Over the years, we’ve gotten to know a lot of law school “OL’s,” not just as former admissions officers or current clients but also through speaking at colleges, attending conferences and events, and in many other places. This is one of the best parts of having the greatest job on the planet. We learn about brilliant people who have the worthiest of aspirations. We also get to know their fears and anxieties — of which no other is more prominent right now than starting law school.
Law school, you are about to find out if you haven’t already done so, can be a lot like high school. You are placed into a relatively small cohort — for the vast majority, much smaller than your college class — that creates an all too familiar phenomena: people care about what others think about them. Unlike high school, however, or perhaps unlike my high school (or even me in high school), there is the added dimension of intellectual capital. Or more accurately, perceived intellectual capital. There will be a great deal of discussion and guessing early on about “who went to what undergraduate school and who scored what on the LSAT.” Word will slowly get out that so and so got a 180. All of this, combined with the unfamiliarity of getting to know a new group of peers (and competitors for top grades on the curve!) is a breeding ground for insecurity, nervousness, and anxiety during orientation. You will feel this palpably, if not in yourself than in the atmospheric pressures around you.
How can I be so sure? Consider this, between Jayme, Karen, Jennifer, and myself we have seen 38 law school orientations at 7 different schools ( Chicago, Vanderbilt, Harvard, UCLA, Roger Williams, WUSTL, and Colorado). The one commonality amongst all of these law schools, every single year, is this feeling of anxiety that hits people at orientation. There is a concrete worry among many that they do not belong intellectually, that the admissions office made a mistake, or that they are somehow about to be crushed by the great minds of others. And it only gets worse.
When classes start, not only do a few people seem to already know all the answers, but the faculty seem incomprehensibly brilliant. Guess what? When you have 5-10 years of experience in any career you will seem brilliant to someone just starting in that field — 100% guaranteed. When you have 20+ years of experience you will seem omniscient.
The bottom line is this: law school can make the very best and brightest feel meek, overwhelmed, and unworthy. It does so for very understandable reasons — but reasons which are entirely false. With perhaps one or two exceptions, the people you are starting with are entirely new to this too. They have never been to a class, they are not the experts on the subject matter, they do not belong there any more or any less than you. You know the highly over-used cliche “look to your left and right, one of those people won’t be here at graduation”? Try this one out:
“look to your left and right, both of those people feel the exact same nervousness you do right now”
So our advice. Be humble. Be inquisitive. But most of all, be true to why you are there. Don’t let the pressures to fit in sidetrack the aspiration that brought there. Don’t let a Career Services officer tell you that you can’t practice in the area you want to. Do not let one grade on an early assignment deter you from the dream that took you to that class in the first place. When others are out partying and you are in the law library with a skeleton crew and a can of red bull, don’t feel like there is something wrong with you. Through a very strong inspiration and dream you are where you are right now. Don’t ever forget that and don’t ever back down from that dream.
I wish you a great 3 years and career beyond.