For the summer after my 1L year, I wanted to stay away from all law and law school related books and devote my down time to fiction and TV shows. While catching up with an old friend from college, she insisted that I read this book called “How To Be Sort of Happy in Law School,”written by Kathryne M. Young. I was hesitant. After reading my share of self-help books in the “how to succeed in law school” genre, I was not sure whether I would gain much from yet another one.
Well, I was mistaken. This book is unlike anything I have read. It is centered on self-empowerment and well-being – as the title hints. It does not prescribe formulas for success but asks its law student readers what they want to get out of their time in law school.
I especially appreciated that the book is a compilation of observations and thoughts from different people. Young, who has a PhD in Sociology as well as a J.D. (she worked toward these two degrees concurrently), had conducted a qualitative study, interviewing over 1,000 students from multiple law schools, alumni, dropouts, professors, etc. She also references quantitative studies in the relevant chapters. These diverse perspectives are so helpful- from hearing professors state that they appreciate students asking about their research, to students sharing their anxieties about choosing courses and extracurriculars, maintaining relationships, and expressing their opinions. These perspectives conflict at times, as different people weigh the various considerations against their personality, goals, and interests.
Here are my 4 biggest takeaways from the book:
- Understand what you can and cannot control. Things like the exam format, grading system, cold calling, and selective law reviews are features of longstanding institutions that are unlikely to change overnight. However, individual students can change their perspectives about the importance and “prestige” of certain metrics.
- Consider how differences in your classmates’ backgrounds affect how they perceive the material and engage in class. Students and alumni whom Young interviewed shared how their identities and backgrounds (being a child of lawyers or a first-generation law student, being a white male or a woman of color, etc.) informed their law school experience, sometimes in totally unexpected ways. Young encourages students to assume the best in people and not to pigeonhole them. Rather, take the time to listen and engage productively. At the same time, speak your mind and do not shy away from controversial positions or those perceived to be so. Lastly, do not be complicit in placing the burden on minority and disadvantaged students to advocate for fairness and equity.
- Know that legal change on a broad scale takes a long time to achieve and find a balance between being a “technician”– someone who makes impacts on individuals– and being an “inventor” – someone who is able to effectuate systematic changes.
- Cultivate creativity and hobbies outside of law school. A recurring theme in Young’s book is to maintain or find interests outside of the law, which helps keep a person grounded. This can involve sports, a TV series, or home-cooking. On a related note, Young and her interviewees strongly suggest carving out separate physical spaces for law school tasks and other purposes. For example, a student can decide to work and study in the library, in a local café, or in a designated corner of the bedroom (but not the bed!).
On top of providing wonderful advice and strategies, Young’s book is humorous and uplifting. It is optimistic about the fact that students can create a positive and rich experience in law school. At the same time, it is realistic about the stresses of the law school environment and the profession itself and speaks candidly about issues around mental health. It motivates students to ask questions and seek help, and to make the right decision for themselves even when it might not be the obvious or popular thing to do.
I enjoyed this book very much, and I would highly recommend it for any incoming or current law student. If you are related to or care about said law student – as a family member, significant other, mentor, or friend– this book will provide a deeper look into the machine that is law school, as well as give you ideas to help support them.
In true book reviewer fashion, I give this book 5/5 stars.
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