Soldier On: Boot Camp to Law School – Do you Have What It Takes to Survive?

It’s October. If you’re in law school, you’re already half-way through your first term. Undoubtedly you want to thrive, not just survive – or so the adage goes. Yet I argue that sometimes you just need to survive!

A graduate of the US Army’s SERE school (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape), I’ve learned that resilience comes from surviving that which at the time seems impossible. Here are a few pointers I’d like to share so that when needed, you too can survive.

Be decisive.

Sometimes you’ll feel so overwhelmed with assignments and other school pressures that you just don’t know how to respond to something. When that happens, quickly assess the situation. Then ask yourself, “Is anyone’s life or liberty at stake?” If the answer is “No,” then make a decision, execute it, and proceed to the next project. Expending mental energy pondering too many possibilities is wasted effort. Don’t do it. Be decisive, and move on.

Don’t let them get in your head.

Some students, and even some professors, make themselves feel better at the expense of others. These people will drive you mad if you let them. They constantly drop hints about how much they’ve read, done, learned. My colleague, Lauren, pokes humorously at some of those folks. No matter how successful some make themselves out to be, if you are a dedicated student, you are probably also doing just fine. So press on. Tune out the chatter. And don’t let them get in your head.

Embrace the suck.

Yep. Some days, and even some weeks, will just plain hurt. Too much will be due in too short a time span. You’ll eat poorly, lose sleep, and not find time to exercise. But the only way through it is to move through it. So get started. Keep moving forward. And embrace the suck. You’ll be on the other side soon enough.

Kill the rabbit.

OK. This one might need a bit of an introduction. In order to survive in the wild alone, you must learn to kill and safely prepare your own food. In SERE school, even townies must kill rabbits by hand, properly dress them, and cook them over an open fire. For some this comes easy. For others, not so much. But the task is required to prepare for the worst.

You too may find yourself forced to do something you don’t want to do. I’m not referring to you doing anything illegal or immoral. But, for instance, you may find yourself in an internship at odds with your worldview. It sounded great when you heard about it, but the actual job was not what you expected. If completing the job doesn’t violate ethics or the law, just finish triumphantly. You don’t have to love every opportunity, but you do have to persevere with professionalism.

Shut up, and drive on.

Finally, know when to speak up, and know when to keep your mouth shut. Not every situation requires your input. As hard as this can be sometimes, pick your battles wisely. Raise your concerns for the important stuff. And for all the unimportant matters, just shut up, and drive on. You will boost your credibility when speaking up truly matters.

Do you have a survival experience? Share it with readers below in the comments or on Twitter.


Julie Cummings is one of Ms. JD’s 2016 Writers in Residence. Her monthly column, Soldier On: Boot Camp to Law School translates valuable military skills into strategies for succeeding in law school.

LinkedIn: @JulieAKCummings

Twitter: @JulieAKCummings



Julie, you’re so awesome!!!!

Julie Cummings

Thanks, Gennie. I write for up-and-comers like you!


Your comment came at the perfect time. I’d gotten into a bit of a pathetic, whiny mood these few weeks because of assignments etc. Re-reading your article right now = a perfect reminder of what needs to be done right now: embrace the suck, kill the rabbit, shut up and drive on. Thanks Julie

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