Dear Future 1L,
I write to you today to recount a reality often experienced but very underestimated and a tale often embellished. If I can give you any riveting advice it would be: don't answer the phone while driving unless you think it may be a law school acceptance call; then YOU MUST definitely answer the phone and pull over. For the call, you’ll need three things: a laptop/notepad, a seat, and food and drink. Don't call back till you have all three. You are about to embark on a journey people dream about and you don't have the stamina to just take that news lightly.
You know all that jive about 'there are two important days in your life?' #ScratchThat. Every single day is the most important. But the day you get into law school, your life is on the landing strip towards extreme alterations approaching fast. So, let's first see where you classify.
Pre-Law School Cold-Feet: The day you are about to start 1L Orientation, you have found fifteen reasons why you are going to fail, no one is going to like you, and how you must have been crazy when you clicked submit. (Don’t worry, we all go through this one, sometimes during the school year. Sometimes all year long.).
Law School Rookie: It’s your first day. You only have one fear: the infamous “cold call.” You read the case and briefed it, and now you must wait. The minute hand is ticking faster. The professor has not even arrived, but you just know today is DOOMSDAY. You really hope the variation of highlighter colors in your book are enough to show you tried. He just arrived! Now your heart is beating fast. “What is this damn case about? Maybe I should lead with a joke? What if I just say I don’t know? Maybe he’ll leave me alone.” Class is over. Saved by the bell. Dang, what was class about? (Don’t worry, everyone goes through this, and YES, even the gunners!).
Gunners: I got this class. I have analyzed large quantities of data before, this should be no problem. I’m going to raise my hand because I know I have the right answer. The professor is confused. The way I see it, this is how the law is supposed to read. Do you want my two cents on fairness or logic behind the law? Well, I’m going to offer it anyways. It’s hard being the one in class who gets it. Nobody else raises their hand with such confidence. I have to stay strong. Did the professor just ignore my hand? I must have not raised it in time for it to register. I will try again. Class ends. Boy, I tell you, raising your hand all class is hard work. Dang, what was class about? (Don’t worry, there is always one who makes an attempt to know every answer. It is only a phase most times, but sometimes it is just who a person is. Don’t let that deter you if you become that person.).
Jokester: If everyone laughs at my jokes, they must like me. GOAL: make a joke every class that is self-deprecating. Get people to laugh at me. Then, surprise them with my amazing wisdom. I laugh a lot because life has been difficult, but I do not see class as serious as everyone makes it. I cannot come to class knowing everything. I sure am going to try my best though. Most times, it sounds like I’m joking, and people laugh. However, I’m usually seriously confused. (Don’t worry, laughing is the best medicine for class. Don’t lose that spirit; we need that on those especially hard days. And in time, you’ll get it.).
Spaced Out Cadet: “Cold Call *insert name*.” Yes, I just think if you read the case this way, you can find that the parties were fighting over this as well. Teacher: “Where are you reading that?” I’m not sure exactly. (Don’t worry, that kid just made it so much easier for you to understand, because now the teacher knows that someone is lost so all of you are probably lost and not saying anything. Thank you, Space Cadet!).
The Quiet One: I’m really not trying to get called on. In fact, I am not going to raise my hand. Let me write down the important points in class, and ask questions when I am confused only. I also need to schedule meetings with my professors. I am trying to figure out what days work best for them and me. I wonder if this class will end up being a class I like or one that I have to mentally prepare for every day. Do I care if my classmates think I am an idiot? A little but not really. I have fifteen other things to worry about. Like my family, what I am going to do for food all week, should I start a budget, what classes should I take my 2L year? (Don’t worry if you’re this kid; chances are your professors like you, and your classmates spend all of their time trying to make sure you get your “cold call.” More than likely, you will do just fine and maybe find out that it’s better to be quiet most times in law school.).
Now that we had some time to classify you, I know what you really want to know about is the array of emotions you are about to experience. The INFAMOUS schedule awaits!
Law school one week in: I think I got the hang of this case brief thing. Let’s try to outline so I can be ahead for exams. NOOOOOO, there’s a bar review. I HAVE to go to that. I mean, right? It’s the first week. I cannot be too serious right now. I won’t make any friends! Wow, there is a bar tab for free drinks? Law school is awesome! I need to go to more of these. Wait, there are like twenty people here I know. The rest are upperclassmen! Man, I knew I should have outlined! I am a terrible student. I’m going to fail. (Don’t worry, you’re not going to fail, relax!)
