AdVICE: A Trainwreck’s Declassified Law School Survival Guide

Evan Michael Gilbert
Managing Editor

One year ago, I sat in 1L orientation still covered in glitter from the night before. I listened to presenters announce the accolades of those around me. Among my classmates were PhD students, Fulbright scholars, a gold miner, a trapeze artist, an Emmy winner…and me, who earlier that morning had put the coffee grounds where the water goes and the water where the coffee goes.

Law school attracts overachievers and people with resumes longer than my attention span, and it is normal to feel out of place whether you are entering your first year or preparing for the bar (or pre-gaming for bar review, as you do). So here are tips for those of us transitioning from the patron saints of train-wrecks to law students.

I. No one has their life together. That is simply a lie that we tell our employers, our employers tell their clients, and our therapists tell us.

II. Yell “I object.” Cry at a party in a bunny costume. Save Jennifer Coolidge’s dog. Learn about proper perm maintenance. Do whatever it takes to help you feel like you belong.

III. Know that “Just Deserts” is not actually spelled “Just Desserts.” Justice is not some cosmic chocolate karma best served cold. Also know that “primadonna” is actually not “pre-madonna;” Madonna did not usher in a new historic period – it does not go “Modern, Post-Modern, Pre-Madonna, Madonna.” These are things I should have learned before my twenties. But if you are like me, we will just keep this between ourselves.

IV. The concept of “superior” professionalism cultivated in law school is a myth. Supreme Court justices will quote Doctor Seuss and Humpty Dumpty. Professor Arthur Miller will let a student dress in drag and sing law school versions of Judy Garland while Professor Hershkoff dons a fairy costume. A law firm partner will spend an entire interview with you talking about Dorinda from Real Housewives of New York. You can be authentic.

V. If you find yourself in the library late at night and feel the need to dramatically lip-sing along to Britney Spears’ “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” by all means do so. Law School Musical is still casting.

VI. Remember to double check that your headphones are plugged in before playing music in the library. Your tablemates will stare when they hear that you study Civil Procedure while listening to Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.”

VII. There are no right ways to do law school. But there are, I guess, wrong ways. Maybe sitting in the library is wrong for you. Maybe reading every single case about Kesha’s contract disputes as a method of preparing for your contracts exam is wrong, too. But then again, if that is wrong, who even wants to be right?

Above all, remember that law school is not a fishbowl exercise. It may feel as if your peers, your professors, and your future employers are watching you and judging you. Maybe your mother is the guarantor of your overpriced West Village apartment, and it feels like she is watching you, too. Maybe the career center will approach you with specific recommendations about your appearance – to dress more conservatively, or to style more traditionally. It may feel as if everyone expects you to perform the law student role. But remember you do not have to.

You do not have to set foot in the library. You do not have to outline for every class. You do not need to pull all-nighters. Of course, at times you may feel pressure to do so. Sometimes that pressure may even be good. But check in with yourself to see if the pressure derives from personal conviction or from the influence of those who perform the law student role more traditionally than you do.

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