08 February 2009

Law School Lessons

9As I begin my LAST! SEMESTER! EVER! (I'm sorry, all-caps really was necessary there...) I've been thinking about the lessons I've learned in law school.  Those lessons have nothing to do with my classes.  Sure, I've packed my brain chock full of legal minutiae, but classes have been more about rote memorization (with a little terrorization, boredom, and pretentiousness thrown in) than actual learning.  

That said, as much as I love to take nasty cracks about law school, part of me will always appreciate the experience simply because I feel that I've grown up during the past 3 years.  I entered law school with low self-esteem and very little direction other than "I want to help kids!"  I can honestly say that I'm leaving law school a little wiser, a lot more grown-up, ten times more confident, and happy with who I am.  It took 3 years, 93 credit hours of excruciating classes, and over $100K, but I feel stronger than I ever have.

I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I can hold my own.
In no way to I mean the above sentence to be some kind of arrogant revelation about my intelligence.  I do decently in school, but I am definitely not a brilliant legal mind.  Some people just have a knack for legal reasoning, and I am NOT one of those people (I don't even go to professor's office hours because I have nothing to ask).  At the beginning of law school, I was so intimidated by the "smart" people who seemed to know all the answers in class, and I started to consider myself legally dumb.  Elle Woods before she bought the orange laptop.  In fact, I felt this way throughout my first two years of law school.  But, every once in awhile, something surprisingly bright comes out of my mind, especially when talking about child advocacy and guardianship law (my area of focus).  I've realized lately that I do know what I'm talking about.  At my job, I find solutions and help win cases.  I may not be in the top 10% of my class, but I can do this.  I can hang with the lawyers!

Never, ever lie.  And hiding information = lying.
Not that I recall telling any whoppers in law school, but more than ever I've realized the importance of honestly and full disclosure.  Just put in on the table.   This is true at work (Dear client, please do not forget to tell me that your new boyfriend assaulted your soon-to-be ex-husband) and in personal relationships (S. and I have finally figured out it's easiest when we're just brutally honest).  

I can get through anything.  ANYTHING.
During law school, I experienced my biggest failure ever.  I have never struggled in school, but my 1L year was the human equivalent of the Hindenburg (lucky for me, I am not filled with flammables).  After I got my first year grades, I had a massive breakdown, cried non stop for at least 24 hours and most of the next 72, and vowed to never enter the law building again.  I avoided my friends all summer and could hardly even look my parents in the face.  But when I came back for my 2L year, I managed to hold my head high and carry on.  So maybe I bombed my first year but I've done pretty well since then.  I even told several of my friends and no one seemed to think less of me.  And you know what?  I actually feel stronger for it.  I know now that I can completely flop and I'll still have the love and respect of my family and friends.  I learned that my grades don't mean anything, because I do well at my job and can hold my own in the legal world.  Mostly, I learned that I can survive anything.  And if I can survive anything, there's no reason not to try everything.  :) 

Without friends, life is nothing!
There is absolutely NO WAY I could have toiled through the past 3 years without my friends--law school comrades, college besties, new blogger friends, and even rediscovered high school acquaintances have all been so supportive.   Random friends often remind me that getting through law school IS an accomplishment, something that's easy to forget when you're surrounded by other jaded law students.  College friends keep my laughing with funny memories, remind me that there is life outside of school, and make me remember who I really am.  Law school friends commiserate and drink with you.  

Be nice to everyone--they may help you get a job.
As I continue the gut-wrenching process known as the job search, I've found that the most random connections are helping me out.  Getting back in touch with a college friend, people that work with my sister, even my former boss's husband.  You never know who is going to be the persons who introduces you to your future employer.  More than that, I am constantly shocked at how virtual strangers are willing to help a new graduate.  In a small way, it renews my faith in professionals.

Law school may be a beast, but I am SO blessed & fortunate that it's been my biggest life challenge.
As I've said many times, when I came to law school, my only direction was "I want to help kids!"  Several times during the past 3 years, I have lost sight of that original goal.  Other areas of law occasionally interested me, and my six figure debt makes working for a lucrative firm sound like a clever idea.  Fortunately, I've had the opportunity to intern at some amazing places, including a poverty law organization, which have helped keep my grounded.  While I'm not above occasionally feeling sorry for myself, I try to remember how uncomplicated my life is.  I never worry about not having enough to eat or having my heat turned off.  I have a family who loves me unconditionally.  I have never been a victim of violence.  I have no children, nieces, nephews, or grandchildren to support.  I have been given the opportunity to educate myself, and my family has always encouraged that education.  I have friends I can call if I need help, or if I'm just feeling low.  I have reliable transportation and can pay my bills each month.  I've never had to make the decision to go back to a man who abuses me because he pays the electric bill.  I've never had to wait alone in a cold apartment for my mother to come back from a drug run.  My clients always remind me that I am beyond blessed.  I've been given every opportunity in life, and that's why I'm using my career to help people who haven't had the same chance.  I hope I never forget that. 

I could go on and on, but these are the lessons I feel the most acutely.  Law school has been an experience in more ways than one, and one that I have mixed feelings about.  On on hand, if I could go back and talk to my 23 year-old self, I'm not certain I'd tell her to still go to law school.  On the other hand, I'm a firm believe that we shouldn't regret life experiences because they make us who we are.  At any rate, it's (almost) over and done with, and so I'll live and learn...

...but 4 p.m. at May 9, 2009 cannot come soon enough!  


Mandy said...

Katie, I love this post. Its great that you recognize that law school in itself is a huge accomplishment. In the end, no one is going to care what kind of grades you had. What will matter though, is that lives will be changed for the better because you chose to help them. Thats a pretty big deal. :-)

Jess said...

This is so amazing. You've learned so much and come so far. I'm really impressed! Yay 3L, yay last semester!

Lauren said...

Ah, hetero-soulmate...much of this I could have written myself (although perhaps not quite so eloquently). Here's to lessons learned, and journeys ending!

Anonymous said...

As someone who still has another year left of undergrad, the idea of finishing law school is kind of heavy. Like how an elephant can kind of squash you.

I think I may use this idea when I graduate next year. If I remember.

Congrats Ma'm

- Kendall

LucieLu said...

You learned lessons in law school?!? ;)

K said...

Great post! I feel the same as you in a lot of ways... I'm in my second semester of my 2L year. Congrats on finding what you're really good at, and knowing how you can use your degree to make a difference! Good luck on your last semester, and congratulations!

Zeba Talkhani said...

Loves it. Had a choice between law and journalism. Took up the later and no regrets...