In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to thank law school for teaching me so many life lessons in the past 27 months. Now that I’ll be graduating in 6 months, it’s time to look back and be thankful for the lessons that I learned in probably one of the emotionally draining, academically challenging but also fulfilling times of my life.
- You’re not “JUST” anything – In the past year and half, I told a female lawyer at a huge bank and a male criminal court judge that I was “just a law student.” Their response: “you’re just not just a law student, you’re a law student. That’s an accomplishment.” The female lawyer advised me to drop the “just” because too many women do this inadvertently, they downplay themselves and their accomplishments. The male judge advised me that as a legal intern in the criminal justice system that I had important training and learning to do so saying “just a legal intern” was completely the wrong idea. So lesson learned, I dropped the word “just” from my vocabulary.
- You can’t advocate for others if you can’t advocate for yourself – It doesn’t matter if you’re in Big Law or the DA’s office or still in law school, the number one skill law school has taught me was how to advocate effectively. We are taught this skill because we will spend our whole careers advocating for others. But the most difficult lesson to learn is to advocate for yourself because we like to think we don’t deserve things but we do. For example, I got an offer to work as a judicial intern my first summer but I was still working full-time so I needed a 10-week leave to intern. Other paralegals at my job had gotten leave before and I had been employed with the company for 4 years but after asking for leave, my superiors said no after deliberating for weeks. Eventually after some thought, I decided this internship was too important to pass up so I handed my superior my resignation. Needless to say, within 3 hours, I got approved for a personal leave of 10 weeks. It was difficult (and so scary) to advocate for myself but overall, it made me a better advocate.
- Fighting is not a bad thing – Law school taught me how to fight effectively (and how to effectively resolve those fights). Too many people think fighting and arguing is a bad thing. So their immediate reaction is to avoid the conflict. Before law school, I can’t tell you how many times I did that – run from a fight. For example, I’ll admit out loud that until recently, I’ve never fought for a relationship. If things got rough, I just left or they just left. I never felt the need to fight for someone and felt that watching things play out was better than actually speaking my mind. That mindset doesn’t get anyone anywhere. Maybe those other relationships weren’t worth the fight so I never fought for them. However, if you find something worth fighting for, do it. Some things and some people are worth the fight.
- Progress is still progress – Even the smallest amount of progress, is still progress. If you are progressing from one week to another even just a little bit, good for you. As law students, we’re aggressive – progress isn’t good enough unless it meets your standards or your professor’s standards. But here’s the thing, it’s still progress and for that you can’t beat yourself up about it. For example, back in January, I realized that I absolutely terrified of public speaking during a mock trial. I had present a closing argument and it was super short, maybe 2 minutes max. After more mock trials in the spring and spending the summer doing bail arguments for actual clients, I was more comfortable doing public speaking. Then a few weeks ago, I gave a 15-minute closing argument from memory during a job interview plus made the Trial Competition Team at my school. None of that was perfect but it was still progress!
- Fear can be a positive motivator – Law school has taught me to work around my fears and use it for good. I’m still not 100% comfortable public speaking but I knew if I was going to survive interviewing season for criminal defense attorney positions, I needed to work on this. Why? Because most interviews consist of a closing or opening argument and probably cross-examination. I learned that the fear of failure needs to pushed to the side if you truly want something bad enough.
- Forget the evidence, what does your gut say? – As my roommate likes to say when I have a big issue I have to deal with it, she’ll say “you need to do a gut check with yourself.” What we’re taught in the classroom or in the courtroom, is that physical, concrete evidence is the most important evidence. We’re taught to apply the rules. That there’s always a rule. In life, that’s just not the case. Sometimes to make a decision, you don’t need the rules and you don’t always need evidence, you just need your gut. At the end of my first year of law school, my boyfriend of 2.5 years at the time and I broke up. We never fought and never had the hard conversations but I always had this nagging feeling that something was wrong despite the fact that the relationship seemed perfect. After the break-up, when he was moving out of my apartment, he said to me, “relationships are hard.” I replied “I know but do you want to marry me?” He didn’t answer. As hard as it was, my gut was right – it wasn’t the right relationship.
- Take a step back and look at the bigger picture – It’s hard to see progress when you’re on the day to day grind. Sometimes it’s hard to see past the immediate “next step” whether it’s graduation or getting a job or whatever it is in your life. Yes, law school is a life-changing experience but in the grand scheme of things, law school is only 3.5% of your life (if you live to 85). So take a step back, and realize that if law school is the hardest thing you’ve had to deal with in your life, you’re actually pretty damn lucky.
Law school is no easy feat but I’m sure in the 6 months until graduation, I’ll learn many more things about life and myself. I’m grateful to everyone who’s supported me and that’s helped me learned these difficult lessons along the way.