One of my professors asked me to address a funk she noticed in class preparation of her first year students. Below is my letter to those students essentially encouraging them through the marathon that is first year first semester of law school. Hope this helps:
Last year one of my professor’s told my class that the hardest time you experience in law school is that period from the middle of October until late November during First Year. He described it as the period where the shock that you are in law school is over; it is no longer a big deal telling people you are in law school; and the period for evaluation is far enough away that you feel like coasting is at least manageable. I didn’t understand what he meant then but now I can see now how that period of time really separates those who “get it” and those who think law school is just like college.
One misconception with law school is that you are simply being tested on your ability to understand and apply the law. That is definitely part of it, but a huge part tests your ability to handle the process that IS law school. Professors have figured out a way to test us so that a canned outline or a week of cramming will just not suffice. The daily preparatory regiment and work ethic required to be in law school is not something you can fake. There was a student in my section last year who obviously barely read the cases for class and used someone else’s outlines to prepare for the final. Two days before the final he called to ask me a question and told me that he had memorized everything on his 65 page outline. The question he had was on an area of law we had not even covered that semester. Suffice it to say, he is no longer here. This isn’t an evaluation of your memorization skills but rather an assessment of the way you train for “game day.”
It is daunting to consider that you have to compete with other students; I know that feeling well being a competitive person. One of the most important things I learned last year was to “stay in your own lane.” Forget what everyone else is doing and don’t define how much you know by how much you think everyone else knows. I have learned that those who know the least spend a lot of their time trying to show others how much they know.
My overarching concept is that law school is hard. Law school is really hard. Being hard is what makes it what it is. If it were easy, everyone would do it. You were selected and are likely spending a lot of money to be here. Consider it a privilege to be forced to know what you have to know every day that you walk into class. Consider each class period a little piece of the answer to the final that you are getting that day. Every single day counts in law school and keeping pace is the only way to be successful.
Being a collegiate athlete, sport metaphors helped me to tough out my first year. Practice like you will compete and when the final leg of the race is approaching, kick it up a notch or you WILL regret it always knowing that you could have done just a little bit more.
I hope this helps and when grades for first semester finals come out, no matter what you earn, make it so you can say you left all out on the field. Best of luck.
There is certainly no good time for your health to take a hit, but I cannot imagine a worse time than in law school. (Well, perhaps, law school at finals time). Recently I was sitting in Constitutional Law and my ankle swelled up to close to triple its normal size. Being a commuter now, I carpool with a friend and didn’t have my car. I passed a note to a friend next to me and asked if he could take me to the Emergency Room after class, (Con law really is dangerous!). After about a week of pain and limping along, I found out I am confined to my walking cast for at least a month. While I can certainly deal with a hit to my personal fashion with this boot, I was fearing the worst with requiring surgery during the semester! When I stepped back from worrying about things I could not control, I AGAIN realized how we law school kids really stick together! We are certainly in the trenches together and for lack of a better term, I have great people in the foxhole with me. I had 3 friends stay with me all night in the Emergency Room. I had dozens of friends offer to send me class notes for the days I missed, and I had professors sending me emails that they are available for help whenever I was ready and that my health comes first. While I was contemplating finishing this semester without a foot, the people in my corner were reminding me of the importance of taking care of myself and getting my priorities straight. Luckily I have only a limp to deal with, at least for now, but if my law school friends have anything to do with it, I’m not so worried about completing the semester sans my right foot! (Little shout out thank you: Tim, Andy, Ian, Maeve, Lia, Nick, Freddy, Jesika)
With coming back to school and having the opportunities to get involved present themselves again, it is so important for me to remember balance. My priority in law school is to do well and learn the material to the best of my ability. While that is easy to say, it is often difficult to have other opportunities be forced to take a backseat. As a 2L, there are even more opportunities open now. Some include Moot Court, Trial Advocacy, Student Bar Association Representative, Kaplan Representative, Widener Running Club, Student Mentorship, Legal Community Service and so much more. I have moved about an hour away from campus and I have decided that being involved is important, but spreading myself too thin is certainly not a good idea. I am currently a student blogger (obviously), a Kaplan Representative, a library circulation desk worker, a volunteer at the District Attorney’s office, a research assistant, and a Lt. Governor for the Third Circuit of the American Bar Association-student division. I think I have enough on my plate from last year that I can really excel at without jumping into anything else this semester. There is a lot to be said about time for myself and adjusting to a new year of law school in my own time frame!
