1L Redux: Life as a 1.2L

1L Orientation brings with it a host of challenges and anxieties: awkward icebreakers, avoiding spilling red wine on yourself at a mixer (properly failed by yours truly), and, perhaps most importantly, introducing yourself to your new classmates. While most people’s introductions followed a pattern of relative ease, mine usually came with a host of surprised expressions and raised eyebrows. See, I’m not a straight-through undergrad, nor am I a seasoned gap year-er. I have done this first month of 1L already, right here at NYU.

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The site of my law school reboot.

Life as a 1L last year was not the greatest. To be sure, I had made some amazing friends and loved the classes I was taking. Internally, however, I began to doubt constantly, like most 1Ls, that I was worthy of a spot at the school. The only other time I had ever felt as inferior to my classmates was when I had entered an American kindergarten, unable to speak English. Much like that five-year-old self, I felt that my new friends had something that I didn’t. They came to NYU with fabulous life experiences, both professional and personal, and were able to grasp concepts in class that whizzed past my head. Needless to say, I was intimidated and was starting to regret that I had not deferred my admission.

Just as I was starting to make inroads, however, life came to a screeching halt five weeks into the semester when my lung collapsed not once, but three times over the course of three weeks (a feat achievable, perhaps, solely by me). Up until this point, I was a relatively healthy non-smoking guy with no respiratory issues. You can imagine my surprise when, waking up one day, I realized that only half of my chest cavity was receiving any air. After the first collapse, I was determined to get back to school, worried that I had already missed three days of classes. It took me two weeks to catch up on a few hours of lectures. Finally, by the time I had caught up, my lung decided to pop again toward the end of my Torts class. Not being overly fond of dramatic displays, I waited for my classmates to exit class before escorting myself to the emergency room. Needless to say, by the time the third collapse happened, my last email informing my professors of my continued absence seemed farcical even to me.

After being granted a deferral for the year, I found the journey ahead by no means an easy one, physically or mentally. No moment stands clearer than the one in which my mom helped me to walk outside my home in New Jersey for the first time since my surgeries. Relying heavily on her holding my hand and being able to walk only a few hundred feet before having to turn back home, I felt absolutely defeated. While my new friends were getting on with the perils of 1L year, I was stuck in what seemed like a bottomless pit.

Following a long recovery, however, I was slowly regaining my strength and my resolve. Returning to my apartment in New York, I quickly began searching for a job and was gainfully employed within a month. In my time since arriving back in the city, I worked at UJA-Federation of New York as a Donor Development Assistant, achieved “Elite” status on Yelp thanks to my lengthy reviews, had an article published, and continued to live my life to the fullest.

I think it took my lung popping like a balloon to realize a few things before coming into my first month of law school (again):

1)    The same rules of undergraduate study habits do NOT apply to law school. I was always able to memorize and retain information from class without note-taking. When I tried to transition this “technique” over to my legal studies, the results were not favorable. This year, I am briefing almost every case, outlining where I feel it’s appropriate, and keeping significant notes from class. The more you transcribe what you are reading and hearing here, the less likely that you’ll feel your brain on the verge of implosion.

2)    You CANNOT do this alone. I have always considered myself a fiercely independent person. Last year, I thought I would be able to do everything on my own. That path led me only to frustration, self-doubt, loneliness, and anxiety. I urge you to really make the effort to connect with those around you. Engage them not only for drinks at the Half Pint, but to academically challenge one another. I have been fortunate enough to find some fabulous people to collaborate with this year. We’ve shared laughs, tribulations, and encouragement in times of desperation. In a world as foreign as law school, it’s important to know you are not alone in feeling confused about U.C.C. §2-207 or how Gray and Asahi are able to coexist!

3)    Lastly, and most importantly, when we sit in Tishman during those first few days of orientation, it’s important to realize that we have all made something of ourselves. To be able to sit in those seats is already an accomplishment well worth never forgetting. In the darkest of times, when you’re really struggling to understand how everyone else seems to be getting the material you aren’t, remember that you have achieved your spot here by persevering against all odds. Push yourself and those around you to continue to remember that you are all in this together, and no one is more deserving of a spot than anyone else.

This year’s Section 14 Lawyering class (mine) visiting the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
Photo courtesy of Cathren Cohen.

Thus, it’s with a firm sense of confidence that I arrive back on the steps of Vanderbilt as a 1.2L. While some of my friends from the previous year are able now to laugh about their struggles with understanding Pennoyer, I’m in the thick of it all over again, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.