Law School Survival Guide

Something you may not know about me is that I am a law school graduate survivor.

Not to sound self-righteous or anything, but law school for me was one of the most difficult experiences of my life (and I have the hairline to prove it). Before I started, I was a fairly confident young lass, having done well enough in my undergrad. I was also somewhat impulsive, and when I wanted something, I didn’t really care what people thought and I wasn’t afraid of failure. I just when out and got it.

So boom, I applied to law school and got in. Total NBD, right?

No. It was a BD, a very BD (BD as in BIG DEAL). Law school was more or less a large monster of darkness and cynicism that kidnapped me, held me captive for three years, slowly tore me to shreds and then released back into the real world.

When I graduated, I had no idea who I was. I felt like I had lost my identity. I developed anxiety, a serious fear of failure, cared way too much what people though of me, I’d become indecisive about everything, and had developed some self-destructive behaviours and thinking patterns. If you haven’t already guessed, I was one unhappy camper.

Well, it’s been just over a year since I’ve graduated and I’m finally piecing myself back together aaaand that hairline is finally growing back.

Obviously, this was just my personal law school experience. It goes without saying that everyone is different, and people excel in a variety of environments. You may thrive in that kind of environment. But for me, law school felt like being suffocated.

In retrospect, some of the suffocating probably could have been avoid had I known a few things before starting law school. There’s a saying that goes something like pain is part of life but suffering doesn’t have to be.

Law school WILL harden you, some parts WILL be painful, but you don’t have suffer through it. Thinking back on my experience, I believe there are some things I could have done differently which would have resulted in a better experience overall.

So, without further ado, behold, my Law School Survival Guide. Warning, this post is pretty specific to law school as opposed to college in general.

[Note: if you’re starting law school or you’ve already started but you’re struggling, send me an email on Insta or at therealnessfactor@gmail.com. I’d be MORE than happy to talk to you about it.]

1 – Start with an open mind: Whether you heard law school was gonna be amazing or horrible, don’t believe it. Basically, ignore what I just said up there about it being a suffocating monster of darkness. That was just my unfortunate experience. You could very well be way smarter than me and law school might be a breeze for you. Just make sure you don’t go in thinking it’s one way or another because you could psych yourself out before you even start.

2- Law school is A LOT of work. Oh and your grades are curved: So, this isn’t undergrad people. You actually have to study to do well in law school. Like a lot. How much? Ballpark how much you think you have to study and then triple that. It doesn’t seem that way, because you won’t have tons of assignments all semester long. You usually just have one assignment and it’s an exam, worth 100% of your grade. This means what you understood over the last 3 months will depend entirely on exam day. Oh and note that exams can range from 2 to 8 hours. No joke. (To take the edge off all that studying, here’s where you can get good coffee and free wifi)

Also, comparing is a HUGE deal in law school. So much so that your grades are probably going to be curved. This means that 75% of the class will get an B. The remain 25% will be allotted As, Cs and Ds.

The curve can be a nasty beyotch. For example, if you did well on the exam but the rest of the class did AMAZING, you will end up with a bad grade. On the other hand, if you did BAD on the exam, but the rest of the class practically failed, you will end up with a pretty good grade. How well you do is actually a reflection of how well your peers did (More on comparing in point #4)

3- Study group or individual: At some point, probably in the beginning, you will have the opportunity to join a study group. Law students really like to cut down on their work with the divide and conquer method. For example, each person will prepare notes and a summary for one or two classes. At the end of the semester, everyone exchanges their summaries so they can study. There’s pros and cons to this method. Pro: you have less work to do. Con: the summaries you get could be bad PLUS you don’t get the benefit of, you know, actually studying a bunch of your classes throughout the semester.

So what do you do? Well, you have three choices:

–  1 – You do all the work for all the classes by your lonesome. You will have no social life if you do this, but it could be a good option if you have no friends are good at teaching yourself stuff.

