know).

Now I realize that the 80/90 hour “work” weeks I was pulling in law school weren’t benefiting me as much as I thought. I could have been living a much happier and healthier life and getting more done in less time.

Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule?

Also known as the Pareto Principle, the 80/20 rule states that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts.

It can be applied to economic conditions, athletic training, software optimization, time management, goal setting, and many more contexts.

The trick is to be able to identify which efforts are generating the most results and focus on those in order to maximize your time and performance.

Life-changing lessons from Law School

Do Less, Then Obsess

Harvard Business School professor and management theorist, Morten T. Hansen, sought to understand why some people perform better at work than others.

In his 5-year study of 5,000 people across corporate America, he found that top performers did something different than average performers.

They focused on doing a few things well.

As Hansen describes it, they “do less, then obsess”.

The top performers generally took on less than average performers but focused on those few things with fanatic attention to detail.

According to the study, those who put extraordinary effort into a few things outperform those who put average effort into many things by 25%!

The study also found that working more than 50 hours a week is not beneficial and may even produce diminishing returns.

Because it’s not about the hours you put in, but rather the quality of the work you get done.

Moral of this life-changing lesson: Quality over quantity.

2. Done is better than perfect.  

If you’ve ever struggled to finish projects because you have to make sure everything is “just right”, then this one’s for you!

The next life-changing lesson I learned in law school is that done is better than perfect.

It’s one thing to do your best.

It’s another thing to try to make everything perfect because you don't have confidence in yourself or you're not confident in your ability to succeed.

Perfectionism kills productivity. 

At its core, perfectionism is a form of procrastination because we are scared of something— Failure. How other people will perceive us. Not being good enough.

If trying to make everything perfect is getting in the way of you getting things done, you’re focusing on the 80% that’s not really benefiting you.

Refocus on the 20% that matters.

“Have the courage to be imperfect.”- Alfred Adler

Just do your best, get it done and put yourself out there. If you gets criticized, so what?

You won’t die.

You’ll probably be able to get some valuable feedback that will help you to do better the next time!

And also, remember that it’s not just about the destination; it’s also about the journey and living a life you love.

“What you get by reaching your goals is not as important as what you become by reaching them.”- Zig Ziglar

*Check out these 50 inspirational quotes about life, love and happiness!*

Life-Changing Lessons from Law School

3. Pride comes from inside.

One of the most important life-changing lessons I learned in law school is that trying to achieve goals for external validation ultimately leads to disappointment.

Fulfillment comes from achieving your own definition of success, not someone else’s. 

So, when setting goals (or making a personal development plan), make sure they are based on intrinsic values – things that are meaningful to you personally.

As opposed to externally-validated end goals such as wealth and status, intrinsic goals are not only motivated by the achievement, but also the pursuit.

Pursuing intrinsic goals leads to better mental health, happiness and overall well-being.

When you know why you want to accomplish a goal (and it’s for intrinsic reasons like improved health or personal growth), you’ll be more motivated to accomplish it.

And even if you don’t accomplish it, at least you'll know that: 1. you tried your best, 2. you learned something and 3. there will be another opportunity.

“Failure is success in progress.”- Albert Einstein

There are so many variables in life, so many things we cannot control.

What we can control is ourselves.

If you try your best, you may or may not succeed.

But, you can always rest easy knowing you did everything you could do with what you had.

And that’s all you can ask of yourself!

The rest you can’t control so let it go.

It doesn’t really matter how it looks to others or whether you “failed”.

What matters is that you did your personal best, you gave it your all – you can always be proud of that.

4. Comparison is the thief of joy.

“Everyone is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

The next life-changing lesson I learned in law school is that comparison is the thief of joy.

The law school I went to (like most law schools) has a competitive grading scale that makes it extremely difficult to get good grades.

The strict curve only allows so many people to get A’s, B’s C’s, etc. depending on how many people are in the class.

In fact, here is the letter the Dean told us to give to our prospective employers:

Law school curve letter - competition comparison


Notice how it says that for first-year courses, the average grade must be between a C+ and a B-, with 45 percent of students receiving grades of C+ and below.

In one particularly small class I had of about 15 people, only one of us could get an A!

So, it was a very competitive environment that encouraged a scarcity mindset – which is actually detrimental to success.

Because the thing is, we all have unique strengths and weaknesses.

No one is perfect.

But, everyone has gifts.

And those gifts differ. They can’t be compared.

One gift isn’t “better” than the other; they’re just different. They make us who we are

That’s part of what makes the world so beautiful and interesting.

When we cherish the gifts we've been given and don’t begrudge others for theirs, we are much happier!

Life-changing lessons from Law School

5. Hard work and determination do not (necessarily) equal success.

Here’s something I heard all the time growing up:

“You can do anything you set your mind to.”

Sound familiar?

Adults were constantly drilling that into our heads when I was a kid.

