In two days, I am going to graduate from law school. This post, like Yuko’s from last week, is going to provide some reflections on my experience over the last three years.
Looking back, the first year of school was exactly as bad as everyone says. The first semester, in particular, was extraordinarily stressful. I often felt lost, I dreaded cold calls, and I never felt like I was on top of the material. Not even rose-colored glasses can improve the situation. If you’re planning on going to law school, you shouldn’t expect anything different—you’re in for a trial by fire.
But, on a more positive note, the second and third years were much less stressful. After the harrowing experience of 1L, you’ll find yourself on much firmer footing. You’ll know what to expect from exams and how to prepare more efficiently. The ability to pick your own schedule also allows you to focus on classes that interest you (and to avoid having too many exams in any given semester).
Beyond these relatively universal experiences, there are a few other important takeaways I gained from my time at Columbia. First, networking is vitally important. My 1L summer employment came about as a result of a connection I made in law school, as did a judicial internship and clerkship opportunity. Bottom-line, the relationships you develop are important and your reputation—either positive or negative—can play a role in your opportunities going forward. I wish I had kept this idea in mind a little more clearly from day one.
Second, in preparing for the rigors of working as a lawyer, it is crucial to give yourself some “me time.” During 1L, I sometimes had a hard time making sure that I took time to relax and unwind. There was always more work to be done. From speaking to associates, there is a similarly relentless pace at law firms (just worse and more thankless). I learned quickly that it was important to periodically detach from the work. If you are constantly locked in, you’re going to burn out. I learned to force myself to take breaks and unwind, whether through watching The Office for the fifteenth time or going for a run. Letting yourself off the hook for an hour or two is key to succeeding in law school.
Finally, I learned to stop procrastinating (mostly). In undergrad, I often wrote papers the night before they were due or crammed for exams in a few hours. In law school and while working during the summers, I quickly realized this kind of routine was not going to fly. Law school classes can’t be learned over night, and effective legal writing doesn’t exactly flow as easily as a paper on English literature. Leaving myself enough time to get ahead of my work was one of the important things law school taught me.
All in all, I had a very positive experience at Columbia. At times, I was unhappy, lonely, and unsatisfied with my work. But I can safely say that was the minority of the time. I had a lot of opportunities to socialize, relax, go out, and have fun (especially during 2L and 3L), and I am sure that these three years will be exponentially more relaxing than the next … forty (yikes). One of my favorite quotes from The Office goes as follows: “I wish there was a way to know that you’re in ‘the good old days’ before you’ve actually left them” (see, fifteen times watching it was not an exaggeration). Law school will likely become “the good old days” for a lot of future lawyers, and I encourage you to maintain that perspective as you go through the experience.