Things I wish someone would have told me about my first year of American Law School (1L)
There are things that people tell you about 1L that give you the impression you're going into it with open eyes. They tell you that the workload is intense, that it is highly competitive, that you'll be miserable, etc. But having lived through 1L I can tell you that it didn't give me an accurate view of what I was signing up for. So I'm writing this...
The first thing that people neglect to tell you is that once you join, you're locked in unless you're fantastically wealthy. The cold hard reality of law school is that it costs so much to attend just a single semester that once you go to your first class you're financially bound to finish law school and get a degree. This is significant and should not be overlooked because you likely have no idea whether or not you'll enjoy learning about law or practicing law. In addition, you have no barometer for whether or not you'll be a good law student or lawyer. Ignore your friends and family telling you that you'd make a good lawyer because they have no way of actually knowing that fact. You just need to decide for yourself whether you think you have the fortitude and courage to make that gamble, and accept that if take that first step you are locked in for the entire race.
Law school is sprint. Let me elaborate, law school is a marathon length sprint and the more tired you become the faster you need to run. Do not attend law school if you get bored or discouraged easily because you will be tested repeatedly on exactly those qualities. And ultimately, like any race, you race alone. Law school is not like undergrad. If you're lucky, you'll have a few close friends but for the most part law school is a pretty isolating and superficial experience.
Personalities and Law School Culture
There are no Type B personalities in law school. At least none who last. In addition, a large section of people who decide to go to law school do so because they have a chip on their shoulder and have something to prove. This is something you need to keep in mind when you decide to join, because you'll be spending the next 3 years in a small community with these people. This brings on a second effect. Law school is many respects will remind you of high school. It is small, gossipy, and you're around these people all the time.
The workload becomes increasingly heavier as 1L progresses. The upside, and something they don't tell you, is that it becomes easier because you are learning how to think like a lawyer. The faster you learn how to think like a lawyer, the sooner things will ease up for you.
This is what you do. Law isn’t like the movies. You will live, for the most part, in a library even if you’re a trial lawyer. If you don’t like reading, or you don’t like libraries, find another career.
Learning How to Think Like a Lawyer
Like it or not, law school is like boot camp and it is designed to reprogram you. You will be different at the end of this experience and will look at the world through different eyes than you did pre-law. For most people, this is a traumatic experience. Almost everyone I knew during 1L had a breakdown of one sort or another from the strain of it. However, we all survived and came out of it different people. This is something you seriously need to consider when looking at law school. You will not be the same person you once were. The best way I can explain it is this: You become refined. However, who you think you are isn't necessarily who you actually are. Walls get torn away because you don't have the time or energy to maintain them and if you have any unresolved issues lurking beneath the surface, they're liable to come out. This isn't always pretty. A friend of mine likened law school to cocaine, it is something only intense people are interested in and it makes them more intense. That's a pretty accurate assessment. So in addition to learning to think like a lawyer (something that might annoy your friends at first) there is a good chance that the core of you will come to the surface and become sharper. For some that is a good change, for others it isn't. It's an individual thing but it is something I've seen in just about every student I know.
They're not as uncommon as you'd think among 1L's. I read a study a while ago that stated that approximately 90% of 1L's are clinically depressed.
You don't just feel older at the end of 1L. You look older. Stress causes hair loss, lines, etc. Also, you're probably going to need glasses at the end of this. It sucks. Accept it.
Lawyers drink. I suspect that is due to law school. Many law schools provide free beer at functions. Many students are well on their way to drinking problems. I don't know if alcoholic personalities are drawn to law or if law turns people to alcohol, but it seems like a large portion of the student body drinks fairly regularly and uses it as a crutch.
Your lover will leave you. Or you'll leave your lover in a fit of pique. Either way, 99% of the time a relationship will not survive 1L. Marriage, soul mates, best friends for years, etc. It doesn't matter. You are under tremendous strain and are forced to be neglectful. In addition, you are changing and it is unlikely that your lover will want to stay around for that. And even if s/he does, you might find that you're no longer interested in your lover. An example of how ugly you can get, a classmate of mine told his girlfriend that 1L was much like when her father died (needless to say, that relationship didn’t survive). I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "We're different." Yeah, I said that too. Trust me, you're not. Relationships are crushed by the weight of 1L. Break up now, before you go, because otherwise the breakup will happen when the stress is at its peak (right before finals).
You will be asked to give up a tremendous amount for this career. More than you realize. You're not just giving up your financial security. You're also giving up parts of yourself, your relationship, your eyesight and (for some) your hair. It's a heavy burden and you might find you carry with you a great deal of regret. Prepare yourself for that.
Family is your saving grace and is probably the only reason I made it through 1L. Turn to them, trust them, look to them for support. Your family cannot understand what you’re going through, no one can but your classmates, but they will forgive you for it. And believe me, you will require forgiveness. As finals approach you’re going to look and act worse than you have done since you were 16 and only your family will be willing to cut you the slack you need.
But if after reading all of this you still want to go, you might have the strength to make it through. It is not an easy path to take, but what is?