Law school one month in: One month down, nine to go. No, scratch that, we are going to count by semester. One month down, four to go. Wait, did our teachers just assign us 300 pages for tonight? What happened to the one to three cases a night? Oh wait, no, it’s in the syllabus. Darn. Wait, why am I in law school? When do we get a school holiday? Is it Friday yet? Wait, why in the hell do the upperclassmen have no Friday classes? This cannot be fair. They're always chilling. Maybe I should be chilling. I want to go out and have a good time. But, I guess they earned it. I should too. (Don’t worry, you can still go out, just remember eventually you might want to start outlin— Never mind, go out have some fun!)
Law school two months in: Everybody keeps going out to party every week, like, when do they study? I cannot hang, man, or maybe I can? We still got, like, two months before exams. I heard there is a costume party for Halloween. I HAVE to go to that one. But I probably should be outlining and practicing. FOOTBALL season is heating up! There is a football watch party! Man, why am I in law school again? I’m tired. Why are all of my friends traveling without me? Do we get a Spring Break in law school? Wait, it’s still fall! (Don’t worry, this is what everyone likes to call mid-semester crisis. You will get through it.).
Law school three months in: I have now accrued enough knowledge and note-taking to formulate this foreign object they call an “OUTLINE.” What is it? How does it work? How can I use it to annihilate my law school exams? Upperclassmen, please show me your ways. I should probably join a study group. Well, I guess it’s a little late for that, or is it? Man, this outlining thing is hard. There is a lot of information. I should have been doing parts of this as I went along. Man, it’s been five hours and I am still outlining Torts. Today is just Torts day, I guess. When am I going to read for these classes? Should I just stop reading? What if I have been doing it wrong this whole time? I’m dropping out man. No, I cannot do that. I’m already in debt. And they said I can’t work. How would I sustain myself? Why am in law school again? EXAMS are in one month! I’m going to fail! (Don’t worry, at this point it is normal to freak out. My thoughts: go to your happy place (i.e. church, park, restaurant, outside, Starbucks, etc.) and chill. It’s not as bad as you think. Call a good friend for help TOMORROW!).
Law school four months in: Today is the absolute most difficult day of my life. I am about to take my first big exam tomorrow. I don’t feel ready. I’m not ready. I haven’t prayed enough. I have cried too much from total exhaustion. I really know nothing. Like, this semester was wasted. I don’t even have a great outline. I thought I would be more prepared than this. All of my friends probably hate me because I complain so much. I have no one I can call for encouragement. I should probably be studying. No I need to sleep. I guess I have to give it my best shot. When they call time, I HAVE to be done. I don’t want to fail. I really don’t. (Don’t worry, you will not fail. Look at this way. You made it four months longer than most. You have the stamina to keep going. You are just running up a steep hill right now, but every hill eventually goes down. It gets easier.).
Law school after fall EXAMS are OVER: I never thought happiness felt like a full box of donuts, a glass of wine, or a drive back home. Oh man. I have missed so much. Time to update social media. #OneSemesterDown. Christmas has to be amazing this year. I need family time. Surround me with love. Wait, why school starting back is so early? January, what? I need till, like, the end of the month, man! (Don’t worry, your winter break goes by too quickly. Get back in gear right after New Year’s. GRADES are coming! Batten down the forts and need to share information.).
Law school spring semester: Who wants a job? Resume? Job fair? You still want me to take classes! When are semester grades coming out? Should I be wearing a suit to class? Why is she wearing a suit, does she have an interview? Wait, I need to focus on class. Why are all the professors acting like we are going to be depressed when grades come out? I probably failed, but then again I could have passed. The world may never know until the end of January. Oh my, not the rat race again!
Law school five months in: I just finished being exhausted from last semester. Is it just me, or did the classes get so much harder? Did they just give us 300 pages on the first day?! What happened to easy transitions? What is so wrong with having syllabus day? You know those days in undergrad where we got mad because we did not do anything. Yeah, I want those days back. Thank you for the school holidays. Lord please be a snow storm! I don’t want to go to class on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday! Give me a Friday! Is this semester going by faster? Wait, I’m not ready to take exams again. Oh shit, grades just dropped. Time to go look—shuts computer, locks self in room, doesn’t come out for two days.
