A Bittersweet Goodbye: One 3L’s Reflection on Law School

By: Laura Patrick

The time is finally here for us 3Ls – the end of a long, grueling, stressful, anxiety-ridden three years of law school. No longer will we have to endure the lectures, the tedious readings or the stress of finals. I should be jumping for joy, walking on air, patting myself on the back, thanking my lucky stars and sighing with relief…but it isn’t that simple. The conclusion of law school has so far been a bittersweet experience.

Yes, that’s right future 3Ls, one day you will actually look back on your law school experience with nostalgia and see the end as, well, somewhat depressing.  Graduation is a sad day for a few obvious reasons. For one, only moments after you graduate you’re immediately thrust into the insanity of studying for the Bar. For most of us, bar review classes start only two days after graduation (two days – seriously!?).  But the disheartening prospect of the bar isn’t the only thing putting a damper on the end; there are the slim odds of getting a job in the current legal market or the fact that despite our best efforts to avoid it, we will have to face the real world in a few months.

But all of these things aren’t really what make graduation bittersweet. Yes, facing the bar (and adulthood) is a pretty scary prospect, but the hardest part for me is leaving behind all the people I’ve built relationships with and the city I have grown to call home. Law school has been a wild, wild ride, but when I look back, the times I remember the most are the ones spent making new friends, celebrating with old ones, and bonding with my fellow law students through all of its trials and tribulations

Almost three years ago I made the long trek from Charleston, South Carolina, with my three dogs and a packed SUV. Of course I came out here knowing I would meet new people and soak up the California sunshine, but I also knew law school would be demanding and at times I would long for my hometown.  (We Charleston folk are infamous for our obsession with our own city – not much different from your typical San Diegan, I suppose.)  The plan was to move out west, learn the law, experience everything Southern California had to offer and promptly return to where I belonged – Charleston.

But like most carefully laid out plans, there have been many forces at work trying to derail it. For one, I didn’t expect to grow so attached to Southern California. I can’t say I wasn’t warned. Every person I encountered in San Diego said the same thing:  “You’ll never want to leave.”  But little did they know that I was from Charleston, one of the other few cities in the world that seduces you, sucks you in and clings on for dear life. Despite the allure of San Diego, I had no intention of staying out west. I can’t say that my resolve to return home hasn’t been tested, because it has, with every sunset on the beach, every fish taco and every sunny, humidity-free day.  But California itself isn’t enough to make me question my decision to return to my hometown, it’s the people. For every crazy, type-A, argumentative person you can’t stand in law school, there is an equally crazy, type-A, argumentative person you want to be a part of your life forever. I have made life-long friends at USD and the idea of leaving them seems equally as painful as a summer of bar studying.

Yes, when I look back on my three years here, there are some purely school-related memories, but most of them aren’t very pretty.  I remember the full-on mental breakdown I experienced the day before our first memo was due 1L year. I also remember later that day, calling my parents (on my dad’s birthday, no less) to inform them I would be dropping out.  (I’m lucky my dad was able to talk me down and that USD hasn’t developed a “drop out” button on their website.)  I recall the lovely Friday evening I delivered my oral argument, while a few friends enjoyed the tickets I was forced to give away to a Tosh.0 standup comedy show taking place only a few buildings away.  And of course I will never forget having elbow surgery days before the start of my 3L fall semester and the trauma of balancing a full course load with six months of physical therapy. I guess there are some good memories, too.  Like that feeling of total and utter freedom the day after my last final exam 1L year, or the satisfaction of getting my first A (or even B+… or just the joy of not failing Tax).  Not to mention, writing for this fine newspaper.

But overall, the school memories aren’t what I’ll hold onto. Of course, the initial fear and continued stress of it will forever be seared into my brain, but what I will always cherish are the people and experiences that have made it all worthwhile.  I prefer to look back and think about all the fun and crazy times I’ve had with the amazing people I’ve met at USD.  I’ll treasure the trips to Vegas, the Thursday night softball games (go Fist Pumps!  We had a good run…), trivia nights, Taco Tuesdays, trips to Sushi Diner, sunsets at Lahainas, OB Oktoberfests, St. Patrick’s day shenanigans and every other moment I’ve spent laughing, crying, venting, and dancing with my law school colleagues.

When I set out to write a “reflection” on my three years here, I thought I would offer up all kinds of words of wisdom or lessons learned. I never intended for this to be a sappy love-letter to my friends. But in the end, it is the people that got me through the tough times here. The most important lesson I learned in law school was that no matter how bad it gets, the best cure for anything is a sympathetic ear and a beer (or five) at Peabody’s.

So to those of you going into your first, second or third years, I say this: yes, you will want to pull your hair out at times. Yes, career services’ incessant e-mails will make you anxious that you haven’t gotten a job lined up two years in advance. And yes, we all wish the time turner necklace from Harry Potter was real.  But law school is what you make of it.  Learn what you can, find your niche and go for the gold, but also appreciate your time here.  Believe it or not, you might not be as anxious to leave it behind as you think.

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