What I Talk About When I Talk About Law School

I’ve been asked (well, actually, I offered) to write one last entry reflecting on my experience these past three years at the New York University School of Law. With exams on the horizon, and as I find myself surrounded by a mass of printed-out notes, casebooks, and unfolded laundry, it’s hard to believe that three years ago I was offered, and accepted, the opportunity to pursue professionally one of the most challenging yet exciting lines of work out there.

I’ve tried to write this post in fits and starts; I’ve talked to friends; and in general, I’ve pondered on a great many runs and subway rides what I should write as a final farewell. In the end, I think the finished product here will generally resemble what my law school experience has been: somewhat rambling, but with a vague sense of direction and goals, full of contradictions, memories, and unexpected turns.

When I think about law school, I think, This was never what I expected. There was sort of a naïveté about me, I supposed, that with an acceptance letter came the end of my problems. My expectations were…unrealistic. I thought it would be “The End of All Stress and Worries.” It turned about to be more like “A Lot More Stress and Worries, But Learning to Manage Them.” I had heard about stress in law school, about the long hours you would spend preparing for exams and for class, about the grueling job search process, but then again, it was all so abstract to me. Like The Law itself, it was more of an idea than a reality, a blob that you could sort of make out if you squinted hard enough. But it didn’t feel Real.

Throwback to 1L first semester exams.
Throwback to 1L first semester exams.

But wait, you say to yourself–maybe with some tone of worry if you’re not yet in the process–law school was difficult for you? My reply to you would be what I have termed the classic law school student answer: Yes, but.

Yes, law school was (or is?) still difficult. But I am still glad that I went through with this rigorous training. I can’t imagine anywhere else where I would have grown as much personally, socially, intellectually, spiritually, and professionally as I did in law school. Before you see me as being arrogant, I would say the same of any of my classmates in a heartbeat, too. Everyone comes into law school with certain expectations, but because we are challenged to bend our minds (and in the process, our hearts and bodies), those expectations end up being challenged, too, if not wholly discarded for new ones. Disappointment, success, shame, pride, sadness, joy–ask me, and I will tell you honestly that I’ve experienced them all. I’ve been disappointed at falling below the curve, but felt success at obtaining a post-grad job in antitrust; I’ve had the shame of feeling like I don’t quite measure up, but pride at completing seminar papers with original research; I’ve experienced sadness through family tragedy, but joy through the support of my friends.

When I hit the early years of being a teenager, I believed with utmost certainty that I had learned everything I needed for life. I’d like to think

I’ve also learned the importance of cat naps.

I’ve grown up a little since then. What I mean is, the one concept that I’ve realized, forgotten, and then re-learned again is that life–certainly one spent in law school and as an attorney–doesn’t really lend you a lot of answers. Your time is more about being confronted with questions that don’t have an answer, or if there is one, it will take a lot of digging to find. In the process, you feel a simultaneous frustration and excitement, because you’re in uncharted territory–you’re somewhere that you’ve never come across before.

In a book whose title lends the inspiration for my entry (What I Talk About When I Talk About Running), the famous Japanese author Haruki Murakami writes: “It doesn’t matter how old I get, but as long as I continue to live I’ll always discover something new about myself.”

Through the ups and down of law school, I discovered something new: Life does not always work the way you planned. But life always works out. You must have faith in this proposition, whether you place that in religion, yourself, or something else—as long as you maintain hope through it all.

All you need to do is to act appropriately and take advantage of new opportunities presented to you, to try to find light in darkness. Sometimes all you can do is to tell yourself that any bad feelings you have won’t last forever and to remind yourself to remember and cherish the good ones that come your way.

Own your story. Be proud of who you are. Shame is a very real thing in our society, and even the most secure sometimes wonder if they are “good enough.” To paraphrase Brené Brown (one of my favorite writers), for far too many people, the first thing that comes into our heads when we wake up in the morning is “I have so much to do,” and the last thing that enters our heads as we lay down at night is “I haven’t done enough.” You must own your story if you expect ever to be happy in the present moment, and to make others around you happy as well.

No matter how messy your life is, or how confusing it may look to someone else, accept the present before you work to change it for the future. Don’t be ashamed if you have to work more than your colleagues to do the same task, or if your lifestyle is not as glamorous as you had hoped, or if you discover that you have some lingering demons that need to be dealt with. Own your story. It makes all the difference in the world.

I guess you can say that I’m looking forward to learning more lessons in the years to come.  No matter how old I get.