– 2 – You split the work for each class among a group of people. This option is risky because you won’t get the benefit of studying for each class all semester long. Meaning, you’ll have to cram months worth of information within a few days. You’ll definitely have a bunch of friends to party with after you’re done exams though.

– 3 – (my recommendation)  Find 1 study buddy to lighten the course load. Choose someone you trust. This way, you do the work for at least half the classes and then you have someone you trust providing you with everything you need for the exam. Plus, you can always ask each other questions and be a good support for each other.

4- Stay in your lane: This is so important. Do NOT compare yourself to others. Yes, maybe he or she got As in all their classes. Maybe he or she seems to have it easy.

Trust me, they don’t. Law students are EXPERTS in the smoke and mirrors game. They WANT you to believe they have perfect little lives, that they are doing really well in all their classes and that they’re getting the best jobs.

But here is le dirty truth: Some law students take performance enhancing drugs at exam time. Many of them are (closet) alcoholics. They’re usually smokers and almost all of them are incredibly insecure. AND they lie. A lot, especially about their grades.

NOT the healthiest bunch.

These are not people you want to compare yourself to. Even if they seem perfect, comparing yourself will start you down an unhealthy serial of darkness. And be careful, because law students LOOOOOVE to compare themselves to each other. For example, the minute the exam is over, they love to compare what answers they put down. This is when you practice your anti-social skills and your resting B face.

The comparison mentality is so engrained in students that it often continues with when you enter the working world as a lawyer. A potential employers once asked me for my class rank. My rank! Not my grades, but how my rank in the class, directly comparing me to everyone else! *EYEROLL*

Dude, I don’t even want to know my own rank.

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Okay, so at risk of sounding repetitive: Do not compare yourself to others, follow your instinct, stay you and don’t get caught up with the drama of the other students. Your connections in class can be a great resource for cutting down your workload, but use them wisely.

5- Maintain perspective: If you have some kind of hobby or regular activity that you loved doing before law school, try to keep it up throughout. It will help you maintain perspective and balance, which are so necessary to success as a law student, success as a lawyer and the success of your hairline. Even if you feel like the world is ending because of your grades or it’s interview week, I promise that keeping these good habits will make all the difference.

I’ve never had a hobby (this blog is my first hah!) so I didn’t directly get to benefit from this, but everyone I knew who had a life outside of law school and maintained it throughout did really well. BONUS: most employers love seeing that you played soccer were on a competitive chess team, because it demonstrates your ability to multi-task, manage your time, cope with stress, et cetera. So keep your hobbies, keep your friends outside of law and you will be happier and more balanced. Plus, you’ll have an edge when you’re looking for your first legal job.

6- Law is NOT the be all and end all: Here is a controversial statement. Good law student does NOT equal good lawyer.

Of course, it doesn’t feel like this when you’re in law school. Why? Because of the MASSIVE weight on your grades. The pressures comes from the other students, but it also comes from professors. For example, to get into some classes in law school, you need to apply: i.e. write a cover letter and show your transcripts. It sucks because they start filtering out students with lower grades from good opportunities early on. Meaning, the kids who are doing better on exams are getting the good opportunities and are more likely going to get jobs.

Finally, the pressure comes from employers. For a second year summer position, an articling position and most likely a junior lawyer position, you will be asked by employers to provide law school transcripts.

If you get good grades naturally, this will not be a problem. If you have dreams of being a lawyer and you know you can get the grades by working really hard, do it if it makes you happy.

If you’re not 100% dead-set on becoming a typical lawyer in a huge law firm, I can tell you that grades are NOT everything. You can do all kinds of work outside of the “typical” legal kingdom that can be fulfilling, valuable and bring you a decent salary. You just need to think outside the box. [If you need tips or ideas, send me an email].

7- Have fun with it. Seriously, I mean, you’re kinda committed at this point. Don’t take law school too seriously. Don’t take your grades too seriously. My best advice is to use this time for personal development. I’ll repeat it, for effect: pain is part of life but suffering doesn’t have to be. The world is bigger than law school, I promise.

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