The persistent message was that if you really wanted something and you tried really hard to get it, you would succeed. Guaranteed.

Well, I now know that is a Big Fat Lie.

One of the most unfortunate life-changing lessons I learned in law school is that hard work and determination do not automatically equal success.

The problem with the statement, “You can do anything you set your mind to” is that it assumes you have all the power.

When actually, there are a lot of other things at play.

Variables that you can’t control.

Circumstances that aren’t fair.

People who have different opinions than you.

The reality is that just because you do your best does not mean you will succeed.

At least not in the way you initially intended.

Other things inevitably influence the outcome too, like:

  • Talent
  • Genetics
  • I.Q.
  • Mindset
  • Limiting beliefs
  • Your available resources
  • Your connections
  • Timing/”luck”
  • Other people
  • There have been plenty of times in law school (and in life) when I tried my absolute best and yet I did not succeed in the way I wanted to.

    But because I did my best, I was able to see that the “failures” were not a reflection of my personal worth or ability, but rather the result of many influences.

    So, if you give something your best shot and you don’t get whatever it is you were striving for, don’t beat yourself up over it.

    There are lots of uncontrollable factors at work.

    Just do your best and release the rest.

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    6. But hard work and determination can beat talent.

    We all know those annoying people who don’t even have to try.

    They don’t have to study to pass the test, apply to get the job or work to make money.

    Success, opportunity and fortune just seem to fall into their laps.

    Well, they can’t just rest on their laurels forever.

    Life-changing lessons from law school #6: hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.

    *Remember Aesop’s Fable, The Tortoise and the Hare?

    In an American Psychological Association study of elite performers, researchers found that expert performance is not solely attributable to innate talent.

    In fact, success has more to do with our behavior.

    When considering the difference between expert performers and normal adults, the study’s authors conclude:

    “[W]e deny that these differences are immutable, that is, due to innate talent. Instead, we argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve performance in a specific domain.”

    So, another life lesson I learned in law school is the value of a growth mindset.

    Our abilities, intelligence, personality and character are not set in stone.

    We all have the capacity to improve if we’re willing to put in the effort.

    Life-Changing Lessons from Law School

    7. Not everyone wants you to succeed.

    Of all the life-changing lessons I learned in law school, this is one of the toughest pills to swallow.

    But, the harsh truth is that not everyone wants you to succeed.

    So, sometimes it’s better to keep your ideas, goals, plans, successes, etc. to yourself.

    Don’t get me wrong, you need “ride or die” people in your corner with whom you can share life’s ups and downs.

    But, there are also probably some haters in your life who do not want to see you succeed and will therefore try to sabotage you. 

    Whether directly or indirectly, through negative thoughts and energy or passive aggressive behavior, they will try to erode your self-confidence.

    They will downplay your accomplishments.

    These people don’t want your light to shine because they think it somehow dims theirs.

    What they don’t realize is that your success has absolutely nothing to do with their success.

    You are different people, on different journeys, with different purposes.

    If those people don’t realize that there’s plenty of good stuff for everyone, they will continue trying to get ahead at others’ expense and will always be miserable.  

    Don’t give them the satisfaction of raining on your parade or potentially influencing your outcome with their negativity.

    Keep your goals secret – you’re more likely to accomplish them that way anyway.

    8. Focus on the big picture.

    Have you ever heard the expression – “can’t see the forest for the trees”?

    It basically refers to when you get so caught up in the details that you lose sight of the big picture.

    I actually learned this life lesson after I graduated from law school thanks to the clarifying (yet frustrating) power of hindsight.

    Don’t lose sight of the big picture.

    You see, I worked so hard in law school.

    I didn’t really make an effort to forge relationships or get involved in the community.

    Often, I didn’t attend social events because I was studying.

    In fact, pretty much all I did was study!

    Which is problematic because, in today’s world, who you know can be so much more important than what you know.

    It wasn’t until after I graduated that I realized that interviewers for jobs don’t care what grades you got, or whether you graduated in the top third of your class, or how hard you studied, or how much you learned.

    What they do care about is who you know that they know.

    Perhaps if I had reminded myself of why I was there in the first place – to get a job as a lawyer – I would have realized that some of that study time should have been spent networking and getting internships … you know, big picture stuff.

    While it’s important to learn, research and prepare, at the end of the day, doing is what’s going to get results.

    So, don’t get caught up in the minutiae and forget what you are ultimately trying to accomplish!

    Take a step back every now and then for perspective and remember the big picture.


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    Life-Changing Lessons from Law School

    9. Self-care is essential.

    This is something I’ve seen a lot of high-achievers struggle with.

    Self-care is not selfish; it’s essential.

    During my second year of law school, I lost 45 pounds in 4 months.

    Fueled by energy drinks and coffee, I spent all my time studying and not enough time sleeping, eating the right foods or exercising.

