By Emily Thomas • August 17, 2019•Law School, Other Law School Issues
Law school can be extremely daunting to someone who’s shy and introverted, like me. I was always painfully quiet, even too shy to call and order a pizza. At first, everything about pursuing a career as an attorney looks like an introvert’s nightmare. Oral arguments and the Socratic method? No, thank you.
Before you run in the other direction, understand that you can absolutely do this. It might take time and a lot of patience (mostly with yourself), but a bright and fulfilling legal career is well within reach. The key is to take everything one step at a time.
Step One: Try to inch out of your comfort zone before law school.
Take a moment and think about what you can do to ease yourself into new experiences. When I was in college, I knew I wanted to be an attorney, but also knew I would have to get used to things that were well outside my comfort zone. I signed up to become a student ambassador and lead tours of prospective students around campus, and before I knew it, I was used to speaking to large groups of people and personally talking to students and their loved ones at least once a week. It made me much more confident in my social skills and definitely bolstered my public speaking skills. I also landed an internship at a law firm near my campus and learned how to field phone calls calmly and professionally, and also talk to clients about what they needed in person. I feel so much more comfortable starting law school having had both of those experiences. Even if I’m still a little spooked about being called on in class or walking into a room of people I don’t know, at least I know I can totally handle it.
Step Two: Hear your law school orientation, but don’t always listen.
“In 1L they scare you to death. In 2L they work you to death. In 3L they bore you to death.” You've probably heard that at least once before. It might depend on the law school, but I’m fairly certain a good chunk of that fright during 1L happens during orientation. One of the central components of a 1L orientation is stressing just how intense law school might be. You listen to hours of advice about preparing for class, extensive studying, networking, and professional development. Most schools take this time to warn students about excessive stress and anxiety they might experience in the coming months, with upperclassmen sharing their own anecdotes about the stress they dealt with during 1L.
When you start to hear this part of orientation rolling in, tune at least a little bit of it out. Yes, law school is absolutely stressful and demanding. It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of time spent trying to understand complex issues, and, yes, sometimes the decisions you make in practice can seriously impact someone's life. However, don’t let all that spook you. Law school impacts every person in a different way. I’ve met attorneys and law students who absolutely loved law school. It’s hard to hear what others are saying and reject it, but you should try. Focus on you and the amazing work you’ll be able to do, and trust that you’ll be able to handle it (because you will).
Step Three: Prepare for class.
Before you skip this one, know that I’m not talking about doing your reading (although you should absolutely do that). I’m talking about familiarizing yourself with the people around you. Try to meet your professor beforehand. Many times, they’ll be wandering around orientation looking to greet new students. If you feel more comfortable, try to find another student or two also in your class and approach your professor together. You not only start building relationships with your classmates, but you also get to chat with your professor and get to know them a little better.
Step Four: Sit in the front.
The back of the class is far more terrifying than the front. Most (but not all) professors run class using the Socratic method, that dreaded question-and-answer process. Before you convince yourself being called on is going to look exactly like The Paper Chase, think about the effect of sitting in the back vs. in the front. You’re sitting in the back, and the professor calls on you. You’re prepared, but in a matter of seconds, all the heads in the class every single row in front of you are turned and looking right at you. That’s enough nope for me. When you’re in the front, you’re closer to your professor. It will feel a lot more like just having a conversation about the reading than if you were all the way in the back telling the entire room, pretty much center stage, how you interpreted the opinion in Hawkins v. McGee.
Step Five: Remember that law school is school.
You’re learning! Your professors used to be 1Ls too. Your school is going to guide you through some of the most stressful parts of becoming an attorney. You might have moments that make you feel overwhelmed or anxious but know that there are hundreds of thousands of 1Ls across the country going through the same thing and utilize the resources your school offers to try to help your semester run a bit more smoothly. Take everything in moderation and do what you need to in order to feel comfortable and confident. You’re a law student on a path to an exciting career, be proud of where you are and who you’re becoming.