Not fLAWless but Fearless: The V Word

Vice? Victory? No, I’m talking about validation. That 10 letter word that pretty much all of us are guilty of seeking almost every day. 

One of the hard parts of law school is that we don’t really get any validation, or measurement of success, until the very end of a semester. It can be compared to actors in a play, who have to wait until the very end of their performance for a standing ovation, or a review. However, even in this situation, the audience might clap for an actor during the performance, if appropriate, or laugh at a funny line they say. They get something, even if it’s a small gesture, that reassures them that what they are doing is good. That’s not usually the case in law school.

In law school, it’s rare to get validation before entering into finals time. Either you understand a concept, you don’t, or you struggle to figure it out while simultaneously reading about the next principle(s) for class. But there’s no one there telling us if we got it right, or if we’re doing well. There really is no measure for doing “well” other than being able to apply a concept to a potential set of facts and then move on to the next, while keeping all of the prior information we’ve learned in our heads. Some professors do give out practice exams or problems to work through, or you can also work through hypotheticals in supplements which have corresponding discussions and answers. However, it’s rare to have the extra time to review this information, and adding it to an already stressful workload can be difficult.

Phew – sounds like an uphill battle, right? Well it doesn’t have to be. This is why I find it so important to validate the small things. For example, when someone does well in Socratic questioning in a class, I think it helps for them to hear a “good job today”, to know that they did well. And the reality for most law students, for most of us really, is that we are doing a lot better than we think we are. One of my best friends constantly tells me that from the outside looking in, things aren’t as bad as I think they are. While I feel lost and confused, there’s usually some order to the chaos I’m experiencing. Of course it’s hard to notice this from a first-person perspective, but that’s why talking to people in your support circle who you trust and getting validation from them is a good idea. However, allow me to clarify – I’m not saying you should continually seek validation from others. That could lead to unhealthy dependency and constantly worrying about what people think. Rather, it’s unreasonable to think that validation from others doesn’t matter. Of course it does! And it’s okay to let it matter. Feedback from others is crucial to helping us grow and building our own identity.

As for providing validation for myself, that’s much harder. This past week, my school was on spring break and thankfully I got to escape for a few days to recollect myself and regain momentum for finishing the rest of the semester. I’ve found that what helps, while I continue to outline a full semester’s worth of information for four substantive law classes, is to take a step back and recognize just how much I’ve learned. And not just in terms of legal knowledge or research skills. For instance, I was fortunate enough to have a couple of interviews for summer jobs over spring break, and during those conversations, I noticed how much better I’ve become at formulating my thoughts and speaking articulately about a topic, even if that topic is my background. Dare I say that law school teaches you how to “talk the talk” (and run the risk of you making a few corny lawyer jokes in your head), but it really does. Self-praise is not something a lot of us are comfortable with, perhaps for fear of becoming too narcissistic, but that’s why I like to think of it more as self-recognition. The ability to do this helps me push forward and find validation for moving closer to my goal, to achieving my purpose, every day. 


Julie Cummings

Jessica, I am glad to read that you are sensitive to the needs of your classmates to hear that they are doing fine—since many will be, yet believe they are not.  Importantly also, I think you raise a good argument in favor of self-reflection. For instance, you used your spring break to reflect on just how much law you have learned and at how much smoother your interviewing skills have become. Nice article!


Hi Jessica- I think you’ve addressed something that many people struggle with, myself included. I’m often my biggest critic and it’s definitely important to get that validation every once in a while.

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