My first mistake was accepting those first-week friend requests on facebook.
All semester I felt my stomach clench as I read of classmates spending 36 hours at their desk to do the assignment I spent 3 hours on. Bragging about the hell we were seemingly going through and beating myself up because I wasn’t a student like that: hardworking, dedicated, high achieving. I saw pictures of the stacks of reading we had for class and learned that fellow future lawyers had already done the reading for the week on Friday of the week before, when I was doing the reading in the 30 minutes before class, sometimes, but always feeling like a failure because I clearly wasn’t doing law school right.
You’re probably reading this and thinking that 1) I’m clearly really lazy and should stop complaining or 2) you’re impressed with my ability to cram a lot of work into what never seems like enough time to get it done. You’re also probably wondering how I did grade-wise, and I will tell you I did fine only so you won’t skim the rest of this piece and come away just thinking I’m lazy and should stop complaining. The point here, though, is that it really, truly doesn’t matter what you think, but that that message is so incredibly hard to hold onto in an environment like this one.
People told me so many things about how different law school is and how I should study and what tips, tricks and habits I should try that I spent the first few weeks feeling sick to my stomach. And not wanting to do law school “wrong,” I tried to do them all. In theory, this approach may have made some sense but in practice I was so overwhelmed that I spent countless hours in bed, paralyzed, knowing what I should be doing but unable to do anything at all.
Law school is hard, there’s no question about it. The goal after all is not just to learn information but to teach you a new way to THINK about issues and assess problems. The real skill acquired is not learning the law, but learning HOW to learn the law, and let me tell you, it’s not super intuitive to most of us.
But this is still school. Something I’ve been doing pretty successfully for the last 17 years and like to think I have somewhat of a handle on. My biggest problem is that I let the world convince me that instead of a different dragon than one I’ve seen before, this law school thing was an entirely different beast. That’s just not true. I spent the last semester ignoring everything I knew to be tried and true methods that worked for ME in favor of what you’re supposed to do in law school. All that happened was that I made myself sick and miserable in the process. In the end and in the last minute panic, I reverted right back to what I knew and it. was. fine. I know how to study. I know how to take notes. I know how to take examples of past work and create a game plan that works for me, but I didn’t do any of that. My classmates and professors threw around words like “behind” and “at-risk” and “underachieving” to describe methods I usually use and I took those labels and placed them on myself. I stepped into that box and pulled the lid down on top of me.
The truth is, this is not a new beast, it’s just a different colored dragon. You are a dragon slayer.
What I’ve learned is that I need to be conscious of the stressors I allow to come home with me.
This is not meant to look the same for everyone and the sooner we stop trying to convince panicked first year students that whatever they know to be true is irrelevant and there is only one way to learn this material, the better off students like me will be. What it all boils down to is this: you don’t have to be like them, you just have to get through it. And that’s what I plan to do.