Even if you’re the kind of person who can see the good in almost everyone, law school might throw you for a loop. You will probably run into personalities you’ve never encountered before, and they can be surprising, and challenging to deal with.
I remember an event I attended the summer before my 1L year started. It just so happened that I met three others from my future law school class that day. I consider myself to be a pretty accepting and easy-going person most of the time, but I remember in perfect clarity how immediate and visceral an aversion I felt toward those first three classmates. They were, respectively, so shockingly rude, so incredibly arrogant, and so abrasive.
I recall thinking, “Wow, if these people are in any way representative of my law school class, I am going to hate the next three years …”
Oddly enough, after being thrown into the same lecture hall for years at a time, we became friends, these three and I (or “friendly acquaintances” might be more accurate), but I’ll be honest, I found them pretty intolerable at first, and who knows, maybe they despised me as well!
The personalities you will encounter as a 1L will probably run the gamut: the gunner, the painfully shy, the overzealous social butterfly, the bleeding heart, the gossipy drama queen. You may meet the single parent, the night student, the second-career finder, and maybe some LLMs. Luckily, I managed to cross paths with a few people with whom I could truly relate. We had similar experiences and priorities. We bonded over growing up in California and our shared love of sumptuous take-out and international travel. And you know what, it made law school a lot easier to get through, and a lot more fun! Whatever your social preferences, in law school, it’s important to find your people.
If you’re curious about the kinds of folks you might encounter, there are some interesting posts about that here: 6 Misguided Law Students You’ll Encounter, and 19 People You Meet in Law School. If you’re concerned about who you will meet as a 1L and want to make sure you’re not getting yourself into hot water with others, here are some tips.
If you don’t have anything nice to say . . .
My colleague from law school has a great story about trash-talking a professor whose class she hated (and I mean really throwing her negative opinions out there) in the hallway at school, and then being caught red-handed when that professor walked right up behind her and said “You know I can hear you, right?” Not a wonderful moment for her. She applied to a clinic program with this same professor later, and guess what, she was rejected.
Another classmate in law school ended up getting terrible grades and was on the verge of failing out. She confided in her roommate thinking she could trust her, and by the next day, our entire class knew everything, including details about her personal life and family. Suffice to say, she was not pleased.
The old adage oft-quoted by grandmothers everywhere still rings true: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Think of the last time someone really offended you. Maybe there’s a person who cut you to your quick or spread a rumor about you. You remember this stuff. People remember the people who make them miserable.
Of course, having an opinion is important! You should speak your mind, you should engage in good-natured debate, and it’s okay to disagree and assert your ideas. This is part of what law school and training to be an advocate is all about. Just be careful of backstabbing or spilling anything personal about yourself that you wouldn’t want shared with everyone at your school.
Recognize that you could be talking to your future boss or opposing counsel.
The nerdy girl in the back row, the gunner guy who always sits front and center, these are your colleagues, now and probably forever. You will run into them over and over again once school is over. The legal community is small, even in big cities. I have been on opposite sides of a case with attorneys who were on my staff in law review. I have attended conferences and been seated right next to people I had classes with in law school. These people won’t just disappear from your life once law school ends, so don’t give anyone a reason to remember you for your worst qualities.
Your reputation now could affect your job prospects later.
It has happened several times that a friend will be looking for an attorney and ask me for a recommendation and I will give them someone’s number based at least in part on what I remember about them from law school. Things you say and do in law school can really stick. Of course people can change, but would you recommend a lawyer to someone who you remember as being a slacker, rude, untrustworthy, or unprofessional? Probably not. Treat school like a job and conduct yourself accordingly. Or, if you’ve never had a job, treat law school like a play where you’re auditioning to get the part of the future lawyer, and act the part.
It’s okay not to like everyone, it’s not okay to be mean.
In law school, as in life, you will run into people you’d rather not deal with. Especially in your life as a young lawyer, you will need to put your personal opinions about others aside to get the job done. You might find the opposing counsel incorrigible, your client might be sort of a dirt bag.
Maybe another associate on your team is vindictive and takes credit for your work. These things happen. But guess what, no matter how awful you think these people are, your boss isn’t going to care if you hate them. You just need to get over it and do the work she’s paying you to do. If anything, having personal problems with others in a workplace or classroom setting can, more often than not, make you look bad, not them. If you find yourself confronted by any bad apples, check out this video on How to Deal with Mean Classmates in law school.
Learn to be civil at the very least.
Start being the kind of person who can get along with absolutely everyone in any situation. Treat everyone with at least basic respect and decency, even if you think they don’t deserve your admiration or friendship. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Try to get to know people before judging them. Learning to be civil and professional even when you’re offended or angry, tired, or stressed out is an art worth cultivating for your life as a future lawyer. Believe me, you’ll need it! It will serve you well later when things like losing your temper, flippant remarks, or unchecked hostility could get you fired or sued.
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Other helpful pre-1L posts:
- Pre-1L Summer Checklist
- How to Get The Most out of Law School with Extracurricular Activities
- All The Supplies You Need to Start Law School Right
- How to Start Law School Right
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