Heading into law school is daunting and exhilarating. Keep perspective on what’s important to you to maximize your sanity and your academic success.
Three years ago this month I quit my decade-long gig with a small city government and headed back to my undergrad alma mater, this time as a law student. I had a three year-old daughter at home and had spent the summer as a single mom while my husband finished up an out-of-state internship. Most of my classmates were baffled by the idea of law school with a kid. I was often asked, “How do you do it? Do you ever sleep?” Insomnia aside, my life outside law school provided the most valuable tool for keeping me on task while studying and giving me total relief and distraction during study breaks: perspective.
Pinpoint Your Motivation
What motivates you every day? The idea of bringing justice to the underserved? The prospect of influencing jurists with your scholarly wiles? Or is it food, Wii bowling, Netflix streaming, or Twitter? Be honest, because law school might not lead you where you want to end up. You need an idea of what will keep you going as you undertake to work harder than you ever have before.
For me, it was getting done with homework in time to pick my daughter up a bit early from daycare, or squaring things away so I could take an evening off from studying after she went to bed. The drive to be a better mom kept me slogging through endless nights and days of study. The more efficient and confident I was at school, the more effectively I could unwind and just play at home. And while I did love getting my head around antitrust or conflicts of law a bit more than the next person, being at home with my family is what kept me going every day.
Why are you going to law school? Law school is hard, it is draining, and it has a special way of turning normal, productive people into frustrated, bitter naysayers.The job you eventually get with your J.D. is unlikely to change the world. Most law students will end up getting paid less than they’d hoped to, in jobs that are much harder than they’d like, with minimal intellectual stimulation. In a profession that people love to hate. Now is the time to ask yourself if you’ll be able to be content with law school and what comes after. If the answer is yes, read on.
Identify Your Top Priorities
If you’ve decided you’re not backing out now, squint your eyes and peer hard down the three-year tunnel. What’s your destination? Maybe you want to clerk for a federal judge. Or start a new non-profit in your home town. Or help developing governments adopt systems that will protect and empower their people. Hopefully some of you want to practice law in a mid-sized firm in a city near your law school. Or hang your own shingle. Wherever you hope to be headed, start planning for and shaping your path now.
Looking to the first days of law school, here’s how to plan for success:
- Take your courses seriously.
- Connect with people who will be the kinds of friends who will support you in your long-term goals, not just your Friday night forays.
- Master time management skills, which will serve you in every aspect of the rest of your life.
- Keep up with your progress and adjust as you go.
Success Comes from Practice
Just like mastery of legal writing comes from practice, practice, and more practice, keeping perspective arises out of practice, too. Mindfulness is key. Check in with yourself on what’s important, why you are where you are, and what you’re expending your effort on at every moment. Without such mindfulness, law school will consume your life. I was lucky that the responsibility of raising another human was always tugging at the corners of my law school obsession. For you, it might be family, friends, hobbies, or fitness. Whatever your tools, practice diverting the full momentum of your life away from the suction of law school every now and then. With persistent, conscious effort, you’ll be able to retain perspective and find success in and out of your law school life.