By Jessica Chinnadurai • July 05, 2016•Writers in Residence, Law School, Other Law School Issues
Have you ever wondered how people who went through the same experience can often view it with a stark difference of opinion? Most of the time, that's simply due to the fact that each of us is different - some of us might be screaming for joy as we skydive out of a plane while others might be crying in fear with their eyes closed the entire way down. But sometimes, even if you share a lot of things in common with someone, similar life experiences can still be viewed so differently. Here’s an example: My brother and I might be very different people, but we are obviously genetically related and were raised in the same household by the same parents. That being said, we have always been worlds apart when it comes to our education. He's five years older than me, but we attended the same high school (i.e. I followed in his footsteps like any doting little sister would, naturally). While I can confidently say that neither one of us "enjoyed" high school, I still view my time there rather positively. I was a good student who played sports, participated in extracurricular groups, and made a few lifelong friends along the way. My brother was a rebel without a cause who didn't want to finish his homework, let alone be a part of any school clubs, and he had no interest in hanging out with people after school. [Full disclosure: My brother is one of the most social and successful people I know now, which just goes to show that who you are in high school is not who you will be forever.]
I'm not saying that my brother could've made high school any better for himself - it's not an easy time for a lot of teenagers, and for most of us, it wasn't something we voluntarily chose to attend, so we were pre-disposed to dislike it from the start. But I still think the difference in our high school experiences relates to a well-known underlying lesson: any experience in life is what you make it. It's deciding what something means to you and either diving in with a mission to grow in a meaningful way, or not.
Ask any practicing attorney nowadays (and believe me, I've asked a lot) if they liked law school and what do you hear? An overwhelming majority of the time it's a passionate "Oh, I hated it", which I was never fond of hearing as I was applying. Sometimes, however, you do get the surprising answer of "I loved it!" These attorneys are likely very different people, but they do share a common core interest in the law and have been through the relatively same experience of law school. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if your law library has a view of Lake Michigan or the brick wall of the neighboring building - nobody can honestly say they "love" countless hours of reading cases, writing memos or outlining.
So here’s my take on the difference of opinions. It's clear that the lawyers who say they actually enjoyed law school are the ones who shaped their experience in a certain way and were very involved in the law school community outside of classes. For some people, the bare minimum of classes and writing for Law Review or a journal maybe enough to keep them satisfied. For others, it's important to join various societies and clubs, or even step into leadership roles for said groups. I can't provide a specific answer for what will make anybody's law school experience a positive one, but what I can do is offer a few key points of advice.
1) Ask, “What does law school mean to/for me?” Ask early, ask often, and be honest with yourself.
Call it a periodic self check-in. The reason I say start early is because you don't want to come down to the last semester and wonder what you just spent three years doing, or why you want to practice law. It's also important to be honest with yourself because, since law school is a major investment of time and money, you shouldn't be there if you're not 100% committed to it. It would probably be better to leave, or at least rework your plan, if you discover it's just not the right place or time for you to be in law school.
2) Don't just do what everyone else is doing. You can't base your happiness off of someone else's actions.
You've heard it time and time again, but get involved, and not just in the groups that everyone else is joining. Be selective and pay attention to your own interests in class, so you can develop them further outside of school. Also, don't forget that joining groups or participating in activities in the public community where your law school is located can also add to your general academic experience.
3) Remember to stay focused on your ultimate goal.
One of my friends recently asked where I see myself in five years and I didn't really have a solid, well thought out answer. It was slightly embarrassing! It's easy to lose sight of long-term goals when going through the motions and trying to make law school a positive day-to-day experience. But usually, keeping my long-term goals at the forefront of my mind can help me maintain perspective and keep me happier and more dedicated to achieving them.