By Kristine Cherek • September 04, 2016•Writers in Residence, Law School, Pre-Law, Curriculum and Classroom Dynamics, Other Law School Issues
Dear 1L Kristine,
Welcome to law school! That goal you have been talking about since you were nine years old - you finally made it. Congratulations! But do not revel in your accomplishment for too long, for there is a lot of hard work ahead of you.
Law school is an intimidating place. You are going to be a little (or a lot) scared, especially in the first year. That’s okay. Everyone else is scared, too. They are just better at hiding it than you are. You are going to have doubts. You are going to think everyone is smarter than you are. Some days you will wonder whether you can even survive this place. Everything will be okay in the end. You will make it through this. I promise. But before you begin there are a few things I would like to tell you - things I wish I had known back then.
Most of your classmates will be older than you. Most will have years of professional experience. Some will try to impress or intimidate you with stories of the time they spent working on Capitol Hill, or the patents they hold, or the awards they have won. Some will brag about their experiences working at major law firms. Others will talk of the multi-generational tradition of attorneys in their families. You get the idea. There are egoists everywhere and law school is no exception.
Please do not view your youth or inexperience as a negative. Your classmates and you all took the same LSAT. You were admitted to the same institution. You are taking the same courses. You may lack their years of experience but you are every bit as intelligent as they are. Do not be intimidated or overly-impressed by what your classmates have accomplished in their prior careers. None of that matters now. The only things that matter are how you perform academically and what you accomplish in the NEXT three years. So put your head down and study. Do not get sucked into the social scene. Do not lose focus. Do not even think about what others are doing, what grades they are earning, or how you stack up against them. Worry only about yourself. Because, after all, that is all you can really control.
There is no way to sugarcoat this: The academic workload will be heavy. The daily reading assignments will be long and, if I am being honest, pretty boring at times. You will literally read hundreds of pages of legal opinions and law texts every week. This is inevitable and unavoidable if you are to survive here. Thousands of students just like you take on this challenge every year and they prevail. And so can you if you are willing to put in the work.
At a bare minimum, ALWAYS do the assigned readings and be prepared for class (unless you do not mind the embarrassment that will undoubtedly be bestowed upon you if you do not). Read, re-read, study, outline, go to class, then study some more. Find a study partner or study group if that works for you. Study by yourself if that is more effective for you. In the legal world, your academics (meaning cumulative grade point average) rule the day. Your final grades are the single-most important component of your resume. Extracurricular activities, internships, competition teams, and legal journals are nice. But the primary focus will always be on your academic performance.
You will feel like a hamster on a wheel sometimes, always running but never getting anywhere. Know you ARE getting somewhere. All the hard work you put in WILL pay off in the end. Trust me.
I’ll be honest. Your professors will be tough on you. Some will have Draconian rules that lack practical sense (e.g., “If you arrive even one minute late for class, you will not be permitted to enter the classroom and you will forego credit for any assignment or test conducted that day. No exceptions whatsoever.”). Some of your professors will be theoretical – if not actual - ogres. At times it will seem they thrive on embarrassing or demeaning you. In your first semester you will be told you are “far too young and naïve” to be in law school; that perhaps the Admissions Committee made a mistake in admitting “someone as idealistic” as you; and that you “better realize life is not fair” before it is too late. You will survive this onslaught of insults hurled upon you by an octogenarian professor. You see, some professors view it as their job to tear you down so they can rebuild you. They call it, “Teaching you to think like a lawyer.” On a typical day your professors (even the nicest of them) will be demanding and will sometimes push you to your limit. You will likely hate some of them. But some of them will be wonderful.
Now, as I sit in the role of the law professor, I can tell you that law professors are not awful people (at least not for the most part). They are not punishing you for punishment’s sake. Their burden is heavy. It is their task, of course, to teach the law. But it is also their duty to prepare you for the realities of the practice of law. It is their job to transform you - a naïve 22-year-old girl - into a law school graduate worthy of the six-figure salary and demanding position you will have at one of the nation’s largest law firms. And they take this job very seriously. Hate them now. But thank them later.
Find Your Marti
In the first few weeks you will meet many people. Look for one named Marti. Like you, Marti is a young, nervous, serious student who cannot wait to conquer the world. While there is no way you could know this when you first meet her, Marti will become your study partner, confidant, constant companion, and roommate. For the next three years - and probably for the rest of your life - you will be one another’s voice of reason, sounding board, counselor, and shoulder to cry on when you need it. And trust me, you WILL need it if you are going to make it through this place with your sanity in check.
Not everyone is lucky enough to find their Marti. But everyone should try. Be open to meeting new people. Make friends, but not too many. Go for quality, not quantity. Do not be distracted by the social scene. Find someone who has similar goals and the same level of commitment to her studies as you do. Law school is grueling at times. You are going to need some help along the way. You are going to need a friend – a real friend – to help you through the stress that is inherent in this place. Try to find your Marti because you are going to need her. And she is going to need you.
It Will All Be Okay
Get ready for a wild ride. In the next three years you will be challenged, intellectually fascinated, inspired, stressed, exhausted, energized, excited, and bored all at once. It is okay if you feel intimidated, apprehensive or unsure right now. It is fine if you feel lost in class in the first few weeks. Everyone does. But almost no one admits this to anyone. It is perfectly acceptable if, right now, you have no idea in what area of law you want to specialize or what you ultimately want to do with your law degree. You will figure it out in due time.
For now, focus on your academics. Study A LOT. Find a good friend or a study group that matches your needs and wants. Or study alone if that works better for you. Tune out the noise. Get to know your classmates. Have fun, but not too much fun. Avoid those who spend most of their time “studying” in the library when they are really just there to socialize. Realize your professors do not hate you. On the contrary, they are there to help you realize your full potential.
It is okay if you don’t have it all figured out yet. No one really does. And that is the biggest secret of all. Just keep moving forward. You will figure it out eventually. We all do.
Follow me on Instagram @kcherek and Twitter @kristinecherek.
Kristine Cherek is an adjunct law professor at Florida Coastal School of Law and a Writer-in-Residence for Ms. JD, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to the success of women in law school and the legal profession. To read the rest of the articles in the series, click here: http://ms-jd.org/profile/Kristine_Cherek or follow her on Instagram @kcherek and Twitter @kristinecherek.