Preparing for the Apocalypse? October for 1Ls

stressfreeThe floodgates have been opened….

Hello, October. You sneaked up on us quickly, and as you snowball your way into November, you have picked up quite a few frenzied 1Ls.

October is a controversial month for us law school newbies. On the one hand, we have passed the point of carefree learning when briefing a case was still novel enough to be exciting, and no one relied on horrible jokes about the “enforceable contract to go to bar review” in order to have a social life. On the other hand, we are still too early into the semester to be in any position to prepare for what we cannot help remembering is the entirety of our GPA here: final exams.

So instead, the reality of those impending finals just sort of lingers like a dark cloud over us, ready to pour at any time.

Half the class has whipped out umbrellas in anticipation, shielding casebooks as they rush off to the library to create version one of 17 of their outlines. The other half seems to be drifting along lackadaisically, bringing true meaning to the words, “Don’t rain on my parade.”

Admittedly, the finals virus started spreading in late September, around the same time as the infamous section-wide cold and the realization that we were spending far too much time on our ungraded Lawyering assignments. But it truly gained momentum, at least in my section, the day that the redoubtable Arthur Miller distributed a sample final exam question that sent many of us into an academic tailspin.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m beyond grateful that our professors and TAs provide us with sample questions and practice exams; it is much preferred to running blindly into the concrete wall that is Miller’s Civil Procedure final. But it confirmed the shift toward anxiety and that ruinous myth that being “on track” means doing what everyone else is doing.

We have been inundated with advice about finals and outlining from every professor, TA, mentor, organization head, dean, 2L, 3L, and random person off the street who has never even taken the LSAT. They all echo the same sentiment: it’s too early to worry about it. But I’m not writing this to convince you of that, because truthfully I have no idea. I do think, though, that if there was one correct way to prepare—one right way to do law school—someone would’ve written it down by now. There would be, listed among the reading assignments on every class syllabus, a bold instruction: “Begin Outlining Today.” It would be marked on the school’s academic calendar as “Outlining Period,” reminiscent of our undergraduate “Study Days.”

But the optimal approach is not something that can be specified; it is wholly individual. Looking left and right at what your peers are doing can be helpful in setting benchmarks, but converting their progress into a determination of whether you are behind or not is nothing short of arbitrary, and certain to make your head spin.

Smelling some stress-free summer air
Smelling some stress-free summer air

What’s more, our goading of friends to put the books down and come out because “it’s still October” sets us up to believe that November 1 is quite literally the Apocalypse. It would be naïve of us to pretend that our workloads (and stress levels) won’t increase as we inch closer to doomsdayweek, but it also generates an expectation that we all must be carelessly fun until Halloween and chained to a library cubicle thereafter.

Whatever happened to that beloved axiom of “one day at a time”? We have our necks strained so far in front of us trying to predict the future, or so far craned to the side checking out everyone else, that we have no idea where our own feet are. We spend so much time anticipating, worrying, comparing, trying to get it right that we forget what feels good for us, each one of us, individually.

I know for sure that we are a successful and motivated group of students. U.S. News & World Report said it, and Dean Morrison reiterated it, so we know it must be true. But no matter where we graduated from and with what GPA, what we scored on our LSATs, how much time we took off or how we spent that time—we are all, to some degree, just fumbling around in the dark trying to find our way. None of us really have the answers, or if we do, our answer may not work for anyone else. But we have all made it this far, through the doors of NYU Law, so clearly we’ve being doing something right.

I think the best we can strive for right now is to keep our feet on the ground. When our minds wander so far ahead that we lose track of where we are standing, that’s when the panic can truly grip us. Set your own standards based on what feels right for you, and allow them be somewhat flexible. Because there is nothing wrong with skipping a bar review or two in September, nor are you a slacker for making it to every bar review past the imposed “Fall Ball” deadline.

The best part about being a member of the NYU Law community thus far has been how at ease I feel among my fellow classmates. There is no sense of cutthroat competition, no need to constantly prove myself or why I deserve to be here, and there is always room for laughter and lighthearted discussion. That is something I hope we can carry forward, through finals, through graduation, and even further beyond that.