Navigating Law School: Reflections from a 1L

As a first year who hasn’t finished a full semester, I’ll be the first to admit that, in the law school realm, I still don’t know much about much.  But in experiencing the whirlwind of starting fresh in a new place, observations and reflections abound.  I share some of these ruminations as a means of semi-catharsis; in trying to make sense of it all on a personal level, I hope to shed light on navigating law school more generally. 

The thing that has struck me most is the sheer power of law school to consume us.  To many first years, getting our bearings requires focus and attention to what we deem the law school “method”: read, go to class, read some more, outline, read more, repeat.  I refer to this as law school “tunnel vision.”  Initially, “tunnel vision” helps us adjust to meeting the demands of a rigorous workload.  We should worry, however, when the constant repetition of this routine becomes wearing and monotonous. 

Sometimes law school feels like that iconic Bill Murray masterpiece from 1993, Groundhog Day.  Did law school ever make you feel as though you are living the same day over and over, and that you have the uncanny ability to predict how each day will inevitably unfold?  If the answer is yes (and it is for me), then law school has undoubtedly swallowed you into the depths of the figurative tunnel, where the deeper you dig, the harder it is to climb out. 

But discussing law school as this larger-than-life entity is exactly the problem.  We too often give law school the power to consume us by equating “law school” with “life.”  Maybe I’m being quixotic, but it seems to me that the pair can exist independent of each other, with some overlap in the middle (think Venn diagram).  When we keep our blinders on, digging deeper into the tunnel, we have the tendency to lose touch with reality.  The law school “entity” becomes our reality—and that, I think we can all agree, is a daunting thought.

Although this is not radical, I believe that having a life independent of law school is essential to achieving personal fulfillment and asserting an internal sense of balance.  Because the ability to not let yourself get wholly “consumed” gives you the power.  It’s law school on your terms.

Sweating to Hot Yoga

To me, not becoming entirely “consumed” means making a concerted effort every day to do something not related to law school that provides inner contentment, harmony, and equilibrium.  Like Scrabble?  Play with a friend for an hour.  Really into hot yoga?  Go sweat like crazy.  It doesn’t matter.  The point is, we are in law school—we are intelligent people, so we must understand ourselves enough to know what makes us happy.  Life irrespective of law school: a novel concept for a 1L, but one that seems worth pursuing.

I do not mean to undervalue the fact that we all get contentment from actively applying ourselves to the study of law.  Participating in the law school process is a fulfilling and worthwhile endeavor, and it gives us happiness to know that we are a part of something uniquely meaningful, something bigger than ourselves.

I’m only suggesting that maintaining law school “tunnel vision” at all times isn’t necessarily the most beneficial way to navigate our surroundings.  Perspective is the key here.  Being able to remove the blinders, look up, and climb out of the tunnel means having the courage to occasionally stray from routine, even if that means not finishing the last ten pages of Crim Law reading until the next morning. 

Maintaining perspective allows us to control and limit the degree to which law school “consumes.”  A difficult proposition to accept, considering the pressures and stress we all feel as first years, but a strategy that will lead to healthy living in the long run.  We undertake this project with the goal of avoiding law school “Groundhog Day,” because we know that life should be lived on our own terms, not someone else’s (or something else’s—I’m looking at you, law school).

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