In college I attended a conference where a student discussed how he was finishing his 1L year. And he made the joke almost all law students have made since the invention of law school, which was DON’T GO! And everyone laughed, but I remember the guy’s eyes flashing with a glint of a little desperation, but then he smiled again and said he was joking.
But was he? Are we just joking when we tell people not to go? Why is law school so horrible that we dissuade others from attending? I’ve covered before why the advice for most people to not attend law school doesn’t really apply to Latinas. We should go to law school–we should be going in droves.
But law school is often still a terrible experience for us. Why is that? Why is law school terrible? I started to focus on what I hated about school. Because being a few years out, I recognize I received good training, made good friends, and don’t regret my choice of becoming a lawyer. But when I think about how I felt most of the time–it was horrible!
One. The environment is overall bad. Realize that the environment that law school creates is unhealthy. It’s competitive, but in a way that’s insidious. You’re not supposed to admit it’s a competition. You’re not supposed to admit you care about grades or that you have to try or that you don’t understand a subject. We’re all supposed to act like we’re naturally gifted. Some are, but in reality, this degree requires a lot of hard work. But when we have to do that work in secret it’s like we have to suppress our real emotions. That is definitely not healthy and does not make us feel good.
Two. People are rude. Practicing law also requires that we represent our clients zealously and show no mercy when we’re going up against adverse parties–a necessary skill, yet, I’ve noticed when we’re not careful, attorneys may become curt, dismissive, and just plain rude as a default. Think about it–you probably know some attorneys that fit this mold. I know plenty of attorneys whose nature is to be rude af (and it’s highly annoying to work with them, tbh). The issue then is that many of these professionals end up in teaching or administrator positions at your school and bring with them that same curt, dismissive attitude.
For example, let me tell you about the time I got called a liar by a motherfxcking dean of my law school! This lady was confused, but I guess couldn’t fathom that she didn’t understand something. She confronted me in front of another student about the dumbest thing ever and when I clarified she said, “well, Susie Smith said this, so either she’s lying or you’re lying.”
I remember being literally flabbergasted that a professional would accuse me in this manner. Do you think I liked law school in that moment? No, I felt like shit and even now when I see her I don’t give her the time of day because you don’t get to disrespect me and then still get to interact with me. tuh! But big picture, I think this is just how she was as a practicing attorney, like she had something to prove (she also told students of color to get thicker skin when they dealt with racist comments in class). So, yeah it’s too common that we’re not given the respect or support we need to be given as students.
Three. It’s mentally draining. Finally, as if all that wasn’t enough, law school can make you feel stupid. Not only do some professors have a bit where they try to make you feel dumb, you just will generally struggle (at first) with the topics. You’re learning a new way to think, assessing policies you’ve never been exposed to and theories that are foreign to you–it’s hard. We may not be used to struggling to succeed academically.
Now of course there may be some people whose law school experience is completely different and really enjoyed their JD experience (if so please leave your school and grad year in the comments so people can consider applying to these great schools! lol). But for those of us that have a more common experience, why go through this? Is the end result worth it?
For me, ultimately yes. The slights, the bumps and bruises were worth it to get my license. And I think that’s the case for most other Latina lawyers. But that doesn’t mean we have to be satisfied with the status quo.
There are a million ways to improve the law school experience and make it a better environment. As a student/alumni you have a voice to help direct how your school responds to certain issues. The worst thing we can do is think we have no ability to stand up for ourselves simply because this institution admitted us. No–you’re not a visitor at this PWI. They’re not letting you in as a favor. You have the ability and power to change the structure, the culture, the expectations of how your law school operates. Do you need more admin/faculty of color? Demand it. Do you need more access to opportunities? Make it happen. Regardless of how much you dislike your experience, don’t forget that you can use your schools resources and tools to challenge how things are because there’s no rule that says that how things must continue to be.