WHAT I WISH I KNEW BEFORE STARTING LAW SCHOOL
In September 2015, I started the most recent chapter of my life: law school. This chapter, for all law students, was made possible through sacrifices, hours of hard work, and endless perseverance. Acceptance to law school made all of the hardships that I endured worth it. Why? I was finally on my way to realizing my dream of becoming a lawyer!
Before starting law school, I read countless books on how to prepare, how to tackle fact patterns, how to write using the IRAC method, and on many other “necessary skills” that these advice books boast. Before starting law school, I had a plan. Like many plans, it did not play out as I thought it would. For this, I am truly glad!
If I could go back in time and restart 1L, I would have done a lot of things differently.
I certainly would not have read books like Getting to Maybe or 1L! Law school is a diverse experience. My experience has been very different than my colleagues’ because we all come from varied backgrounds and hold unique perspectives. My colleagues and I hold undergraduate and graduate degrees ranging from Theatre Arts and Music to Neuroscience! Reading cookie-cutter books about law school was a mistake – the authors of those books are different than my peers and myself! Moreover, they did not study law in a bilingual and transsystemic way at McGill University! Reading these books over the summer brought me one thing: a feeling of anxiety that built up throughout my first semester as a law student. Although I was able to do all of my work, reading those books and overthinking my learning strategies did more harm than good. I worked hard, but it was not my absolute best.
Indeed, I wish I had not taken everybody’s advice so personally. Everyone I knew was beyond kind in giving me plenty of advice. I am grateful that so many people were rooting for me to succeed and were supportive of my goals, but the truth is that all of the advice I got was extremely confusing. Some said to do the readings. Others said to never do the readings, and to rely on Pubdocs (bad idea). Some said to join study groups. Others said to work alone. The list goes on! Needless to say, I tried all of this advice, rather than staying true to myself and continuing the work habits that had worked for me in the past. Of course, the advice probably worked for those who gave it to me, but (again) everybody is different! Everyone learns differently. If I could go back in time, I would graciously take the advice under consideration, but I would never lose sight of who I am as a student and which strategies help me learn best.
While staying true to yourself during law school is very important, it is also necessary to keep an open mind about your future. Some are lucky. They know from the very beginning of law school that they want to practice in a specific area of law, or become a professor at a world-renowned university. The rest of us – not so much! My advice to myself six months ago would have been “don’t let uncertainty about the future stress you out or demotivate you.” When speaking to a lawyer the other day, I received some advice that I have decided to follow. He suggested that law students, whether in 1L or 4L, keep an open mind. Do not try to force yourself into a specific niche. Your career picks you, because your natural strengths will make you a perfect candidate in a certain area of law. By keeping an open mind and exploring your interests and strengths throughout your legal studies, you will find your way. The moment I started trusting this morsel of advice, law school became somehow easier and more inspiring.
Law school has also taught me not to be afraid of failure. If you do fail, do not let it get under your skin! It stings to fall short of your personal expectations, but we are future jurists. We are here to learn from our mistakes in order to be the very best we can possibly be. I know that I was really disappointed when I got my first B (in my entire “straight-A” academic career). The most important thing I have learned with regard to grades is that assignments, exams, and in-class exercises are pedagogical tools. They push us to think deeper, read more closely, and write more concisely. These tools challenge and motivate us, making our academic experience rewarding.
Finally, the most shocking lesson that I learned in law school is that the legal system is not what I thought it was. Yes, I am only in 1L. I still have not learned everything there is to know about legal systems around the world! However, I have learned that they are deeply flawed. I have discovered that the law can be a creative tool to normalize and continually reproduce social inequalities and relationships of oppression. This realization has been very difficult for me to come to terms with, especially as a woman. To learn that social inequalities are built into legal systems around the world has led me to truly reflect on what I want to accomplish as a jurist and how. I am still working on that one…
Essentially, my first year at McGill Law has been a rigorous experience, both academically and emotionally. I have learned so many lessons, and I know that I will learn a great deal more. I look forward to further exploring the law and my future as a jurist.
Here’s to the empowering gift of knowledge, and many lessons to come!