Wow! What new perspective I have being back here after my summer internship at the District Attorney’s Office. It was such a great experience but not only that, it provides me now with motivation of what it is exactly that I am working towards. I was at first frustrated with the feeling that I had so much more schooling left before I can actually appear in a courtroom on behalf of the Commonwealth but recently I have realized that I am not studying only to be a District Attorney but rather I am studying to be an Attorney, complete with all the knowledge necessary to keep my options open for what paths I choose in life. I love how the classes this year seem to blend so well with one another. For instance I am taking Constitutional Law and Criminal Procedure, which seem to teach a lot of the same principles. Additionally my Evidence class often reflects much of the teachings in Criminal Procedure. I imagine my 1L classes had the same coalescence but I was not trained to recognize that at that point. Looks like I am actually thinking like a lawyer!
The excitement just keeps on coming! It is so interesting here. I have loved having the chance to meet so many different people in the courthouse. I have had interaction with judges, the sheriff, police officers, detectives, and, of course, attorneys. Everyone is so passionate about what they do. Last week I had the opportunity to see something incredible. I watched a suppression hearing involving a blind attorney representing a deaf defendant! Eight sign language experts were brought in to assist in the hearing. It was both amazing and admirable to see the length to which the court went to be certain that the defendant’s rights were protected. The Court’s thoroughness is certainly one of the greatest things I have witnessed this summer. The attorneys and judges are nothing short of cautious to be certain that the defendants understand their rights. The manner in which they do it is like a well-oiled machine. Before I began my internship I envisioned that the defendants would be intimidated and possibly fearful while in the courthouse. However, after this experience I believe the defendants become empowered by the sense of respect that the court gives them. I am really learning about what makes our Criminal Justice System work successfully.
What an amazing opportunity I have had here at the District Attorney’s Office! I love this internship. I am learning so much about the inter-workings of the courtroom and basically how criminal law plays out in the real world. I sat through an entire jury trial from beginning to end earlier this month! I saw everything from pretrial motions all the way to the verdict being read. The case involved drugs and two co-defendants. As interesting as it was to watch the whole trial, I felt very lucky to have been able to be listen in on conversations that occurred during recess, at lunch, and prior to the judge walking into the courtroom. It takes so many hardworking people to conduct a jury trial. The courtroom staff, the lawyers, and the jury were all so professional and respectful of their role in the process. I realize that I was made for this kind of law. It was inspiring to watch the Assistant District Attorney argue with such passion and I was equally enamored with the Defense Attorney’s eloquence with which she spoke. I have been absorbing and learning so much. I am really enjoying my summer!!!
I am back! Now that finals are over and summer has officially started, I will be updating my blogs again on a more regular basis. Finals were a very hectic and stressful time to say the least. For my summer plans, I have secured an internship at the Bucks County District Attorney’s office which, lucky for me, is exactly what I want to do after law school! I could not be more excited. I hope to update my blog with my experiences there as it will be my first taste of the real world in the legal field. My understanding is that this summer I will be spending most of my time working on research for death penalty appeals. Additionally this summer I am assisting my Criminal Law professor with research on prosecutorial discretion in Japan! In the interim between finals and my internship I assisted one of my professors with ITAP (Intensive Trial Advocacy Program). It was such a great experience for me because I got to meet attorneys from all over the country who volunteered their time to judge trials for our incoming 3L’s at Widener. My summer is certainly jam-packed and I will keep you updated on my adventures!
I need to start off by saying that this will be my last blog for a few weeks. I am taking a break from blogging to devote every free minute that I have to studying for my upcoming finals. I will be back when classes start up again though. As this semester comes to an end and my first year rounds itself out, it was somewhat ironic that I gave a tour today to a prospective First Year student considering Widener-Harrisburg. Just about a year ago at this time I was wondering the same things as she was: what this school looked like, and how big the classes were, and how the professors would be. While I guided the tour I told this person about all the things that Widener has offered to me and my friends over the past year of my life. I showed her the library filled with students, equipped with earplugs and lunchboxes hitting the home-stretch for finals. I showed her the pit where all the things you could get involved in at Widener are displayed on various walls. I showed her a classroom equipped with the very technologically advanced “Smart-boards.” (I didn’t have them in undergrad so I thought they were pretty cool). I showed her the student accolades ranging from Law Review articles and Moot Court competitions to the Widener Running Club. Additionally, I walked her around to show her where the professor’s offices were located while explaining that the professors at Widener have a genuine interest in seeing you reach your fullest potential and succeed. It is my opinion that we at Widener are lucky to have professors who are willing to meet you half-way when you show your drive, discipline, and desire to become a lawyer. I realized while I was telling her about Widener’s attributes and my experience here, I never referred to the other students as my classmates, but rather as my friends. It is true that law school can be cut-throat competitive but that is not always the case. I wouldn’t call those people just classmates who will bring you back a coffee when it’s a late night at the library and they ran out to get themselves one; or the ones who help to explain how an equitable servitude is different than a covenant when you got lost in class, or the people who listen to you practice your oral argument and pretend to be a Judge for you. It’s undeniable that here at Widener I have found friends, and as demanding of a journey as law school can be, I have good people to make the trip with. Talk to you in a few weeks!
