I’m five-sixths of the way there! The finish line is in sight! There is a light at the end of the tunnel! Any cliché analogy will do, really. The important thing is that I am now in my final semester, and at this veteran stage in my 21-year academic career, I feel as qualified as ever to deliver my take on what to make out of all of the madness and insanity surrounding this thing they call law school. And what better way to break down my thoughts on the mystifying three-year experience than by doling out some long-winded words of wisdom to a hypothetical group of prospective students? Let’s get started.
1. Don’t take yourself too seriously
Great, so you’ve been accepted to attend a top law school. Well done! You can’t hear me right now, but I am clapping for you. Loudly. I swear.
I say this sincerely: the mere fact that you are becoming a law student does not mean that your opinion suddenly matters more, or that you are now somehow “better” or “smarter” than the rest of your friends who are uninterested in the law or in pursuing a legal education. Tens of thousands of new law students are created each year; acceptance into law school does not magically make any of us special. Arrogance about your new accolades is absolutely uncalled for and will only make you look like a jerk in the eyes of your peers.
It is okay to congratulate yourself, and even to appreciate that you have taken the next step on your own personal road to success and happiness, whatever that may entail. But no one needs to read a Facebook post boasting your list of law school suitors, or worse, your LSAT score. Okay, so you may have sacrificed far too many hours mastering how to solve flawlessly four absurd logic games in 35 minutes, but that’s an impressive and transferable life skill, right? Right???
I hate to break it to you, but the reality is that you did not just win the lottery simply by killing it on the LSAT and being accepted by your beloved top law school. On the contrary, you’re likely facing six figures in student loans over the next three years. But I digress.
2. Be considerate of others
You may want to speak up during a lecture. This is allowed. But if you do choose to voice your views, keep in mind that there are nearly 90 other humans in the room, all coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, and many holding differing beliefs about the world we live in. Even if 65 of those humans (a conservatively low estimate) are immersed in Gchat conversations, completely oblivious while you stammer your ever-so-important opinion on the remedies available to tort victims, choose your words wisely so as not to seriously offend any of your colleagues. Again, doing so will only make you look like a jerk.
We all have opinions—that’s a human thing. By choosing to attend law school, just be aware that you are essentially joining a cult designed for the super-opinionated among us. You know: the activists, the intellectuals, the bloggers, the future leaders of industry, etc. etc. Law school is where budding legal minds go to bloom, or at least to drink together every Thursday on the University’s dime. Which was once your dime! See, things are already coming full circle. Moving on…
3. Make sure you’re “ready” for law school
You are probably in your 20s. You’ve learned from enough books and movies that these are supposedly the “best years of your lives” and whatnot. I don’t need to harp on this; we live in an age where YOLO is an accepted worldview, so you’ve already been indoctrinated. Whether you agree with the “best years of your lives” sentiment or not, it is still important to take a step back to reflect for a moment on the big picture as you think about law school.
My intention is not to deter anyone from applying or attending, but please allow me to point out some lucid truths to you: (1) law school is a three-year commitment that would certainly not appeal to every person during every stage of life, and (2) your path has not been set in stone. Think about whether attending law school is honestly something that you are ready to commit to at this stage in your life. You don’t necessarily need to barrel ahead toward some imaginary finish line and matriculate immediately after undergrad. Although this strategy will make you younger than your comrades, by definition you will be less experienced, and all of you are about to be placed together in the same 1L sections and subjected to the same curve. Oh yes, the infamous law school curve, the great equalizer.
(For the sake of transparency, I applied to law school as a college senior, but then deferred my acceptance, ultimately arriving at NYU Law one year removed from undergrad. I spent one year intermittently working, backpacking, and teaching English. In my opinion, what I experienced in that year was more enriching than any superficial advantage I might have gained had I started directly following undergrad and positioned myself to start climbing the corporate ladder one year sooner. I am content with my decision to attend law school, but at times I regret not having waited longer before applying.)
I don’t think there’s necessarily a “right” time to attend law school—obviously every person has varying circumstances and expectations. But if you’re reading this right now and having second thoughts, or if the main reason why you’re applying to law school is that you don’t know what else to do next, then think twice.
4. Keep it all in perspective
The final advice I have is to enjoy the experience. In no way does attending law school mean that you have just signed up for three years of hell. Yes, you should aim to complete assignments, attend lectures, and perform well on exams. But do not let these tasks replace the things that you once considered important; you can succeed academically and professionally without locking yourself away in the depths of the law library dungeon until closing time night in and night out. Don’t suddenly stop going to the gym if that’s always been a part of your routine. Go out on the weekends (and weekdays too, if you so choose; I won’t judge you). If you attend NYU Law you should never stop exploring NYC, unless it’s to spend a semester abroad. Stay connected with non-law school friends and family. This might come as a shock, but for the next three years the rest of the world will continue to go about its business.
Being immersed in the enormity of 1L will be overwhelming at first. Just know that it is possible to achieve balance. You can still make time for all of the other things, the important things. Your law school experience can be whatever you want it to be; never lose sight of the fact that these are three years of your life. You know, three of the “best” years. So do yourself a favor and take advantage of them. Continue doing what you once loved. Take on new challenges that you might never again have the time or energy to attempt. Do anything. Just please don’t bury your face in your books for three years—your chiropractor will scold you one day.
And that’s it for my unsolicited advice. You can take it or leave it, but you might as well take it—at the moment it’s still free. Soon enough, however, my fellow 3Ls and I will officially begin practicing law, so in the future you should expect to receive a handsome bill after hearing my opinion.
Classic Prospective Student Reaction: Wait, it’s all making sense now! I hear you loud and clear, Dan: my opinion will matter more! I mean, why else would my beloved future big law firm’s clients be willing to pay so much for my vague opinion? I get it now. Once I pass the bar exam, that’s when my opinion will suddenly matter more. My opinion will finally be properly valued. I’ve seen the light. I’ll never become jaded. Thanks, Dan!
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