by Ortal Ben Aharon LL.M. ’18
As a service to the public– meaning, you future LL.Ms – I am here to try and help you navigate the first few exciting weeks of the LL.M. Program. Sit back, relax, and read something that is not a casebook for a change.
The first weeks of the LL.M. Program are full of contradicting messages that will hit you from every possible direction. It will start with “get ready to the best year of your life.” (Not intimidating at all, right?) Then, it will be followed by a list of things you should do during the year including:
- join a law review
- participate in a student organization
- write a note or an article
- publish said note or article
- develop a new interest in a legal field far from what you’ve practiced back home
- reach out to all of your professors — even the ones that are not teaching you
- socialize with your classmates — the 300 LL.Ms and over 1,000 JDs…
- take care of your soul and body: eat well, sleep well, go to yoga, run in Central Park…
- make sure to enjoy all of the things a great city like New York has to offer
- Oh! I almost forgot – ALWAYS COME PREPARED TO CLASS
Now, do you see why I call them “contradicting messages”?
Yes, my tone is cynical. But my description is not so far from the truth. You will hear all of these recommendations coming your way and they will all sound thrilling. You will want to do it all. But, the obvious conclusion is that participating in all things at the same time is unrealistic.
However, this year CAN actually be the best year of your life, and I am hoping that the following tips might realistically help you get there.
Step One: Acknowledge it.
You can’t do everything, all the time.
Step Two: Embrace it.
I know there is a thing called “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out), described as “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere.” Well, guess what? When you are a student at Columbia Law School, the struggle is real because there is always something interesting happening elsewhere. But, this is a good thing! It means that you are in a land of opportunities. You won’t be able to experience all of it, but whatever you do choose to do at CLS will enrich your life. This is a privilege that should not be taken for granted.
Step Three: Prioritize.
If you need time in the first week to settle in, buy kitchenware for your apartment, get used to the subway, or locate the best coffee around (it’s in Philosophy Hall, trust me) – that’s ok. Sure, you may miss some opportunities if you decide to stop reading the student organizations emails one day, but the beauty of a place like Columbia Law School is that new opportunities will cross your path again.
The hardest part is that prioritizing forces you to make decisions, to choose one thing over another. For me it was important to gain some practical experience in my legal field, so I did an external internship (“externship”) at a federal agency and because of the workload, I decided to drop out of a course I really wanted to take. It was a hard decision to make, but eventually I embraced it, and am glad for it!
Step Four: Socialize.
With everything said above, do not be overwhelmed. Jump into community at Columbia. You will often hear in your first week how it is important to socialize with your classmates. This is the most significant message you will receive. Friends will invite you to interesting activities that you might not think of; friends will let you know of a fascinating conference taking place that you never heard about; and friends will make sure you remember to eat when caught up in all that is going on.
Most importantly, friends will help you keep things in perspective. Maybe after the first time you’re cold called in class, you feel as if you did very poorly and begin to doubt the skills and talents that brought you to Columbia in the first place. Once you share this feeling with your friends, you realize that actually, you preformed pretty well, and that honestly, everyone feels the same way. Walking through your LL.M. year with people who will both challenge you and keep your gaze set on your goals is the greatest gift of all.
Ortal is an LL.M. graduate from Israel who earned her law degree at the Hebrew University. During her studies at Columbia, Ortal interned at the Federal Trade Commission and was an LL.M. Representative of the Columbia Antitrust Law and Economics Association. Before she came to Columbia Law School, Ortal practiced antitrust law at a leading law firm in Tel Aviv.