With August quickly approaching, new classes of law students will begin their journey through learning the legal system and jargon that encompasses our country and state. I thought it was an appropriate time to reflect and share my experience this past school year. To be honest, I had to take a few weeks since the ends of finals and return of grades to feel free to discuss my year as a 1L at St. Mary’s University. I finally feel as if I am not reeling from the constant stress of preparing for the next class and balancing a healthy schedule and social life. Everyone told me law school would be hard, and I definitely did not fully appreciate what that meant. Even with my expectations high I was still smacked with the heaps of reading, mind-wracking briefs, and challenges of learning new vocabulary (which was definitely a struggle for me). I have broken down the dimensions of what it was like being a first year law student and hope this rings true to my colleagues and can give some guidance to future 1Ls.
- New friends and old friends supporting you through the good and the ugly. There were definitely some days I was not pleasant to be around. I am naturally very shy and tried to blend into the small sea of people. However, this was tough with the Socratic method dragging you out of your shell in front of a roomful of brilliant minds. However, after enduring the tomato colored blushing a dozen times or so I managed tp adjust to the discomfort that is law school and learned that your peers are more than an audience. At least for me, I secretly cheered for anyone called on for the day while simultaneously thinking to myself “thank goodness it’s you and not me.” Usually the things my peers know were things I had struggled to grasp, and things they struggled with were thoughts that may not even even occurred to me.
- Throughout the year we watched each other grow and find our voices. Some people who scraped by the first semester lead the class our second semester, and others maintained a steady pace.
- Accomplished more reading, writing and public speaking than I ever hoped to do. At the end of this year I was so happy to complete a year that turned out to be tougher than I could have ever imagined.
- Moot court was surprisingly a lot of fun. My teammate and I to our own surprise opted-in!
- Learning to argue. This may seem obvious, but I actually learned how to craft an argument. One of my best friends recently graduated from law school in England and I remember having discussions with her last summer. I remember thinking to myself how logical she was about everything. She could always look at a situation and point out things I never would have thought of. And while my 1L year of education cannot be compared to her education, I would like to think I have developed some of those analytical skills and no longer allow emotions to drive my arguments.
- Age variation. Sometimes I had to step back when I felt overwhelmed and think about all the parents who were enrolled in my same classes. People came from all walks of live. There were students hot out of undergrad, mother’s with three kids and retirees. I went home to a studio apartment to study with my boyfriend and do our best to unwind from the hectic day. But I can’t imagine the strength it took to go home to a family and provide support to them. So go all my fellow 1Ls who are much more responsible than I am!!! You all amaze me!
- There is always room for compassion. That’s all.
- Dating. After I graduated undergrad, the dating pool dramatically shrunk. People were no longer living in a population of potential love interests. My friends and I often commented on this challenge. But on the first day of law school, people began pairing off. Throughout the year many people’s relationship status changed as they all began to find themselves as future attorneys; some left relationships in the past, others clicked with fellow students or took the next step with their significant others.
- New interests. After reading so many cases and taking an assortment of classes, my interests began to widen. All the sudden my apartment lease became a document of fascination, trying to decipher all the legal jargon I signed my year away to without a care.
- Yes people get cut! And this was weird. In fact it was the buzz the first week of school back from holiday.
Grades are bittersweet. Strengths get stronger and weaknesses are more pronounced. I was terrified learning that my final exam would make up 100% of my grade for most classes. However, you learn to take each semester in bite-sized chunks and before you know it you are studying for the final. While it can seem overwhelming, the school gave us all the tools needed to learn the material.
- Second semester was wayyy harder than first semester. This truly caught me off-guard. After struggling through the first semester I couldn’t imagine enduring much more pressure. But second semester hit me like an fire-hyrdrant on blast.
- Juggling 7 doctrinal classes in the Spring, a 30 page brief, moot court, 2 midterms, summer applications and your sanity was “interesting” to say the least. I am not going to lie, time management may have been the most frustrating aspect for me. I learned a lot about myself and how I function happily, and law school did a good job of prohibiting me from doing just that. I no longer had the time to spend on the phone catching up with friends for 30 mins or skype the ones that live far away. I missed time visiting with my family and when I did go home I was consumed with reading or stressing about the next assignment. This often made me feel detached from my favorite people. But alongside my local friends I met other people. I also started my blog which gave me a creative outlet I desperately needed. It forced me to get out and see more of San Antonio and spend time with people who never failed to inspire me. I felt connected to some sort of community other than the law realm.
- Humility. You’re going to have your bad days and you’re going to have your good ones too. Triumph and enjoy the goods ones and learn from the bad ones. One thing I quickly learned was not to take anything personal and trying my hardest. Everyone fails at answering a question or completing his or her reading. Trust me there were days I gambled with my assignments for an extra couple hours of sleep.
- Emotional cases. Reading the daily cases offered a variety of emotions: curiosity, boredom, anger, apathy, internal conflictions and compassion. I think every student found a few cases throughout the year that really boiled their blood. The cases can go from a contract breach over a cheese manufacturer to a burned toddler in a second. And there are many times you do not agree with the majority opinion. The law is not as clear as I previously thought, it’s often muddled. There were many times I thought a dissenting opinion was much better than the ruling one.
- While you may think sacrificing your time, energy and relationships is bad enough, law school also took a little more from my eyesight than I would like to have given. My vision is nowhere near terribl but my once nearly perfect vision has morphed into blurred characters and needed glasses for everyday reading.
But after all this, there are still moments I am surprised I made it this far. It has been much more of a marathon than I ever prepared to partake in, but I have quickly realized my effort are worth it. But without the loving people behind me there would be no way. This summer I have been blessed to work at a local immigration firm and have continued to flex my brain muscles. I’ve met some amazing attorneys whose dedication to the profession serve as a light to the end of my law school tunnel. I hope in three years I will be working in an office with a passion for people, their cases and the law that governs all aspects of my work. I am also looking forward to joining a law journal this fall and all the many challenges ahead. If you are on the fence about law school or have any questions, I will be more than happy to try and answer them.
From a rising 2L!
Photography: Wayfarer Photography and Froylan Calderon