this week my dear roommate, shaunice, is starting her 3-year journey through law school. i thought i should re-post for her benefit...
* * *
two days a week, i work as a tour guide. continuing in the tradition of my part-timing tour guide days at grove city, i now lead prospective and admitted students around the law school "campus," smiling all the way. not fake smiling, either. it's genuine.
my disclaimer to my tour-ees when they ask about my law school experience is that i probably wouldn't be giving tours were i not having a pretty fantastic experience. and, to an extent, the same was true in undergrad. i've had great experiences, and i'm happy to tell people about them as i orient them to campus.
there are some things i don't say, though -- either because the tour-ees don't ask, or because i prefer to be encouraging, or simply because i view myself as a PR rep for the school, and my employers would prefer that i leave out the negatives. and that's understandable. i want to shine the very best light on my alma mater.
lately, though, i feel compelled to offer advice to the incoming or prospective law students. why? well, possibly because i'm finishing my tenure and can reflect upon the past three years. also, i know several people entering law school in the near future, and i sincerely care about their sanity and success. so before i'm out the door, onto the fun job i have lined up and into the working world, i'd like to share with you my advice for how to succeed in law school, entitled:
how to "succeed" in law school
1. grades matter. in fact, grades are the only thing that matters.
sound harsh? well, it is. especially since your entire semester grade is based on one four-hour exam on a day when you may or may not feel up to it. you may or may not have a heavy-flow period, and you may or may not have severe anxiety-induced IBS.
adding insult to injury is the reality that the qualities that make someone a truly good lawyer will be ignored by many potential employers. these qualities include, inter alia, social skills, networking skills, a genuine desire to use your energy and brain power for the good of our society, and even the simple desire to practice law.
i should, in all fairness, add that this applies only for certain jobs -- namely, the ones that pay well. other jobs, such as public sector and public interest jobs, are often doled out based upon desire to practice in that field, commitment to a position, professional capability and potential, etc.
2. you don't really have to learn the law to succeed in law school.
seriously, you don't. all you really have to do is cram. you'll spend 3 months taking 150 pages of notes, then you'll spend one month turning those 150 pages of notes into a 40 page outline, then you'll spend a week (at most, if you're a total nerd like my roommate and i were) before an exam memorizing those 40 pages so that you can do well on your exam.
next, you will forget everything you learned.
this is totally acceptable because, before you take the bar exam that will test you on "what you've learned in law school," you will re-learn (more accurately, you will learn for the first time) everything - SERIOUSLY, EVERYTHING - you need to know about the law to pass that bar exam and be admitted to practice as an attorney.
does it seem wrong that all we really need to become attorneys is an expensive, 2-month long bar review course, rather than 3 years of even more expensive law school? yes. is there anything you can do about it? no.
3. it's often about who you know.
but i'll start off with a caveat here, and that is this: don't let people fool you. i'll explain in a minute.
for many law students, "it" is about who you know. many of your classmates will get internships and jobs by virtue of who their parents are, who their parents know, who they've met at networking events, and how strategically they've aligned themselves.
the first two of these are disappointing if your parents aren't connected. the second two should encourage you to become involved in the legal community, go to lots of events (and enjoy the free food and liquor), and - most importantly - subtly flirt with the old attorney who really enjoys talking to a 20-something with a nice smile. it doesn't make you a prostitute (trust me), and he may ask you to e-mail him your resume.
now back to my caveat: don't let people fool you. don't allow yourself to feel like you're the only person in your first-year class without a father who's a lawyer or congressman. honestly, many of us are just ordinary people. some of us are first-generation law students, grad students, and even college students! that's nothing to be ashamed of. in fact, some might say it's something extra to be proud of, something that those other students don't have. it's called self-determined individuality. really, it is. i read it in a book.
4. you're going to be stressed out.
especially the first year. it's not that much fun.
you're going to want to cry, and drink. these are common urges that, across the board, every law student and certainly every first-year law student has felt.
what isn't so consistent across the board is how people handle the stress. it is your decision how to handle your stress. if you accept that responsibility and decide how you will cope, i think you will be just fine. great, even.
as for me, well... i'll be honest. my first year, i cried. i can't count the number of late nights (and weekend nights) i sat in the library on the verge of or already in tears. it didn't help to have friends from pittsburgh and a cute boy from DC calling just to say hi and, in their minds, be supportive by telling me they wished i were out having fun with them, "like old times."
after first year, things get better. in my case, second year i was just as stressed and anxious as the first; however, instead of crying, i drank. i went out. i had more fun. i put work aside more often, and in the long run, it was a better year.
5. you can make genuine friends in law school.
it will probably happen over a little gossip and a lot of beer.
and it will probably be with people who surprise you.
see my previous blog entitled "dirty hipsters..."
i've met some very lovely people in law school, and most of them came out of the blue, such as on a random day in rome: "hi, what law school do you go to?" "um... i go to temple." "i'm sorry. somehow i've never met you before." "my name's taylor..."
6. comparing yourself to them will get you nowhere.
it's tempting - almost unavoidable - but leave this job to the faculty, who are grading you on a curve and comparing you to your classmates anyway.
accept the fact that you're going to be ranked below some people, and you're going to be ranked above some people... hopefully. it's not just law school; it's a fact of life.
and i quote: sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. the race is long; and in the end, it's only with yourself.
7. (and most importantly) be happy.
no matter how stressed or busy or exhausted you are, you need to be happy. let's be honest, you could die tomorrow. why would you waste one day, let alone three years?
that doesn't mean you shouldn't go to law school. you definitely should if you want to. but don't be miserable. nobody likes a sad kid :-)