    I now realize that this was a dangerous mistake.

    If I had a heart attack or developed some other serious health issue, what good would the degree have done me?

    So, keep in mind that your well-being has to come first – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual self care is imperative.

    In today’s “I need everything done yesterday” society, it can be easy to lose sight of what’s important.

    But, there are many ways you can simplify your life and slow down.

    Remember how short and precious life is.

    Make sure you maintain a healthy lifestyle so you can be around to enjoy it for as long as possible.

    Self-care isn’t a luxury. It’s not all about bubble baths and scented candles.

    It’s about realizing that you’re not a robot. You are a living, breathing human being with a body and mind that require maintenance.

     “… Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here … [a]nd whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.” – Max Ehrmann

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    10. Things (thankfully) don’t always go as planned.

    As they say, the best-laid plans often go awry.

    No matter how much we plan and prepare, unforeseeable circumstances can make things can go differently than expected.

    And that’s a good thing!

    I don’t have all the answers.

    None of us do.

    We’re all just doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

    We don’t know why things happen the way they do or how they will affect us in the future. 

    All you can do is accept the circumstances you find yourself in and evaluate your options.

    Maybe what you wanted wasn't what was best for you after all.

    Maybe you didn’t get something good because you were meant to have something great.

    I’m sure you can remember a time when you were so disappointed because something didn’t go your way only to later realize just how fortuitous that “failure” really was.

    So, look for the silver lining in situations.

    You may need to re-evaluate your expectations or re-assess your goals.

    But chances are, there is something you can use to your advantage.

    So, seize the learning opportunity, adjust and move forward.

    11. Adaptability is key to success.

    “It is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent that survives, but the one most responsive to change.”- Leon C. Megginson, LSU Business Professor

    One thing that’s constant in life is change. 

    Laws. Trends. Technology. Transportation.

    The seasons, the atmosphere, the tide, the lunar cycle.

    Things are always changing. That is the nature of life.

    So, the next life-changing lesson I learned in law school is that our success is largely dependent on our ability to adapt

    Ever heard the saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”?

    In law school, they didn’t teach us how to memorize every single law.

    They instead taught us where to find information, how to synthesize it and how to apply it.

    Because things are not always straightforward. Sometimes, you have to think outside of the box.

    You have to be prepared for the spice of life – variety.

    This can be related to a fundamental principle of cybernetics called the Law of Requisite Variety (Ashby’s Law).

    The Law of Requisite Variety states that the degree of control you have over a system is proportional to the amount of information available.

    Basically, the more you know about a system, the more you can control it.

    Ashby said, “Variety absorbs variety”.

    What he means is that the more flexible -- the more adaptable -- you are, the better you will be able to respond to change/unknown variables.

    Ability to adapt => Ability to thrive/succeed.

    Life-Changing Lessons from Law School

    12. You’re capable of more than you think.

    When I was applying to law school (and also when I was applying for my master’s), I doubted my ability to get in.

    But I was accepted.

    And during my first year, I thought for sure they were talking about me when professors said,

    “Look to your left. Look to your right. One of you won’t make it past this year.”

    But I made it past that first year.

    There were many times over the next two years when I didn’t think I’d be able to get it all done in time.

    But I did get it all done.

    When I passed the Bar exam, it seemed surreal.

    How had I managed to do that?!

    So, the final, and perhaps most important, life-changing lesson I learned in law school is that we are capable of more than we think.

    What’s interesting is that - maybe I was right.

    Maybe I really wasn’t capable

    ... at first.

    But, because I was constantly learning and improving, I became capable.

    We don’t know what we are capable of until we push ourselves.

    Getting started is the hardest part.

    Once things are underway, we can learn from our mistakes, make adjustments and stretch our brainpower in order to get us to the finish line.

    Thanks to neuroplasticity, we have the ability to rewire our brains to become smarter, overcome anxiety, conquer limiting beliefs and change our habits.

    So, just because you can’t now doesn’t mean you can’t ever.

    It just means you can’t yet.

    So, there you have it – a dozen life-changing lessons I learned in law school! 


    To summarize:

    1. Work smarter, not harder.
    2. Done is better than perfect.
    3. Pride comes from inside.
    4. Comparison is the thief of joy.
    5. Hard work and determination do not (necessarily) equal success.
    6. But, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
    7. Not everyone wants you to succeed.
    8. Focus on the big picture.
    9. Self-care is essential.
    10. Things (thankfully) don’t always go as planned.
    11. Adaptability is key to success.
    12. You’re capable of more than you think.


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    About the Author

    Kalliope Archondis, JD, LLM. 👋Hi! I'm Kalli, lawyer turned freelance writer and founder of 3dsuccess.org, a personal development blog dedicated to helping you reach your goals and achieve your definition of success - without all the stress & anxiety. You can read more about me & 3D Success here.