Law school six months in: Still Recovering from grades. Still feel like a failure. Oh, how nice it feels to be done, and I did not fail. But I wish my grades in undergrad could transfer so I could feel remotely well about my GPA. Why is this so hard? Who is good at this? I need to be their friend. Wait, they probably don’t want to be my friend. Oh well, who needs friends! I need help. I’m getting a tutor. No, wait, you have to pay a tutor. Maybe an upperclassmen will take pity on me. Wait, why are we writing a brief? I’m not working on law school over my spring break that I so deserve. This is a full week off of law school. I am not doing work. I promise. Well, maybe I will do a little. OK, I am going to get ahead. I haven’t slept in seven days straight trying to crank out this brief. What is wrong with me? Why can’t I relax? What has law school done to me? Why am I even here? I’m going to quit. I could get a good job right now just for trying law school. Oh crap, I got a call-back for a job interview. Now, I have to stay in school.
Law school seven months in: What the heck is going on? How do we have exams again? I just got back from summer break. We turned in the brief, but man I failed that! I killed that oral argument, though. I can do this lawyer stuff, I think. I HAVE to study early this time. I am going to have great outlines, I am asking for help, and I am getting in a study group. I will be so much better this year. Cries for the next two weeks randomly about all the studying. Asks for help from everyone. Teach me this class again, oh wise friend who’s an upperclassmen. I will make it. I’m tired. Why am I doing this to myself again? Its election time, should I run for something? Nah, I’m tired. However, it may help me get a job later. You know what, what the heck. I’ll run for two things, maybe three. They called: I GOT THE JOB! Now, I have to decide whether to tell my classmates or keep it to myself and yell surprise. I like the latter idea better. This law school thing is starting to grow on me.
Law school eight months in: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I just have to take one more exam at this point. I am highly considering dropping out because this semester was so freaking difficult. After this last exam, I can say it. I just have to cry it out until then. I am so unprepared. Perhaps, even more unprepared than last semester. I have no idea what I am doing, but I refuse to fail, to give up, or drop my head. We have to take this LAST EXAM.
Law school after spring EXAMS are over: I’m done. Keep the pencil. #FirstYearDown. I’m no longer accepting calls, emails, and texts concerning law school for at least two weeks. Goes ghost.
Summer job after 1L year: You're either paid or unpaid. Clerking for a judge or interning for an office. Answering calls or doing legal research and writing. Training, brown bag lunches, and daily legal jargon. Assignments, drafts, revisions, and more drafts. Your job is never done. Are they going to feed us? Do we get fancy badges? Will I love this job for the rest of my life? Do I hate it? Will they like me? Will I like them? I’m just going to come with an open mind. Wow this summer taught me a lot about working in that field. Boy, it’s a rat race. Morning traffic, five o’clock traffic, and sleep. All of these are important. This is about more than just the title. Forget LinkedIn likes, do I like me? Is this where I see myself? Who am I? Did I make journal, am I going to try out for a competition team, what else am I going to do to give back? Wow, I’m low-key excited for school. But shhhh. Don’t tell my classmates. I am silently celebrating, externally crying. It throws them off my scent so I can move incognito.
If you’re like me, you’re either experiencing one of three emotions after reading all of this: (1) this girl has a lot of time on her hands, (2) how does she know, and (3) how is this going to help me? I cannot answer the last question or address the first comment because I cannot determine what is going to help you with law school. I also cannot tell you how much time I have because this is something I wrote to help me deal with my law school time served.
However, what I can do is address point two, and I hope it gives you a guide to inspire you.
HOW DOES SHE KNOW?
I have been told many times that I should write down all of my thoughts and maybe somehow it will help someone. So here goes!
My name is not important because chances are you know it by now. My story, however, is more unique. At twelve years old, I was riding to school with my mom. I saw a bus across the street for my school picking up kids my age. I asked my mom why they were riding a bus to school and we were riding a car. I soon learned that students who live even across the street from a “good school” could be zoned in a way where they had to go to schools with “lower funding.” I remember thinking as a child how terrible that was. I could not verbalize anger much at that age, but I was outraged. Tell a child to color within the lines and more than likely she will color outside. Tell a child that school systems draw lines on who can attend their school and they will wonder why they cannot have friends who live outside the lines.
As a child, I began asking the underlying reason behind some rules. In high school, I finally gained clarity on the debate on why rules were so difficult for me comprehend. Rules are meant to be broken. We learn more often by the mistakes we make as opposed to the successes we have. I know that it was not until I fell flat on my face, that I learned how to get up with grace. The wisdom that comes from messing up is a lot more useful than the wisdom that comes from always having things work out. I decided that I wanted to go add value to people’s lives in high school, so I fell knee-deep into working with children at a local YMCA. At first, I was a program participant but soon I became a volunteer. Who knew that I would be there for the next nine years? After college, all I had as work experience was internships and the YMCA camp counselor job that I held for six years.
