By Johanna Oh • March 05, 2015•Writers in Residence, Law School
A 1L's Delayed Gratification: Joining the law school bowling league! (Proven to be a good, concrete example to give to interviewers about my ability to balance school and life.)
When life happened and I ended up taking three years off before heading off to law school, I figured that being 26 and starting my professional law career wouldn’t be such a problem. After all, the average age of first year law students is around 25. Although I may have been won over by the average age across law schools, when I started at mine, I was not at all thrilled to discover that the average age of our class was 23 – approximately 51% of the 1L class had come straight out of college. Although the awareness of the age disparity never has really dissipated, as I have progressed through 1L year, I have stood corrected many times by my own judgments and profiling that I hadn’t realized I was guilty of. I guess it’s been a pride thing, realizing that being older doesn’t necessarily translate into being smarter or more eloquent. Despite having had my own fair share of the humble pie, if I had a chance to do it all over again, I would still have taken time off before law school. Here are three reasons why:
I lead with this because it has made all the difference in how I approach everything that I do in law school. I worked for a stable income for three years. To have that all disappear and be suddenly thrown into debt overnight made me really, and I mean really, think about whether law school was the right decision. After all, it wasn’t merely a “next step." It would be giving up comfort, stability, and familiarity for debt, sleeplessness, and uncertainty. As the most major adult decision I’ve made to date, I don’t, and can’t, take this opportunity for granted. Thousands of miles away, after I had just told him how hard law school was, my dad told me over the phone that being in school is one of the greatest privileges that we can have. It means so much more coming from my dad, one of the most intelligent and wisest people I know, because he gave up his own dreams of seeking further education in order to raise and support his family in America. Personally for me, my law school experience has had greater depth because of where I come from and what I've chosen to let go.
As a more practical matter, having worked for several years has also enlarged my sphere of reality. When I was in college, reality barely extended past the boundaries of campus. Now, being back in school means more than just the readings that I have to complete for tomorrow, that coveted GPA, the dream summer job, bragging rights, and so on. As one of my compatriots in the same age bracket said, “You have more realistic expectations and a better realization of what you’re looking for. Plus, you have more on your resume to compensate for where you may fall short during your law school career.” Of course, we still put our best foot forward, that goes without saying, but I realize all the more that my identity is not defined by my successes or failures whether in law school or in life.
I don’t think you ever really stop working on this. For example, I might be going through a phase of life where everything seems to be going right. Then, in a blink of an eye, I mess up. Fascinating how the human mind works – well, at least mine – where I remember more distinctly, more vividly those hiccups as opposed to the hours of breathing life. Having endured through so many of those moments as a result of my fallible nature, I’ve developed a motto to help me get through those slumps: “Own the mistakes, learn from them, but don’t let them rule you.” In many ways, law school has been such a humbling experience. When your ignorance is put on display for your entire 1L class to see, it’s a nice reminder that you know just as little as everyone else and probably less. I find it ridiculous when I hear classmates talking about the stupidity of someone’s question in class or how someone totally botched their cold call. Who cares! We’re all here because we really don’t know anything. In fact, we're all here because we had at least one person in our corner vouching for us. So, with that, I give myself a couple of hours to be a human, to sulk, wallow in self-pity, and then I move on. Once you show others that it doesn't bother you, they begin to wonder why they let it bother them.
Although age may not translate into greater intelligence, I think it does correspond with greater wisdom (or at least I think it should). Not to say that I’m suddenly Confucius with my advanced years of six and twenty, but I do think that I have greater empathy for those around me. Judgment of other people’s failures and mistakes doesn’t come as readily because I’ve been there before. If I was in their shoes, I wouldn’t want people to think of my mistakes or failures when they heard my name. Having worked on many different teams as a paralegal, I've rarely heard disparaging remarks, and team members have only ever had the highest respect for each other. The sooner we integrate positive and encouraging attitudes in our approach to those around us, the sooner we'll realize how much happier and successful in our careers we can be.
There's no one way to go to law school. I personally recommend taking a year to a couple of years off after college just to see a world outside of your own. Not to mention that it'll give you the opportunity to develop relationships with employers (who will also make great references), acquire valuable skills, and learn something about yourself outside of the academic bubble. Regardless of what route you choose, remember that it is you who makes the experience what it is.