In talking with my three year-old niece Ava the other day on Skype (or “face chat” as she calls it), I realized some startling similarities between her and me when I was a law student. The wide eyes full of wonder, the slightly unkempt ponytail—-No! Besides that! I know, I know, as a 20-something in law school, I supposedly had my life figured out more than a toddler—at least I could read and walk around without toppling over for no reason. But seriously, the resemblance in some areas was uncanny.
This got me thinking about the law students I’ve worked with and how at the end of the day, maybe a nap and a snack really would solve some of life’s major dilemmas. I mentioned this to a current student and she said, “Ariel, you have to write a post about this—why law students are basically toddlers!” So here you go! And bear with me. I’m not comparing myself as a law student or you as a law student to be patronizing or minimize how complicated law school can be. I’m just saying, maybe there are some similarities, and maybe we should try to be a little kinder, more patient, and occasionally pack some snacks.
Law students can be stubborn.
Like my niece, and me in law school, a lot of law students think they have it all figured out. They know what they want without knowing exactly why they want it, or how to get there. Here’s an example, the other day Ava was screaming, “I need cheese!” “I need CHEESE!” over and over again. When told, “Ava, we don’t have any more cheese, you ate it all.” She started sobbing. “But you don’t understand! I really NEED CHEESE.” “Why?” “I don’t know… I just do.”
Law students might not throw a fit like this, but sometimes they get something so stuck in their minds about why a scenario should play out the way they think it should happen that they don’t stop to ask themselves, “Is studying this way even a good idea?” “Do I have a reason for doing things this way?” “Should I be doing something else with my time instead?”
In law school, it’s easy to study the way you think you’re supposed to study, and to want the things everyone tells you you should want. But maybe take a minute and reflect. “Is this the best way for me to learn?” “Would I really be happy in that dream job that is so coveted by everyone else?” If not, change up what you’re doing.
Law students might melt down if they get too tired or hungry.
The other afternoon, Ava desperately wanted to use a glue stick like chap stick. It’s not her fault, it was purple, it looked a lot like chap stick, and even smelled good. That’s probably why she was hell bent on smearing it all over her little lips. When the chap stick got taken away, she hollered and collapsed in the floor. Was this really about the chap stick? No, this was about it being nap time. Anyone who has hung out with a toddler for more than a few afternoons would see the pattern.
You might not think law students crumple at the drop of a hat like this, but just try holding out on one of them when it comes to snacks or sleep. In my law school days, it was an unspoken rule that if someone is having a bad day, you bring food. If someone is celebrating, you bring food. If you decide to cut class with your friends, you do so to go get… you guessed it, food. Food was always involved. I was never one for naps, but I know some law students swear by them.
So, just as you wouldn’t when babysitting a little guy, don’t neglect yourself when it comes to eating and sleeping. It may sound simple, but a lot of law students aren’t getting the nutrition and shut-eye that law school demands. So, even though the resulting fall-out may not be a full-fledged tantrum, take care of yourself so you don’t feel ragged.
Law students are learning more every day than they ever have before.
Little kids might be adding 10 to 20 brand new words to their vocabularies every week. Here’s an example, the other day, my other little niece Anna saw a big truck with logs hanging out of the back and no red flag on the end to warn other drivers of the protrusion. She simultaneously heard her dad say, “Well, that’s just ridiculous!”
She came over and told me that she learned a new word, “Ridiculous!” She had never heard that word before. And I said, “Oh that’s interesting, what does it mean?” And she said, “I’m not positive, but I think it means you have logs hanging out of your truck, in Spanish.” Nice try little one. . . Nice try.
While in law school, the list of never-before-heard words is probably a lot smaller, you might only learn one or two, or none at all. And of course, you know that “Ridiculous” is not Spanish and has nothing to do with logs. But, you are still stretching your mind in ways it’s never been stretched before—just like a kid whose learning things for the first time.
And, hey, there might be some new words after all. I guarantee if you hear someone use the words, “substantively,” “impracticably,” “as a caveat to that caveat,” or use “preface” as a verb followed by lots of other “caveats,” or “slippery slopes,” there’s a good chance they’ve spent some time in law school, or maybe they just got a new thesaurus and are trying to sound smart. Who knows.
Law students might need firm boundaries and the occasional time out.
Not too long ago, Anna was about to throw a tantrum and was starting to “beller like a mashed cat,” (as her grandma would say) when all of a sudden, she stopped and said, “I think I need a time out!” (like it was a brilliant new idea she just came up with). Yes! In fact you probably do. Good call, kiddo. She came out a few minutes later beaming expectantly and saying, “Look what a good girl I turned into!” And it was true, she left a cranky mess and came out calm and sweet again.
Now, I don’t want to carry the analogy too far and imply that law students are essentially children, because they’re not. Nor am I saying that law students can’t make up their own minds or control their own study processes, because they can. But sometimes law students, like everyone else in this world, need guidance and a little space.
Sometimes it’s tough to know what the next step should be, or whether you’re doing things the most efficient way possible. And it’s okay to ask for help! Some study days are long, and maybe you’re not getting enough sleep. It’s fine to take some time to yourself and take care of you so you can come back to the world refreshed.
Law students thrive on encouragement and positive attention.
Ava and Anna were wading through toys all over the floor when someone said, “You know what would be amazing? I bet if we set this timer for 5 minutes, we could see who could put away the most toys, ready, go!”
Seriously? That’s going to work? But it did. They started rushing around and cleaning, and they couldn’t wait to find out who the winner was (they tied, shocking, I know).
Again, I’m not saying law students really are infantile, but you know how if you have someone who is positive and invested in the outcome and really rooting for you, you want to live up to their high expectations? Or maybe that’s just me. Looking back, I definitely felt that way with my Torts professor. She was so smart and articulate and organized, and basically my idol in every way. I worked extra hard in that class because she believed in me and it showed. She believed in all of us, and I don’t think anyone wanted to let her down. Or maybe some people couldn’t care less. Who knows.
In any case, I can’t claim to be as inspiring as my fantastic Torts professor, but I try to positively encourage each of my students and help them live up to their full potential, whatever that may be. For some people, this really seems to work. Maybe you don’t need external validation. Or, perhaps you do but there’s some other reward or positive reinforcement that would work better for you. Whatever it is, do that!
Above all, be kind to yourself. Encourage yourself, or find others who will. Reward yourself for all your hard work. You can do it!
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And check out these helpful posts:
- How Being a Law Student and a Functional Human Don’t Have to Be Mutually Exclusive
- How to Organize Your To-Do List in Law School
- How to Stick to Your Goals in Law School
- Dealing With Law School Time Regret
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