I met my classmates during our summer Contracts I class and really enjoyed having a pre-law school family before I came to the infamous 1L Orientation. It was nice having people who I went through this with beforehand who saw me in my rare form. In a class of thirty people, it is easy to miss the different personalities but do not take it for granted. My biggest success was learning every one of my classmates’ names and something special that they brought to the class. You may feel like the classifying I did at the beginning was some awful version of high school. However, it is intended to be an eye-opener. You will go through these stages of friendships where there will be people in class who have those mannerisms and you think you have them pegged. There are so many more people that I did not go into detail about like: the party goer, the extreme sports buff, the loner, the job bragger, the grade bragger, the internship bragger, the social media updater, the fun one who has a serious side, the library kid, the ambassador, the writer, the dream killer, and more. However, my job is not to prepare you for every possible person you could imagine because then this will end up being a yearbook.
I do not want you to read my story and figure out who these people were to me. I want you to read and figure out what makes these people special. What makes these people stand out in the classroom in their own special way? They add value to each class whether you would rather make fun of them or be their friend.
BEST ADVICE I can give you in law school is: do not join a clique. Be your own person. Make your standards firm. Stand by who you are and value every person especially the negative ones. Those are the people you are going to owe for a lot of your success.
Let me tell you a story. A young woman or man enters a swimming pool for the first time. The farther they get away from the shallow end, the more anxious they become. Now, add some people who are intentionally splashing you in the shallow end. Add some people who are spraying water directly in your eyes in the shallow end. Add people telling you how unattractive you look in your bathing suit in the shallow end. Add people who do not believe you know how to swim in the shallow end. Add people who intentionally do not play with you in the shallow end. In the deep end, there are a couple people cheering for you to come over there. However, they are not louder than the crowd going on in the shallow end. By this point, you are surrounded and just want to go below the surface and hold your breath so you can escape the drama in the shallow end. However, when you come up for air, all of the naysayers in the shallow end are shouting even louder. They are making fun of you because you tried to hide. Eventually, you take a step away from the shallow end. The naysayers begin to follow you. You take another step, the naysayers are still there. You take another step, and still there are a few naysayers following. However, now you are toeing the line to the deep end. The end where you cannot touch the bottom. The naysayers become quieter, but they are still there. Finally, you take that plunge and swim out into the unknown. This time, the naysayers do not have time to try to pull you down because they are trying to stay afloat. All of that swimming away actually turned into swimming towards something bigger. The law student, lawyer, non-lawyer with a J.D. that you were meant to be.
Law school feels like that Future 1L. It won’t come easy. Most days, it’s going to suck. However, the swim from the shallow to the depth of your potential and talent is far more rewarding that the empty success of titles, plaques, and awards. To graduate law school is to accomplish adversity in your spirit. No amount of studying will prepare you for either the exam or the INFAMOUS bar exam. You will always feel like you do not know enough. However, remember there is an adrenaline rush that will come to you while taking that exam that reassure you that this is the path for you. You will have a day of a mini victory where someone tells you they look up to you, they believe in you, they are proud of you, and that will make the brunt of difficulty you faced all the more worth it.
P.S. Dear Future 1L, I was just like you (scared, confused, doubtful, and unconfident in my own ability), but my secret was relying on God. I was at church every second I could go. I went twice a week second semester. I cried a lot. I took a lot of personal days. I did not get the top grade. But I did make lasting friendships, lost friends too, gain positions that helped me give back, thoroughly enjoyed my 1L Year, cried in a lot of teachers’ offices, prayed in tears, cried in bathrooms.
However, I lived for God so much here than I ever have before. I grew stronger spiritually than I ever knew possible. You are going to face a battle when you get here, but just know that this is not just my story. This is the story most of your classmates won’t tell you because they want you to think they have it all together. Let’s be honest. They don’t. We don’t. I don’t. But who cares?!
Law school to me was about getting closer to God, and whatever journey it takes you on, all I can say is: Don’t Fight the Process. Trust it all works together for your good!
N.S., a girl who dreamed about two careers, a lawyer or a WNBA player, and somehow ended up in law school. That schedule I gave you was real. Those tears & those hard times happened. But with Jesus I survived and thrived. Thankful.
About the Creator
Neena Speer is the founder and executive director of the Step 1-2-3 Mentor for Life Initiative. Her principal areas of interest are working in non-profit management, civic involvement, and criminal defense.