By Jordan Carter • July 01, 2015•Writers in Residence
I graduated law school!! It's still surreal to say that because in my mind, I'm forever 18, directionless, and expected to call my mom to tell her where I am. But somewhere along the way, I picked up a law degree, an apartment my parents aren't co-signing, and a career as a lawyer. BAH! It's all coming together quite nicely, with one tiny and unavoidable obstacle: the bar exam.
You can read an endless stream of criticisms and complaints about the bar exam through a quick google search or by asking any current or former law student. I expected it would be tough, and guess what -- it is. It's stressful, difficult, demoralizing, and painfully boring. It's particularly dull after two glorious summers of frolicking about town as a summer associate. But this is a necessary evil; it's what we signed up for, and it did not come as a surprise.
What did come as a surprise: some unexpected upsides to this whole bar prep experience. Here are four happy realizations I've made during this decidedly unglamorous summer.
Kansas City is awesome.
When I decided to come back to Kansas for law school, a part of me still worried I would end up disappointed with my job prospects. Although people do take jobs elsewhere in the country, naturally the majority of people end up in Kansas and Missouri. I wondered if maybe I'd come to regret staying in the midwest and wish I would have gone to a bigger city. I figured I would probably like Kansas City, but I wondered if I would be missing out on my true big-city lawyer dreams by forgoing New York and LA.
No! Kansas City, for me, is the best of all possible worlds. It has the perks of a city with the convenience of a town. I can indulge in pretty much any activity I want but I can drive my own car and actually afford rent. I get my midwestern necessities -- the people are incomparably friendly and I can still see my family regularly-- but it's a city with action, adventures, and people who are obsessed with being there. Being in KC this summer has given me the opportunity to take study breaks and do legitimately awesome things -- eat at good restaurants, go to happy hours, attend festivals, shop at cool places -- because they exist here in an accessible way. Even when I'm studying, I'm studying at these delightful local coffee shops with character (and that's character in a good way, because we all know sometimes "character" is code for rat-infested shithole). Coming from a slew of places that weren't where I wanted to be forever (starting with Topeka, the unofficial punching bag of the world, and then through St. Louis, Boston, and Lawrence), I feel like I am Goldilocks and Kansas City, while it's not everyone's cup of tea, is juuuust right for me. Do I sound like a paid spokeswoman for the city? Good, because I'm trying to be.
Bar summer is still summer
Remember my search for hobbies this past year? Well, turns out all I really needed was a mandate to exclusively study for me to finally commit to the other things I enjoyed doing. I read for fun. I take winding walks through the neighborhood with Martha, my roommates' corgi and summertime companion. I explore unfamiliar pockets of the city. I cook meals that take 45 minutes to prepare. And in a twist that truly shocks me, I watch less TV than I have in my entire life. As it happens, when you are forced to stare at a screen for what feels like the entire day, watching more screens is not that appealing come break time.
This summer is an unfamiliar amalgam of having so much to do and nothing to do. I do have to study much of the time, so I can't follow my true bliss of spending the summer lounging at the pool and taking nonstop trips to visit my friends. But I have much more unstructured time than I did in law school, where there was always a meeting, a class, an internship, an assignment, or some other commitment. The result is that I'm tethered to my little world but I have freedom to schedule my days as I want and I have these wonderfully empty pockets of time here and there. So I can celebrate my dad's birthday on a weekday and I can say yes to impromptu invites and I can take a couple of trips without skipping out on commitments. And when it's lunchtime, I jump on the opportunity to make something that requires chopping and baking because, hey, I gotta eat, right? And when I finish a practice set of questions, I seize the chance to walk outside on a sunny afternoon because, hey, I gotta get some fresh air, right? Right. It's not the coolest summer, but it's summer nonetheless. The elusive balance has been found.
I have an acute sense of my personality now.
I've always known I am an introvert. That is reaffirmed by this summer's relative isolation. There is not a lot of room for group studying, and while I'm trying to socialize when I can, it's hard to find people who are on my time schedule because all my friends are either on a normal adult work schedule or in their own study hole. So that leaves a lot of time with me, myself, and I. About 75% of the time, I find it pretty peaceful. I don't mind being alone and I can do my thing happily.
But holy hell, I need social contact or I start to wither away. I am, as illustrated by this unnecessary but fairly accurate gif-laden article), an extroverted introvert. Studying this much for this many weeks is getting lonely. I don't understand how pure extroverts are managing this summer because I can -- and need -- to spend a lot of time by myself and even I am hating this much isolation. By the end of the day, I feel like I'm a housewife with no kids (note: this is different from a stay at home mom, which is a legitimate and fulfilling life I can get down with; a housewife without kids is lame). I basically wait for my roommates to come home from work and tell me what they did all day so I can live vicariously through them. They tell me of their lunches, and their group projects, and the firm event they went to, and then they ask me what I did and I say, "I learned about property." FOR THREE DAYS IN A ROW ALL I DID WAS LEARN ABOUT PROPERTY BY MYSELF. I've taken to having full conversations with the dog and I think she has started talking back. Suffice it to say, I am more than ready for nonstop social interaction in August and a work environment where I can interact with people througout the day.
Law school teaches you a lot... like, A LOT.
It is overwhelming to go back through all of these classes I took over the past three years. My chest clenches up and my stomach bottoms out in the way usually reserved for public speaking when I consider how exactly I am going to memorize all these rules, and that exception, and then the exception to the exception, and then be able to generate it in the most time-pressured exam of all time. The whole point of the bar exam is bizarre and questionable at best, but that's for a different blog post.
In moments of serenity, I think about how genuinely awesome it is to learn as much as we did in three years. I learned more in law school than in high school and college combined. And I know I start to sound a little Paula-esque when I get too reflective (inside bar exam jokes, what have I become?), but it sincerely is a privilege to be able to do something that so many people want to do but don't get the chance to. It is satisfying to see how all these ideas and systems come together. I most certainly don't feel like I know it all (and lord knows my practice exam scores don't indicate I know much of anything at this point), but I have learned more than I could ever dream of about all these things that are happening in our country, in our state, in our neighborhoods every day. Before law school, I didn't know how to get out of a contract, what my rights were if I got stopped by a cop, what equal protection was, what to do if I ended up with a defective product, what a mortgage entailed, what a LLC was, what a class action was, how the court system works, what the Constitution protects. And those are all things that will affect us all at some point, whether or not we realize it, because of the world we live in. Do I truly need to know the intricacies of intestacy law? I pray not. But I honestly feel like every adult human should go through a quick primer on the law. Bar prep for everyone, I say! Just give me $3000 and I'll teach you all you need to know!
Would I want to do this summer again? Hell no. As demonstrated by my face, plagued with more acne than I had as a teenager, I am undeniably stressed out. I am bored. I am having way less fun than I would prefer. The bar exam is as terrible, probably more terrible, as I feared. But if this is the worst part of my year, I am so lucky. It is temporary and it is doable. And with all things, the good stuff is there if you dig [really] deep. So I'll keep digging, and keep studying, and I'll see ya on the other side.