It’s a few days after the fact, but I’ve finally (OH MY GOD, FINALLY) completed my first semester of law school. Whether or not the feat was achieved with any semblance of success will be determined once my grades are made available in the next few weeks, but if nothing else, I’ve learned quite a bit from the whole experience.
You kids haven’t had a list in a while, so here’s the TOP TEN THINGS I’VE LEARNED FROM MY FIRST SEMESTER OF LAW SCHOOL:
1. Everyone you meet functions differently, and that’s totally okay.
Within the first two weeks of classes, there was a group of students that had established themselves as the cutthroat study group. They outlined twice a week, assigned their own hypotheticals as extra homework, and weren’t afraid to call you out and kick you out of their academic posse if you didn’t pull your weight.
I was, obviously, not a part of this group.
My best friend and I spent one of our reading days finishing our outlines at a bar.
You are your own best advocate, and you know what is going to enable you function optimally. This applies to not only studying, but to the real world as well. Just because someone else has a photographic memory doesn’t mean you’re expected to have the same type of Cam Jansen-style mental ability for studying, and just because someone else is picking a different option than you doesn’t mean that your choice is wrong. There’s only so many people who can climb the same tree, but when you’re in a forest of opportunity, it doesn’t matter. Find your own tree, and climb the hell out of it.
2. Stress burns calories
I’ve lost an inch off my waist and five years off my life. Given that my diet consists mostly of scones, I don’t think this is a good thing.
3. Remember who you were before you came here
Law school is a crazy effin’ place. Everyone is stressed. Everything is gossip. There is really horrible pizza served at every club meeting that will make you want to cry and wish you brought your lunch that day. It’s important that you don’t lose sight of your hobbies, passions, and personality that took precedence in your life before law school. At the end of the day, you’re still a human being, and not just some little law robot. Your inner monologue can’t consist of “beep bop boop torts torts torts,” or everyone will probably hate you.
4. There will be unintended consequences of cold-calling
My mom told me that I’ve kind of become a bitch since I went to law school, but in a good way. This is honestly the best way to describe what the law school cold-calling process does to you – it toughens you up, it makes your wit sharper and gives your tongue permission to show the bit of a razor’s edge that’s been hidden until now. So much of your in-class activity is predicated on being prepared to speak eloquently and meaningfully at a moment’s notice, and having a fast answer both in and out of the classroom is one of the changes that the law school process will do to you.
On a side note, you also won’t be able to watch Law and Order without being a brat. Everything they do is so, so wrong, and you’ll just be unpleasant to watch it with. Avoid such situations at all costs.
5. Stress is relative
There are times when I have 150 pages of reading due in two days and I am okay. There are times when I have 50 pages of reading due after the weekend and I want to burn down the entire campus. Stress can hit at a moment’s notice, and sometimes what irks you one day will be what you take solace in the next. Just breathe, realize it’s temporary,
call your mom/best friend/therapist at 11pm while sobbing, and get it done. You can reward yourself for finishing it like a champion on Friday.
6. Your past is irrelevant.
On the first day of orientation, they told us that nothing we did in our past mattered anymore. I laughed, thinking, “Yeah right, I was the honor-roll sorority-girl QUEEN OF THE UNIVERSE!!! I AM UNSTOPPABLE AND CAN HANDLE ANYTHING!!!“
Yeah, that wasn’t true. It doesn’t matter if you were Phi Beta Kappa or Kappa Kappa Gamma or corporate America or a construction worker or anything, really – everyone is in the same boat, and nobody has any idea what they’re in for. On that note…
7. Be humble.
Be honest, be sympathetic, express humility. You are a first-year law student, and you are not better than anyone else in your class. There are 200 other people who are just as unsure and unstable as you, and you’re not doing yourself any favors by walking around with a holier-than-thou attitude. Your classmates will be your references and co-counsel in three short years, and being a good person and an honest, hard-working lawyer will garner a better recommendation than being a straight-A student with an obnoxious disposition.
8. Your support network is the most important asset you have.
Most people from your life outside of law school will be sympathetic to your academic plight. Do not be afraid to reach out to them – they’re going to want to help you and make sure that you’re okay. Law school is an all-encompassing experience, and turning to those outside of the law bubble is sometimes just what you need. However, your law school friends are going to be some of the best people you know. Take your time, and make sure that the people you choose to surround yourself with are the right ones for you. It takes a while to find people with whom you can have complex discussions on tort reform, and then two days later stumble home from the bar with. You’re going to love the crap out of these friends.
9. Be kind to yourself
You’re going through hell. Forgive yourself for your mistakes. Be nice to yourself. Treat yourself. Realize when what you’re doing is only giving you diminishing returns, and change your approach. Eat well, sleep well, take breaks when you need them. Surround yourself with inspiring and encouraging people. Your mental faculties are your greatest asset, and you don’t have enough time for toxic behaviors or toxic relationships in your life.
10. You are capable of so much more than you realize
There will be times where you want to throw your textbook across the room, pack up your things, and quit. I know I certainly did. Impostor syndrome is a real issue for a lot of people, but you’ll never know what you can do until you persevere and finish out the semester. Finishing the first semester – no, SURVIVING the first semester – is one of the toughest parts of law school. After you walk out of that last final, though, you know you’ve done something that very, very few people have actually done. You’re 1/6th of the way to being a lawyer, and if you can handle civil procedure, you feel like an invincible human.