First-year law students all over the country are starting orientation this week and next. This always makes me reflect on my own 1L orientation. If you follow my writing, you may be thinking, “Wow, Lee must have LOVED law school orientation.”
But, in fact, I didn’t. I actually spent much of the week questioning whether I had made a mistake, leaving my comfortable office job and nice paycheck to return to law school. Here are some of my thoughts and reflections on my law school orientation.
I felt as if I was in high school again.
This is a common comment made by new law students, and it was really true for me. During orientation we got assigned a locker. I carried a backpack. We had a busy orientation schedule that felt much more like high school, going from one class to the next. We were with one group of students all day. Everyone had a shiny new laptop and was dressed in a stylish outfit. (Well, for the time being. Then most of us started wearing jeans and a fleece, the law school uniform in San Francisco.) It felt like a “back to school” commercial. I am not sure how I thought the first days of law school were going to feel, but they didn’t feel that way.
On the last day of orientation there was a “fair”—where all the student groups set up tables so you could sign up for clubs. I totally remember going to something similar in high school, signing up for anything that interested me. And more than a decade after starting high school, I found myself in the same position, signing up for clubs so I could be involved and get to know people. It was a very strange feeling.
Everyone was nervous, and that made me think I should be nervous too.
I wasn’t all that nervous about going back to school. I was excited. I wanted to go back to school and was happy I had decided to attend law school in San Francisco (where I was already living). I had really enjoyed college, and although I had heard all the horror stories prior to starting my 1L year—my parents are both lawyers and, yes, I had read One L and watched The Paper Chase—I figured it would be a good experience.
But when I got to my orientation lectures, you could feel the tension in the room. And I think I got caught up in the nerves of the group. Although I kept telling myself it was just school, it was so easy to get sucked into the group anxiety and nervousness. Some lectures even focused on how challenging this experience was going to be and how hard it would be on us and on the people we loved around us. For the first lecture some students even brought their significant others with them and clung to them for moral support. But this was just school, right?
I felt pressure to make friends quickly.
I had read the books and watched the movies and talked to lawyers—I knew how important it was to make friends, find a study group, and start networking.
In some ways meeting people felt like speed dating. Meet as many people as possible, see if you like them, make friends, start a study group. So I met a lot of people. My best friend out of those first weeks of law school (who is still a good friend today) I had met at a scholarship luncheon prior to attending law school. Turned out we were in the same legal writing section and since we were the only people we knew, we started chatting and became friends. But many of my best friends from law school weren’t those I met in my first weeks of school. Even my best study partners. The pressure to make friends and allies forces the process to become inorganic, which is a detriment to relationships and doesn’t really serve your goals anyway.
I felt old.
The year I began law school there were a number of “young” law students in my class; they were only one or two years out of undergrad. And I wasn’t. I had worked for a few years before law school. Those who had only recently graduated seemed to continue the social existence of college. When I went to my first “bar night” during law school orientation, it felt like a time warp! There could have been red cups and kegs. It didn’t feel like the social life I had been leading before starting law school. I felt out of place. Sure, I was used to spending weekends hanging out with friends, but I wasn’t used to going to a bar on Thursday nights and drinking like a 22-year-old again!
I went to the bookstore and was shocked at the amount of money I had to spend (and how heavy the books were).
I think one of the toughest realizations of going back to school after having worked for a while is that there is no more money rolling into your checking account (other than loans, which don’t really feel like “your” money). And one of the first moments that this will really set in is when you spend hundreds of dollars on books. Oh, and then you see the entire section of law supplements and wonder if you are supposed to buy them too. Waving goodbye to the balance in my checking account for books was a sobering reality check, an indication that my previous life was over.
It helped to remember why I went to law school.
The last day of orientation was actually my birthday. I remember going back to my apartment somewhat disillusioned after my orientation week. I called my dad, who is an attorney, and sat on the floor of my tiny bedroom telling him how the week had gone. And then I asked him to remind me of all the reasons I had decided to go to law school (which he gladly did). And none of those reasons had anything to do with what I had experienced during orientation.
After that call, I shook off the day, unpacked my books, and celebrated my birthday with non-law school friends. The next week, I started my “real” first year. Then I realized that I actually enjoyed law school, when the focus was going to class and studying. And I continued to make friends, and socialize (but Thursday bar nights were not for me—I had 9:00 a.m. class on Friday!).
The reason I wanted to share this story is that I don’t think I am alone in having disliked my orientation experience.
For the new law students out there—I encourage you not to judge law school too quickly. Sure, the experience has its quirks and it is not perfect, but in the end I really loved law school and I hope you will too. Your first week or first few weeks aren’t necessarily a foreshadowing of your entire law school experience. Keep an open mind and enjoy the fact that you are back in school. It is challenging (and you may have a locker) but you can also go to a 2:00 p.m. yoga class! And who among us could do that while working?
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And check out these other posts you might find interesting:
- Is Law School for You?
- The Reality of Law School Debt
- Lessons from My 1L Year: Introduction
- Lessons from My 1L Year: You Don’t Have to Live in the Law Library
- Lessons from My 1L Year: Be Careful with Study Groups
- Lessons from My 1L Year: Have Fun
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