As I said on the first day of Temple Law’s Orientation, this time of year always has me feeling ‘pinch me’ excited. The arrival of a new generation of law students and future lawyers always brings a renewed feeling of excitement to the law school. You remind us of what we love about lawyering, and the study of law. We truly are glad to welcome you.
For some of you, the start of law school will quickly be followed by a sense of feeling overwhelmed. I know it was that way for me when I started law school. This can be a disconcerting feeling for many of you. Here you are, after years of overcoming and being successful throughout your life, and within 48 hours, you’re thinking you’re toast.
Not only did I feel overwhelmed when I started law school, but I didn’t even know what to do about that. Luckily, I’m now in a position to help you escape, if not survive with, those feelings. The bad news: these are not emotions that go away quickly. The good news: they are totally normal, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Trust me. Here’s how you get there.
Embrace the Challenge
One thing that I think helps new law students is appreciating that these feelings are par for the course. Law School is a very different way of learning. Recognize that it is new and different and be okay with that. Remember, law school is taught differently than most other means of education, so there’s hardly anyone who has an idea of what this experience is going to be like. You’re not alone in thinking this is really unfamiliar and unlike anything you’ve experienced. Even for children of lawyers, who have heard tales of law school, the environment is new. My advice? Sit back; enjoy the journey. And open yourself to a new way of thinking about things.
While learning methods may seem different on the surface, I like to think of law school much like learning how to row a boat. Sure, you can stand on the shore, watch people row, read a book about rowing, and think that you’ve got it figured out, but to really learn how to row, you eventually have to get in the boat. And more likely than not, you’ll have to get in the boat more than once. The first time you try to row, you’re not really going to get the hang of the rhythm. You learn with experience. You’ll certainly be better at rowing after six weeks of practice than you were during your first week. Law school is a lot like that.
Just as importantly, don’t lose your confidence while you’re learning. I like to remind first-year students that we’re pretty good at admitting people who are going to be good law students and successful lawyers. Recognize that, and remember – we picked you. You can do this. Really, you can.
Give Yourself Permission to Step Away
One piece of advice I always try to give first-year students is to have fun, stay balanced, and don’t let law school consume your life. Now, I understand that’s way easier said than done. It sounds great until it’s day two and you’re wondering if you should go to the movies or keep reading, and some voice over your shoulder is telling you to keep reading. But it’s important to find, and maintain, balance.
Balance is important because it keeps you grounded and connected to the world outside of “law.” Balance is hard, however, because you will feel uneasy about taking time away from your studies. But understand that everybody needs to find his or her own balance. Now, should you take a weeklong vacation in September? No, I think we can all agree that’s a bad idea. But whether you enjoy exercising, spiritual pursuits, or just spending time with friends and family, find a way to fit those things in. You’ll be much happier in the long run if you do.
Also, have some appreciation of the central place of the profession in our lives. Pay attention to the ways that law impacts our lives, and enjoy the pursuit you’ve taken. Whether you enjoy politics, sports, or entertainment, there are legal developments everywhere if you look for them. Just this summer, there has been a custody battle between a former “Gossip Girl” star and her ex-husband and a legal suit between the National Football League and one of its star quarterbacks. The law is everywhere.
One final thing. This is a building full of people invested in you and your success. We know that everyone handles change in a different way. If you are someone who benefits from talking to someone who has been through the process before, don’t hesitate to talk with members of the Temple Law community. These buildings are filled with faculty members, administrators, and upper-level students who have experienced, and thrived, in their first year of law school. This is a fabulous journey you’re embarking upon. Use us as a resource. You’ll be happy that you did.