Monday, January 18, 2016

What is law school really like? // part 2

Corey is a Montanan, married to Matt, and 3L student at Gonzaga (we met there!). She is super smart and driven, in addition to being a loyal and true friend. We became friends during my 2L year, and she ended up being a bridesmaid in our wedding. We talk almost every day, even though we're no longer next door neighbours, and I am grateful for her thoughtful responses (and surprised by how similar some of our answers are!)

first day of law school

Why did you decide to go to law school?
I wanted to be a lawyer from a very young age. I always loved being an advocate for my friends in disputes on the playground– my fight or flight response is heavily weighted towards fight. So when my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told him I wanted to help people, but I didn’t want to have to rely on other people to do so. From my point of view, teachers couldn’t (or didn’t) help kids in bad situations without referring the problem out to someone else; and I felt the same was true with social workers. So I settled on this: those closest to the law itself could probably do the most good for others. Thus, law school and being a lawyer was the only way for me to go.

Was there anything about law school that surprised you?
Honestly, what surprised me the most about law school was the number of extracurricular activities we are expected to be involved in. These are seemingly required if we want to be successful both in school and in looking for post-graduate employment. I anticipated the classes would be hard (no one can ever truly anticipate how hard, but still) and that it would be a lot of work (again, no one can anticipate the amount really). But what was most overwhelming to me was the pressure to participate in clubs, networking events, meetings, internships and the like. I remember thinking over and over again, “We have to do this, on top of everything else?!” Plenty of my friends and I relish the day when we only have one thing to do (i.e. to just study for the bar).

a mock trial (Phil Spector night)

What were some of the greatest challenges of law school? 
Unfortunately for me this question should read “what are” some of the greatest challenges, because I’m not done yet! Nevertheless, I think the biggest challenge of law school is the endurance it requires. Many people who aren’t naturally talented at something can learn how to do that something (even if it’s extremely hard) once or for a short period of time. Fewer people can keep learning and working at it, over and over again. For example, even if you are not the smartest student, you can learn how to study that particular subject and be successful on one law school exam. The real challenge comes when you are asked to study that hard, constantly, for three solid years. And the phrase “study hard” does not do it justice either. 

I think every law student experiences a burn out moment (or moments). Some of us experience it later than others, but it gets to all of us. I think the truly successful law student is someone who picks themselves up after the meltdown and attends class regardless. The best way to be successful in law school is to just keep showing up.

Were aspects of law school that were easier or harder than you had thought they'd be?
Easier: Participating in class discussions. My strategy with the cold call is to volunteer rather than be “voluntold,” so I end up talking in class a lot more than most students. But I thought it would be so much harder than it actually is to speak in front of a group of 50 of my peers and my professor.

Harder: Being told I am wrong. I honestly thought I was somebody who could accept criticism when I first started law school. But after a few solid, public shutdowns I started to accept that the world may not be as black and white as I thought.

Which year of law school is the hardest?
All of them.

If I had to pick I would say 2L year is the worst. A lot of people think the first year is the hardest, but that’s just because it’s new and unfamiliar. There’s a bit of grace afforded to a 1L because of their ignorance – they really have no idea what does and does not matter in school. However, when you’re a 2L you have a sense of what is and isn’t important, and you also have ten times more obligations and work to do than you did the year before. Add on the fact that as you are already exhausted and overwhelmed as a 2L, you still have to stomach the idea of another year of this AND the bar after that.

I am currently in my 3L year, so I cannot completely look back and tell you which year is the hardest. But I can tell you that the challenges of 3L year are not absent. As a 3L, I expected I would not have to work as hard or that school would somehow become “easier.” So far this has not been true (but I have a problem saying “no” to work too).

corey, katie, & me 

What did you not learn in law school that you wished you had?
I strongly believe the curriculum should teach law students how to prepare opening and closing statements and how to examine a witness. I learned these skills through participating in moot court and my current internship, but most students do not avail themselves of these extracurriculars (because they have what I like to call a life).

Do you have a typical response to people when they ask if they should go to law school?
No, not really. I do think you shouldn’t go if you don’t actually want to be a lawyer (unless you really love strenuous academic exercise). On the other hand, I almost always want everyone to go to law school, because it trains you to think clearly and analytically and I think our world could desperately use better thinkers.

What are some things people should consider when they're thinking about whether to go to law school or not?
Who? – Who are you doing this for? If the answer is anyone other than yourself, reconsider your choice to go. Only you will attend your classes, take your tests, and go through the mental spin cycle that is law school. The worst part? Unless the person you are doing this for is a lawyer themselves, they will never be able to fully appreciate the effort and challenge of law school. 

What? – What is your expected outcome from law school? Money? Prestige? Purpose? Your hopes for your future are the metaphorical comfort blanket that will keep you warm on those late night study sessions. Make sure it is a good one to wrap up in. 

Why? – Do you even want to be a lawyer? If you want to be a businessman, then don’t go to law school. If you want to be an author, then don’t go to law school. I cannot impress upon you how much of a toll these three years will be on your life. Make sure the cost, financially and mentally, is worth it.

If you decide to go to law school because you don’t know what else to do, then don’t go to law school. It is not a place where purposeless people thrive. We are all Type A, perfectionist, competitive, and driven people. You will get eaten alive.

When? – As a K through JD student, I strongly recommend taking some time off between undergrad and law school. In my observation, the students with more life experience are more successful and well rounded than those of us who have started school every fall since they were 5 years old.

Where? -- It is easy to get caught up in the thought of attending a “top tier” school, but I honestly do not think this matters as much as people think it does. Pick a school where you will get a good education. You’ll spend a lot of time there, so make sure the campus is pretty and the classrooms are nice. And maybe consider proximity to family and friends. You’ll need shoulders to lean on if you do decide to go.

corey & me

Do you think law school was worth it? 

Yes. I have no doubts about this. But I do not think it was worth it for everyone who has become a lawyer, especially those who had other dreams they did not follow because they chose the “security” of law.

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