I went immediately from college to law school not realizing that this would put me in a huge minority. I’m not only one of the youngest, but also one of the most shell-shocked. The first six weeks of school were challenging, but here’s what you need to know (or what I can say having survived):
1. Law school is a vacuum.
Welcome to the world of the law, often described as the most jealous of mistresses. Within the first week of school, you’ll have information thrown at you for which you have virtually no frame of reference – contracts, criminal law, civil procedure, etc. Real-world or college teaching will only get you so far; this is an entirely different curriculum as well as a whole new way to think about everything. You can’t remove yourself from it either. I found myself having a glass of wine after a long night of studying only to wonder whether that glass would have a potential BAC for voluntary intoxication. Not just “yes please” to that glass of wine, but “why? Why do you think I want it? Why not white wine?”
I’m really not kidding. Your mind is going to erupt.
2. There are, in fact, stupid questions. REALLY stupid questions.
Law students love hypotheticals. It’s how we learn and it’s how we’re tested. Relevant facts are the bane of our existence, because it’s that little “why” I talked about before that helps us solve the problem. That being said, law students pose a lot of hypotheticals in class, whether or not it’s to try to outwit the professor or gain an understanding of some foreign section of the Uniform Commercial Code. Nine times out of ten, they’re stupid, they confuse people, and the answer is “it depends.” If you ask a question on reading you haven’t done, get out. Seriously. And if you ask a question that’s already been answered, God help you.
3. You’re never right and your background is relatively meaningless.
Times in law school when you can be black and white, 100% right: maybe once a semester. But, even if you are correct, chances are there’s a better answer that you never even considered. The great part about this is that you are constantly learning. The downside? Your head is going to feel Hiroshima AND Nagasaki all the time.
That being said, it doesn’t matter how many clerkships you’ve had or how great your undergraduate GPA was. Sure, it pays of to know how to study and have some knowledge of practical application, but that gets you through roughly the first week. I started law school thinking I was untouchable with my undergrad 3.85 in English. Let me tell you what that got me: used to reading a lot, and that’s about it. It’s a new way of writing, learning, thinking, and literally nothing but the shit-show that is 1L can prepare you for it.
4. Student loans are a thing. Talking about grades is not.
Unless you are one of the fortunate few that is relatively debt free, law school is, at the start, basically a great way to accumulate a TON of debt. Law students are competitive, but a common factor of commiseration is how much this hell-hole is costing. It’s a common factor that is the same for everyone – there aren’t many of these in law school, so take them as you find them.
You’d think, oh, everyone gets grades too! Let’s talk about them! No. Don’t do it. You might as well just open your mouth and prepare to stick your foot in it. Between the competition, the workload, the cliché and all-too-real curve, grades are yours and yours alone. You want to be able to talk out issues, not create issues by bragging about your solid grade. Plus, that grade? Don’t get cocky. You’ll get knocked down before you turn around.
5. Law school has the potential to make anyone an alcoholic.
Just as law students bond about their student loans, an even greater way to bond over the misery we’re in is over booze. Not only does the reading, the work, and the stress drive you to drink, but the fact that you can’t afford to drink during the week brings out a new level of wanting to get hammered on the weekends. Greek life has nothing on law students. Most law schools sponsor happy hours on a regular basis. There’s generally a bar (or four) within a two-block radius of the campus. Want a mental relief from the difference between comparative and contributory negligent tortfeasors? It’s generally found in a Friday afternoon mega-marg.
6. It’s worth it. (I think.)
Law school is hard. It’s hard, it’s miserable, it will drive you to drink, and it will make you cry (men too, I’ve seen it). That being said, people wouldn’t keep applying and taking the bar if it all weren’t worth something. Knowledge of the law isn’t common, and it’s certainly empowering. When people who haven’t studied law think they know it anyway, they probably don’t. My dad (also an attorney, shocker) used to always say, “show me in the law where that’s written” when I’d try and get in his face. How many people can do that? Law students, lawyers, and attorneys can.