By now you’re probably well acquainted with the phrase “hindsight is 20/20.” I recently chatted with a co-worker, and he asked me if I was gearing up to return to law school. I made the joke I should be but wasn’t quite on the “I’m ready to go” train yet. He laughed and said he missed school, but then said, “maybe it’s our nature, but as humans, we tend to remember experiences much fonder than they actually are.” I laughed and returned to stapling my copies of client documents. However, in the time between that conversation and now, as I write this, I cannot help but think he’s right. I sort of loathed one of my previous jobs, but after ending my time in that position and having a little distance from it, I realized it was the best job I’ve had and it was a huge learning experience. I’ve had this experience of being totally unsure about something, almost to the point of dislike, the whole time the thing is happening, but then I love it by the end.
The experience is like reading a book that has a very slow middle. The beginning gets you interested and grabs your attention enough to keep going, but the middle has you doubting whether you’re using your time effectively, then suddenly the end delivers and you’re so happy you stuck it out! Well, my first year of law school followed this same trajectory. You can read all about my 1L experience here. As a blogger, the questions I get emailed about the most often are how to prepare for law school. How to prepare for law school is a hard question to answer sometimes because everyone is different. Some people adjust so well to law school and some people (myself included) find it excruciating at first.
I am here to offer my advice by exploring aspects of law school I didn’t expect. I want to look at law school somewhat candidly and explain what I wish I would have known. I will say, I don’t think knowing any of the things I plan to discuss would have changed my mind about law school, but it would have eased my transition from undergrad to law school.
ONE || You’re surrounded by the best and the brightest. Law school attracts type A people, so be warned that you will be surrounded by a lot of people who have been hard workers and highly successful for most of their academic career. Therefore, because you are no longer the smartest or most hardworking in the room, things can get competitive. I picked a school that I didn’t perceive as very competitive. Everyone seemed friendly and I felt like it would be a great place to learn the law. My school remains mostly non-competitive, but just remember most law students are a little competitive by nature, so the competition rears its ugly head in various ways, and doesn’t’ always come in the form of academic competition.
TWO || It’s okay to study alone. I spent the first semester of law school buying into the idea of a study group. Study groups work for some people, but they don’t really work for me. I prefer to learn on my own then review with people. I don’t ever rely on others to learn information then teach it to me. I have friends who did study groups and loved them, but it’s completely okay if this method of study doesn’t work for you!
THREE || Some people are rude. This is by no means law school specific and I’m not implying I was ignorant to this fact before law school. However, I think I assumed (I know, bad idea) that by the time people got to law school they would be nice or at least have the grace to be kind. Stress can turn some people into different versions of themselves, and sometimes that means they become a little mean. If you’re new to law school and you notice someone being rude for no reason or they make you feel uncomfortable, unhappy, or inferior, just go ahead and run in the other direction. You don’t have to be friends with everyone. Treat people with respect, much of law school is working to build a professional network, but if you know someone isn’t your cup of tea, spend minimal time with them. One of the toughest adjustments for me in law school was how polite, but not friendly people were. Yes, everyone was polite, but Californians are pretty friendly people so I wasn’t used to people coming off as regularly uncaring or disinterested.
FOUR || Law School habits vary and it’s unclear which are good and which are bad. I used to have a bad mentality about school. I thought I knew how to do things best, and if someone had a different way of studying, they weren’t going to do as well as me. This mentality ended in high school, but it still astounds me how many people don’t have to study or work hard and still excel. I’m someone who always has to spend a few extra hours studying something. Once I “get it,” it’s committed to memory and I won’t have to re-learn it, but the learning process hasn’t been something I’ve just floated through. You may be tempted to get annoyed by people who you feel aren’t studying enough, but just know everyone works a little differently and it’s not your concern.
FIVE || You’ll probably feel unsure more than you feel sure. Very few students feel sure all the time. Maybe the top 10%-ers feel like they have a firm grasp on law school, but most students feel tired, unsure, and laugh at the utter misery that is law school. Now, when I say misery I don’t mean law school is miserable. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s tiring. Yes, it’s a lot of work. However, most law students bond in the sort of amped up agony we endure in a semester. When you’re walking to class and groaning about the huge cup of coffee you need or how complicated a case was or how tedious a writing exercise felt. Law school is hard but part of the bonding experience is bonding over how hard law school is.
SIX || Forming strong relationships with professors may require work. This may vary based on law school, but at my law school we have blind grading, which means how much you participate in class won’t affect your final grade. The blind grading aspect allows many students to fall victim to the social media browsing in class or falling behind on the reading. While cold calling is still a factor, most students only participate when they are called on. If you raise your hand a bunch, you risk being deemed a gunner. It’s really a lose lose. However, there are ways to build relationships with professors out of class. If your professor offers semester lunches, sign up for one! If you have questions, go to the professor’s office hours. Seek your professor out outside of the classroom. I think becoming a person, and not just another face on the seating chart is the best way to ensure you’re building rapport with the professor.
Okay, I could give even more items of things I wish I had known, but I think I covered the areas I was most surprised by in law school. I expected cold calling, I expected it to be hard, and I expected to meet people I really liked. While you cannot anticipate every curve ball law school will throw your way, I hope the areas I covered will offer a bit of insight into what’s coming.