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I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now: A 3L letter To My 1L Self

3L at Washington & Lee Law

I proudly came up with my own motto my last year of college: No Shame, No Expectations, No Regrets.  I similarly wrote in my Senior Wisdom for my college’s infamous BWOG that I had no regrets.  Many doubted the veracity of this assertion. But, it was true. I had no regrets because I wanted to be where I was: in knowledge, in pace, in circumstance, in personal development, in weaknesses, in strengths, and in overcoming those weaknesses. So I have no regrets now as well, for it is how I became the person I am now. And it is how I have come to focus on specific issues, and how I can now share my (limited) wisdom with the next batch of law students.

1) Don’t be afraid to raise your hand. You don’t sound as stupid as you think. And, though you may try to articulate yourself perfectly, to the point where the professor praises your brilliance, this is a rare reality. I was always so concerned with sounding perfect in my answer that I never raised my hand until I had rehearsed it multiple times in my head. Wrong. Slow. Inefficient. Next. As cliché as it sounds, you are not paying $40k+ to articulate the perfect answer to an academic. You’re paying that much to use that academic as a resource to try to articulate your thoughts.

2) Get those supplements. Early, for each class, and read them. My professors would drone on and on about some subject, only for me to realize weeks later that they are going to make a completely different conclusion than what I had been focusing upon. Supplements are those north stars for each law class.  The law is taught in the Socratic method to law students, slowly drawing out concepts from caselaw and majority opinions, concurring opinions and  dissenting opinions. It seems that most of the time, I was driving on some uncertain, shaken road, all in a fog. At the very end, I might have been able to draw what the important point was. Maybe. Maybe not. But, supplements do this for you. It’s not cheating. It’s being efficient. Read the summary of the cases and the associated doctrines you’ll read in that Contracts class before that Socratic tool is used upon you in class. It’ll be your buoy in Contracts, holding you in place and being that guiding star of what the law is speaking towards.

3) Don’t forget who you are. Don’t give up on your interests and identity for the sake of law school success. I came into law school, committed to my Catholic faith. Nothing would ever shake it, or take me away from it. But, I went from contacting the campus minister in April of my senior year of college to sometimes only being the superficial face of the ministry at the law school. Without that intrinsic emotional, intellectual, and personal identity, you can lose your path and lose that motivation to strive towards success and goals that had originally gotten you to law school.

4) Don’t get hurt by law school drama. Don’t talk garbage about anyone. Law school is middle school, but with alcohol, depression, drug abuse and sex. This is why you should, see below, befriend the locals to escape this unhealthy social situation.

5) Befriend the locals and make non-law school friends. It’ll be good for your sanity. Law school attracts a certain OCD type of student that will drive you up the wall. It’s all about that balance.

6) Don’t settle for the first internship or job offer you get. My first summer of law school, I knew I wanted to participate in the Blackstone Legal Fellowship through Alliance Defending Freedom. I was blessed to be accepted and had one of the most rewarding experiences. However, my second summer I was just anxious for a summer internship. I didn’t care what it was, as long as it met some standard I had superficially created in my head. When I received such an offer in September of my 2L year, I quickly accepted and did not bother looking for other, better opportunities. I was so caught up in the 2L herd mentality of securing a summer placement, that I did not exercise the correct judgment and discretion in my internship search. Your 2L summer placement can make or break you. Mine did neither. It did not help me. It might have just been neutral towards my resume.  I learned from this the following year, rejecting the first job offer I received, and withholding a commitment to other job offers, all the while trying to decide judicially what option would be the most beneficial. And as I write this, it’s May with one job offer rejected, and three more being juggled against one another. It’s stressful, but the time spent discerning is well worth it. (Also, see, it is possible to get a job after law school!)

7) Do Write-On. Just do it. You might be exhausted from exams, but write-on will enable you to get on law review or some journal. This will help you get a job. I promise.

8) Don’t like your grades? Ask for help. Go to your professors and ask them to go through the exam with you. Find out why your thoughts weren’t communicated well or effectively onto the paper. If you don’t ask for help, you’ll make the same mistakes over and over again.

There are a lot of points I’ve made, and there are even more pieces of wisdom that even I haven’t learned yet. But, there’s a bottom line to all of this. No regrets. Hindsight is 20-20 always. So don’t kick yourself in the butt as a 3L at your 1L decisions. You made those decisions for a reason at the time. You’ve become the person you are today because of your past, all the good and bad. Heed this advice as you want, but do not classify yourself as a failure because you learned things along the way. It’s the brilliance of not only law school but of life as well: we’re always learning. #studentforlife

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