I have been getting a lot of email questions about my blog last week regarding TAP, so I figured I would put another blog up regarding some general information about it. Please feel free to comment right on the blog and I can answer back so that other students may benefit from your great questions! Generally speaking getting accepted into TAP is both scary and exciting. I was excited because all I really wanted was a chance. I did not have the best LSAT scores in the world, and all I really wanted was the opportunity to prove to a school out there that I was more than what the logic games said I was. When Widener TAP accepted me, I was very excited that I received that opportunity. However, I was scared because I knew that it was really my only chance to follow my career dreams of being a lawyer. However, as I said before, it is was important that the experts who would be evaluating me throughout my potential law school career thought I could make it, not just that I thought I could make it in law school. I need to give this caveat, I was accepted to Widener-Harrisburg, therefore I can only comment on my experiences at the Harrisburg campus.
Some of you have asked how the professors are. Let me just say this, you are lucky! First of all, you will have Professor Lee, as I did, in TAP. The best advice I can give you is to listen to what he tells you. He is giving you the outline to the exam answer throughout the course, so pay very close attention in class and always come prepared. In addition, he makes himself very available for help, so utilize him! Do not wait until the end of the semester to start asking questions if you get into trouble! Secondly, I did not have Dean Sealing for TAP last year, but he is our Dean of Students at Widener, and I have a great relationship with him. He is easy to talk to and can be a great resource to you for some of your general law school questions. Also he has experience teaching a class like TAP in two other law schools so you are all in good hands! In regards to Legal Methods, you will all have different professors and that is a great opportunity for you to break up into smaller classes and really polish up your exam taking skills that you will not only use in that class but the other two classes as well. Make sure you practice those skills before exam time!
The last bit of advice I can give is to form a study group. They do not have to be your best friends they should just be people that you trust are working as hard as you are. Forming a study group can be really beneficial to you because of the free exchange of ideas between each other and the discipline you force one another to have. My group and I became very close and we learned so much from each other. Additionally, when you all get accepted, you have a nice group of friends for the fall semester! If you have any questions, again, don’t be hesitant to post them for the benefit of all the “TAPpers”!
There is no getting around it: Law school is a lot of work. Some of it is long, some of it is interesting, and some of it just seems incomprehensible. But as law students, it’s work that we signed up for. It’s work that we applied to have. It’s work that we are paying to get. It is work that will mold us into some of the finest professionals in the country. That last one is sometimes hard to see. Talking to my sister, Jessica, puts a refreshing perspective on what I have to do. She is a 1st year medical resident at a hospital in Boston and it isn’t uncommon for her to work a 30-hour shift. She went through 4 years of medical school and I remember her working all hours of the night trying to keep up with her courses. While her job is demanding, it’s what she loves to do. Each aspect is a stepping stone to making her the kind of doctor she wants to be in the future. It is through connecting with her that I’ve realized that working hard now is what it is going to take to become the lawyer that I want to be. I am not the only one studying this hard or doing this much work. Just knowing that I’m not alone in my all-nighters doesn’t necessarily make the course load any easier physically, but it definitely makes it easier mentally.
Last Wednesday, I was planning on staying in the library until close. I left all my books and went to the store up the road to grab a bite to eat for dinner. While I was walking around the store, I was thinking to myself “I wonder what it would be like to be one of these people just walking around casually shopping for dinner to go home and watch American Idol.” I immediately thought about how the library was almost full when I left it and realized, at least I’m not alone. With that, I bought a large pizza pie and brought it back for some of the people in the library who I didn’t think would be taking a dinner break. If there is one good thing about law school, it makes you appreciate a hot meal, and if there is another, you appreciate a hot meal that you didn’t have to pay for. Something felt so comforting just knowing we were all in this together. We were all stressed, we were all tired, we were all hungry, and we all wished we were home watching American Idol. But above all else, we all want to be lawyers and this is just what it takes. We are just lucky we have each other.