Monday, July 15, 2019

What I Wish I Would've Known Before Law School


Two months ago I walked across the stage where I shook hands with my University's President and received a piece of paper signifying the most important accomplishment of my life thus far - my Juris Doctor degree. That's right, folks! I'm a lawyer now. While I am very thrilled to be in this new phase of life, I can't help but think about where I was just a few years ago. . .


When I started law school, I was newly 21 years old, fresh out of college, with my dreams and my cardigan - just like Miley taught me. I remember spending the summer before law school endlessly searching for blogs with any tips or advice for how to handle the brand new adventure that was waiting for me in law school. I researched diligently, and felt like I was entering law school extremely prepared. And for the most part, that was true. I generally knew what was going on and what would happen, plus I had a few good study tips ready to try out.

Unfortunately, despite my diligent research, law school had a few life lessons waiting for me. Like any big adventure, law school came with its own set of difficulties. And those difficulties taught me a few things during my three year journey to my JD. So, I thought I'd write a list of things I wish I would've known before law school, as if I were writing to my younger self.

The Biggest Key to Success is Taking Care of Yourself

I learned this lesson in the hardest way. During my 1L year, I had a full blown breakdown in January that involved me getting on a plane and flying away. Seriously. I had done extremely well during my first semester of school academically, ranking in the top 10% of my class. Unfortunately, that academic success came at the sacrifice of my own mental and physical health. Luckily, with a not-so-gently push from my family and friends, I took the time to learn about taking care of myself and fostering a postive mental health environment, and really began to thrive.

My grades weren't as top notch as they were first semester, but I ended law school in the top 25% of my class and started actually enjoying my life in law school as well. I made tons of friends that I already miss so much, got a job I'm super excited about, and made it out of law school in one piece. Had I not learned to take care of myself properly, I am 100% sure I would've dropped out of school.

Law school is hard. It's stressful. It's competitive. So, make sure you take care of yourself. Don't forget to eat. Make some friends you can trust. Set goals and explore your passions. And most importantly, don't forget to set aside some time to treat yourself. Take a vacation, take weekly bubble baths, get food you enjoy, etc. Just take care of yourself first, school second.

Grades are Important, But They Aren't Everything

One thing you will hear over and over again before law school, during orientation, and over the course of your studies is how important it is to get good grades. It's honestly super overwhelming during that first semester when all anyone tells you is that you should be studying because grades are the only thing that matters. You know what happens when you listen to that advice a little too closely? Refer back to the item above. 

So here's the truth. Grades do matter. The top jobs go to the top of the class, and getting good grades can really help you get ahead. However, here's the other half of the truth: not everyone can get the best grades. Law school grades are typically curved, meaning that as great as it is to be in the top 10% of the class, someone has to be in that bottom 10%. And guess what? That bottom 10% can still get jobs and become very successful lawyers.  

If you find yourself not getting the grades that you want, don't panic. Yes,  take it as incentive to study a little harder. But also use it as incentive to round out your law school resume. Try to get involved in organizations and maybe take on a leadership role. Think about trying to "specialize", perhaps by focusing on public interest or a certain subject area. I know plenty of people who graduate toward the bottom of the class and found wonderful jobs early on. I also know plenty of people in the top of the class still looking for work. So yes - grades are important, but they aren't the only thing that matters.

It's Okay to Not Know What You Want to Do After Law School

I mean, sort of. Obviously you came to law school to be a lawyer. That's step one. An important step. But what about step two? Figuring out what type of lawyer you want to be. That opens a whole myriad of possibilities. When I first entered law school, I told everyone I wanted to be a tax lawyer. Yes, that's a little weird but I have always loved all things tax and loved that being a lawyer was a way for me to work in the tax field. While I still do love tax law, I've backtracked a little. I'm not completely sure that I want to work in tax law. I think I could be happy doing that. I also think I could be happy doing a lot of other things. At this point, I'm even open to working in litigation. So even if you do know what you want to do when you enter law school, you might change your mind or expand your interests.

On top of that, plenty of people have no idea what type of lawyer they want to be going into law school and that's completely and totally okay. Law school is a time to explore and figure that out. 

If you are one of those people that happens to know exactly what you want, good for you! But if not, that's completely okay.

It's Your Last Three Years Before Real Life


I feel like we spend so much of our life focused on our next step. In high school, you're focused on getting into a good college. In college, you're focused on getting into a good law school. In law school, you're focused on getting a good job. And then once you get a job, you realize so much of life has passed you by. If you were anything like me in college, you probably forgot to have a typical college experience while you were hyper-focused on your law school future. 

I spent my first year of law school the same way - focused on the future. By my second year, I realized that it was also important to enjoy life. Tailgates and football games on the weekend made life a little more fun. Napping in the middle of the day is a luxury. And living off kind of gross fast food and cheap groceries can be a great way to bond with your friends. Enjoy the last few years you have of youth, before true responsibility and real life sets in. You'll have the rest of your life to be a boring lawyer. Life it up and be a student for awhile.

Yes, You're Smart. So is EVERYONE ELSE.

Most law students are acheivers - we are used to being one of the smartest people in the room. Getting into a law school is a huge accomplishment in this world. But here's the problem: when you get to law school, everyone is smart. Everyone has gotten into law school. Everyone is an achiever.

This kind of relates to the item above about grades being important, but not being everything. Most law students are used to getting As, getting the job, getting into the schools we want, etc. Well, now you're in an environment that is concentrated with equally smart and possibly smarter people. It's probably a good idea to humble yourself a little bit before starting school.

It's a Long Three Years, But it's Worth It

Lastly, yes. Law school is three years. And they are a long three years. Some of the most grueling years of your life. But they fly by faster than you think, and at the end YOU WILL BE A LAWYER. Knowing everything I know now, I truthfully would do it all again. And I mean all of it. The hard parts, the learning moments, and the rock bottoms were a big part of my growth and my journey throughout law school. And now I'm a lawyer. It is all so worth it.

To anyone getting ready to jump into law school - good luck! Feel free to drop some questions below. I love to answer them, and I might even write a post about your question if I have enough to say.



2 comments:

  1. I am entering my first year of law school in a few weeks, but I still don't fully understand the concept of the curve. Can you explain it a little more?

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    Replies
    1. This is a great idea for a post and I will try to write one soon to explain. But I'll give you a brief explanation real quick.

      Basically, a curve means that all the grades in a class will be modified to fit a predetermined distribution. For example, a school may set a curve where the median is a C - meaning that the person who gets the median grade in the class will get a C, the person who gets the top grade will get an A, the person with the worst grade will get a D (or sometimes an F), and everyone else falls somewhere in between.

      My school had a 70% "B" curve, meaning 70% of students got Bs (can include B+s and B-s), 15% get As, and 15% get Cs and below, roughly.

      This isn't the most perfect explanation, but it's the basic skeleton. Often the curve helps you! For example, if you get a 65% on an exam without a curve, thats usually a D. But if the top grade in the class is a 68%, you may have earned an A! It only hurts you when the whole class does really well.

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