Are You Sure You Want To Go To Law School?
“What is law school like?” “Would you still go knowing what you do now?”
I am most frequently asked these two questions now that I am done with law school. However, the same people do not ask them. Those who have been through the process skip the first, as they already know that answer, and go directly to the second. The people that ask the first do not even know to ask the second.
The first is born of natural curiosity we humans possess: the desire to experience things we may never have the opportunity (or interest) to go through ourselves. I posed it myself, to several attorneys, prior to taking the leap into law school. I tend to be an information vacuum, so I wanted to know everything I could about the process. Each person, independent of the other and with certainty only gained through experience, warned me: life will not stop during law school. I found that out quickly. Within the first month of the second semester, I had to have emergency surgery. Although professors understood and made accommodations, and friends provided the necessary synopses of notes and class discussions, nothing can really substitute for showing up to class. I missed less than a week, but I fell behind for the rest of the semester – it made for a long ten weeks. The added stress on myself spilled over to my family, creating small but definite stress fractures in our already strained relationships.
Why strained? Well, the most challenging aspect of law school is not the course work, which is demanding, dense, and because the Socratic method is used, provides no real concrete answers to anything. The most challenging aspect is maintaining relationships with loved ones. The sheer volume of work required for classes is daunting. Giving the necessary attention to that sucks up time like a black hole. While traditionally, law students are single people fresh out of college taking a full-time course load of day classes, a significant portion, including me, are not. Many have spouses, partners, and/or children. Many are part-time students, juggling full-time jobs and families in addition to their classes. Those relationships do not stop.
Relationships take a lot of work even under the best of circumstances. Prioritizing people becomes especially difficult when buried in thick, dusty books and lengthy assignments. Support from family and friends is how all the machinations of life continue to run and having a solid support system is essential, especially if there is more to worry about than just school. However, the capacity for understanding how much a law student must do in order to succeed has limits, even for those with a front-row seat. Relying on people to manage life cannot be done without reciprocating in some way. Any fissures in those relationships quickly expand, requiring more of a student’s increasingly limited time.
Those that have been through law school know this too well, hence the second question. I have friends that seriously doubt they would go to law school, knowing what they do now. Perhaps it is my “aged wisdom” gained from an extra two decades of life compared to most of my fellow students. I have a different perspective, and I know that law school did not create the problems I faced. It may have accelerated their revelation, but they were already brewing under the surface. And truth be told, I am better for dealing with them than letting them fester even longer. I came out of an incredibly demanding endeavor, testing the limits of my being academically, professionally, and personally. I achieved a lifelong dream and accomplished something of which I am incredibly proud, and it only took three years. The intensity of the experience strengthened my relationships and allowed me to forge a close group of friends, bonded by the shared struggle.
So, would I do it, knowing all I know now? Absolutely. Maybe not the exact same way. Experience really is the best teacher. I don’t know anyone that would ever redo something without changing certain aspects of it. Law school is tough – a short and vague answer to the first question. It’s also a great privilege. I made friends with people that have enriched my life and expanded my worldview. I get to advocate for people during some of their most distressing and life-changing circumstances. I get to be a part of a profession that, contrary to the stereotypical jokes, guards against injustices and seeks to bring equity to people from all strata of humanity. I could not do what I do if I was not willing to undertake a phenomenally challenging course of study. Which brings me to the second question’s answer: would I go, knowing all I do now? Yes. A very certain yes.