This is the time of year many students head into their first year of law school. If you are one of them, this post will speak directly to you. If you are thinking about being a law student one day, but you haven’t been in school for a while, and you have kids at home, here’s a little taste of some things to consider.
So, you’re a 1L – a first year law student. Congratulations! You are about to undergo one of the toughest years of your life and have an experience that relatively few others get to have. You are part of an elite group of individuals who applied and got accepted into law school. At alternate times this year, you will understand that this is both a blessing and a curse. Your first year of law school is an adjustment period – not just for the first few weeks, or months, but all year long. Everything will be new – and just when you feel like you are settling in and know what you are doing, something will come along and kick your feet right out from under you. Don’t worry, it happens to everyone.
One of the first tips I would like to share is that last sentence – it happens to everyone. Even if it seems like you are the only one lost and confused, you are not. Even if it feels like you are the only one fighting with your spouse, or not getting enough sleep, or missing your kids like crazy, you are not.
It seems like the type of people who get admitted into law school are ones who are independent, strong, and have always excelled in school. This is likely to be you and your classmates’ first taste of struggling in an academic environment, and sharing that information could be perceived as a weakness. People will casually mention that they are swamped or behind in their reading, rather than admit to feeling like they are going crazy and have no idea how they will ever catch up.
That feeling will not last forever. The further into your first year you get, the less it will happen. That doesn’t mean it won’t occasionally resurface, but the episodes come less frequently. Whatever stress you are experiencing, you are not alone.
The first year is all about adjustments that need to be made in every area of your life. These aren’t necessarily adjustments you are consciously aware of needing to make, most of them will be forced upon you as a product of the workload and stress.
Something I think all first year students want to know before school starts, myself included, is what will law school be like? We hear horror stories of how hard it will be, or how professors try to humiliate you, or any number of other things. I suspect the experience is very subjective, but I will tell you a few of my overall impressions about the first days and weeks.
I remember being more excited than nervous, and after a couple of days of orientation activities, purchasing books, and learning my way around campus, I was eager to get started. I knew that just like jumping into a swimming pool, the quicker I got in, the sooner I would adjust. Sitting in my first class, being welcomed by my professor, laptop at the ready, everything felt, like, well – school.
Most of our professors were very good about easing us into both law school and their particular subject. They all started with an overview of the course and most provided some tips about their style or what to expect from their class specifically, or law school in general. Some even suggested specific study guides for their class, or resources the school offered that might be useful.
Naturally, some subjects are more complex than others and some professors are better communicators than others. I remember that my Contracts and Torts classes were ones that usually made sense and were enjoyable. They were about subjects that I could generally relate to or were somewhat familiar with. Those classes were fun and it was easy to take meaningful notes. My Constitutional Law and Civil Procedures classes, however, tended to leave me, and many others, bewildered more nights than not. I would take notes, not sure if they would ever make sense or not. There were definitely nights following these classes that I wondered if I was smart enough to be in law school, and how I would ever get through if I couldn’t even understand first year classes.
My Civil Procedures professor was amazing! She knew how difficult her subject was, and she constantly reassured us that we would get this and it would all start making sense. She spoke to our fears and kept encouraging us, which was so needed, especially in contrast with what was happening in our Con Law class. In there, the professor really seemed to enjoy catching people off guard, talking way above our heads, and some nights would ask every single one of us the same question, one by one, and no one would have the response he was seeking. At the time, that professor was my least favorite person in the world. He seemed arrogant and didn’t seem to care that most of us had no clue what he was talking about. I came to realize in later years that he was truly brilliant, and I think he just didn’t know how to deal well with first year students.
So, what were my first few weeks like? A roller-coaster. I loved being back in school! I loved learning. Most of my classes made enough sense that overall, I felt positive about being in law school. There was a lot of reading – qualitatively, if not quantitively. (Fifty pages of law text books are not like 50 pages of anything else you’ve ever read. It will take you more time than you think.) The new schedule meant less sleep. I missed playing with my kids every night and putting them to bed. Some nights I felt guilty that I was having fun when there was chaos at home. Part of the time, classes and my new schedule sucked. There were nights that I felt stupid, and the more tired I was, the more frustrated I became. Still, I continued on, and soon, there would be good nights again, break-throughs would be made in my comprehension, and choruses would sing songs of joy. OK, maybe not that part, but there were highs and lows, and overall, it was school and I really liked it.
The above is an excerpt from my new book, Law School Insights: An Insider’s Guide for Non-Traditional Students. The Kindle version is now available on Amazon. Print and audio versions should be available in mid-late September if you would prefer to wait for another format.