The Hardest Part About 1L Year

Before you start law school, you have ideas about what you want to do with your life. You are excited to start law school, realize your dreams, and be the kind of lawyer you want to be. The focus is on you, your goals, and your career.

You know how you are going to study. You were really successful in college. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be at Notre Dame Law School. So without thinking about it, you just assume you are going keep your strong study habits that you started in college to propel you successfully through law school.

But for some students, this changes radically when actually entering law school.

I keep in touch with a  family friend’s daughter who is now a 2L. She worked for two years as a paralegal for a public interest organization that did housing law before law school, loved it, and came to law school specifically to pursue housing law and to work for a public interest organization. Like Notre Dame Law students, she was extremely successful as an undergraduate. She developed a study method that worked for her. She took handwritten notes in class, outlined using a funky method of taping index cards all over her dorm room, and paced back and forth across the room while reading them.

I had a conversation with her two months into her 1L year and she told me that as soon as she started law school, things started to change. She started to question her career plan because she heard other people talking. Other people are interested in corporate law so shouldn’t she at least think about that before focusing on litigation? Other people are focused on making as much money as possible. Shouldn’t she focus on that too? She does have loans after all. Other people are saying that IP is the best law out there. Maybe it is? How could she know. She had only worked in housing law.

Then, she told me she went to an outlining workshop and learned a whole new method of studying that she had never been exposed to before. She started dropping all of her study habits and routines that made her so successful in college. Everyone else was taking notes on a computer so she dropped the handwritten notes and started bringing her computer to class. She found that she was distracted and friends were facebook chatting her but she felt too intimidated to go back to handwritten notes when everyone else was on their computer.

She stopped taping index cards to her wall. Essentially, she started following a whole new method that works really well for many people but wasn’t intuitive to her.

Before she knew it, she wasn’t focusing on herself anymore. She couldn’t even hear her own thoughts about what she really wanted and why she was in law school with all of these voices around her talking about so many different types of law, career paths, classes, and methods of outlining.

This is it. The hardest part about 1L year is focusing on what you really want and not listening to all of those voices.

If you came to law school to pursue certain goals, those goals are worth keeping in mind. Your career satisfaction is at stake. You must engage in a real self-analysis regarding what you’re looking to get out of your career and your life.

Back to my family friend’s daughter. When I spoke to her last year, she had only been in  law school for two months and she was talking about abandoning housing law to pursue a corporate law career for a big law firm. Some people are really happy doing that, but I was curious about her sudden change of course when she had worked as a paralegal in public interest for two years and pursuing that was the whole reason she decided to attend law school in the first place.”

I asked her how she came to this swift 180 degree turn in such a short period of time and after talking it out for half an hour, she ultimately broke down into tears and realized she had just been hearing her fellow classmates talk so much about loans, corporate law, and making money that she had gotten lost.

Don’t be sad for her. I spoke with her again last week and she is now a 2L firmly back on her public interest housing path. She realized that was what she really wanted and is happier than ever.

Not all 1Ls go through this but if you are feeling like my family friend’s story resonates with you, you are not the only one. Law school is overwhelming. There are a lot of voices. If you know exactly what career path you are on, it is hard. If you came here to explore and learn more about career paths, it is even harder.

I am not suggesting that you don’t talk to professors, friends, and mentors to get advice. You absolutely should do that. But don’t forget why you came here. Re-read your admissions essay. Talk to your family and friends who knew you before law school. Don’t lose sight of the inner voice that knows what you want and why you’re really here.

If you find yourself getting lost, come to the CDO. We will focus the conversation back on you and what you want to get out of law school and your career.

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