I have described my summer before law school many times–how emotionally difficult it was because I didn’t think I’d be able to pay for my law school deposit. And how frustrating 1L semester was when I had to work extra shifts at a retail store just to make rent, sacrificing precious study time. I could go on and on about how draining it is to go into this endeavor (and college really) as a student from a low-income family, and when you’re first gen, there’s an added barrier of navigating the higher Ed system with little guidance. It is tough.
So I wanted to take this time, as many of you are beginning 1L year, to say that it’s really normal to feel isolated, defeated, frustrated, and even angry when you see others have so much while you struggle to make do. And I don’t just mean financial resources–you may get sad that no one in your family understands what you’re experiencing or has the ability to inform/guide your next steps. You may feel like you’re always behind when other seems to inherently understand the law school procedures and customs that seem foreign to you. Those are all difficult experiences on top of not having enough money.
How do you overcome this? Everyone’s ability to manage negative emotions vary and you know your best coping mechanisms but what ultimately worked for me was to not dwell on the bad too much. Yes, there were days I walked home from work in tears of frustration because my feet hurt, I was tired, and still had so much reading to do–but I’d shake it off and get to work because I was also used to just making do with what I had. Taking the time to acknowledge my feelings, but then putting a real limit to stop wallowing and start working, worked for me. More than that, I decided to take real control of my finances (i.e. find a good work study job) so that I could quit my retail job my second semester and focus on my classes.
I also became more understanding of the disconnect I was beginning to feel (and has increased) between me and family. At some point, I accepted that no one in my family would be able to guide me on how this system would work or understand the steps I would have to take to reach my goal. Instead of getting upset that they didn’t “get it,” I made it a point accept the support that could be given and appreciate what that means even if they didn’t understand. This also encouraged me to expand my support system by networking and increasing the amount of other professionals that could help me.
Expanding my professional circle is also how I handled the other, difficult aspect of seeing how other people seemed to naturally know what to do about applying for summer jobs, or how to study, or how to network. I felt so out of place and it took a long time for me to feel like I could one day not feel like an outsider. But once my professional circle grew, I gleaned info from them that helped guide my next steps. Joining LLSA, bar associations, and other affinity groups can really make a difference in how steady you feel as you embark in this new adventure.
Ultimately, 1L year can be an emotional rollercoaster for everyone. But those of us without a lot of means and access can feel the sting a little more (like we kind of always do), but emotions feel heightened as a law student, and if you’re not careful the negative can overwhelm. Instead, remind yourself that there will be moments of doubt, sadness, and frustration but they will pass. And with a little preparation and self-awareness, you’ll not only survive, but thrive.