I recently started my summer job and I am working with some law students from other law schools, and we regularly swap “war stories” about our law school experiences. It’s funny to compare notes and see what is consistent and what is not. When we were talking about advice given or received about law school, I said my advice to incoming 1Ls is “prepare to be humbled.” I usually laugh after this, often trying to lighten the mood of the rather dark sentiment I’ve just relayed, especially when I see the person on the receiving end of this advice either attempt to roll their eyes in an undetectable way or look at me with wide, fearful eyes. The thing is, I don’t say this to be cruel or mean and it isn’t meant as a scare tactic. However, I do mean it.
The reason I say this is simply because law students are, in many capacities, the highest achieving people from their respective colleges. We likely graduated with honors, were leaders in our extracurricular activities, maybe worked in the legal realm between college and law school, and are, if nothing else, academics, logical analysts, and deeply successful people. It is common that Type-A personalities end up in America’s law schools, so it is unsurprising that when you put all the very intelligent, diligent, hard-working Type-A students in an environment grounded in grades done on a curve we start to feel … humbled. Maybe we’re no longer the smartest people in the room. Maybe we struggle with torts or criminal law in ways we’ve never grappled with the subject matter before. Perhaps our writing is suddenly receiving grades previously only known as part of the scale and not where we fell on it. I’ve had people who I’ve given this advice to excel in law school classes. However, I do not mean “prepare to be humbled” to apply only to the grades received in classes. In some way, law school humbles the human spirit. If you’re excelling in classes, maybe your social life is not what it was in college. If your social calendar is full, maybe your grades are slipping lower on the curve, unable to move up the slope. Maybe you applied for the job you were confident you had, only to be rejected from it. Maybe you applied for 80 jobs only to receive 20 emails, 18 of which were rejections and the other 2 were botched interviews.
So, in law school, and in life, prepare to be humbled. Being humbled is not a bad thing. In fact, it is more grounding than anything. There is a reason people say “she’s so down to earth” as a positive compliment to people. Humble people, kind people, always get further in the long run. The people who are not this way may be wildly successful, but my personal belief is that it is better to be humble than the inverse, which is arrogance, aloofness, or just outright condescension. Sometimes you are the smartest person and the room, and others you are not. A good rule of thumb in law school is this: act equally in either scenario because people will likely not respond well to you telling them, informing them, or implying to them that you are the smartest person in the room!