Law School

Law School Culture Shock: Keep These Things in Mind

We talk a lot about how different law school feels once you start. It can all be so overwhelming that at times you may think that you’re the only struggling, when that’s not the case at all. I wanted to discuss culture shock and adjusting to your new law school reality.

First, culture shock is real. Whenever you enter new environments with new social cues and norms, it can be difficult to get a handle of it. When I first started, I could NOT get over the idea that people actually wore suits. Like, it felt like a costume; not something I would actually wear for an entire day. It was such a weird expectation (for me), that during my first oral argument in my writing course, I actually changed into my suit, rather than wear it all day because it felt so unnatural. Maybe I’m the only freak, but I imagine there’s some rule about law school/legal practice that feels just as odd to you. We all have our weird moments of shock, but here are the most common: 

One. You suddenly read slower. Before law school, reading was my claim to fame. I read everything and fast. Lawyers are voracious readers, but then we come to law school and can’t get through 20 pages in an hour. Or maybe we can read it, but comprehension is out the window. This is normal. You’re reading English that is often not clear– some is as old as the 1800s. It’s going to take you a while to decipher what it all means. Everyone is struggling and that’s a good thing! You’re learning a new skill and a new way to analyze. It’s incredibly rare that it will come naturally. Give yourself time and cut yourself some slack. 

Two. Professors are mean. Maybe you’re used to a undergrad profs that are a little sassy or sarcastic, but likely you’re jarred by just how outright mean a professor can seem. Like they take pleasure in highlighting how wrong a student is; like, ouch? My civ pro prof had quite a few “sayings,” when someone was wrong and everyone would laugh uncomfortably. But the one that cut the deepest (that I still remember to this day) is my contract professor, looking bored as she scanned the rest of the classroom, asking, “does anyone have the right answer?” after a student tried her best to answer her question. Ouch. So it’s not your imagination. Sometimes they’re mean. And even if they’re not mean, they make you feel dumb. It’s part of the Socratic method. I wish the culture wasn’t so weird, but it is. You’ll learn to roll with it, and once you’re a few years removed, it will be a funny story.

Three. Don’t believe the hype. Everyone (who is smart enough to know this) knows that they’re in over their head. They know that law school won’t be a walk in the park and will require hard work, sacrifice, and planning. But too many don’t want to admit it–I really don’t know why people want to pretend everything is naturally easy, but that is most people’s MO and so there’s a lot of false bravado–or worse, people who don’t know that there’s a lot that they don’t know (hello gunners!). This false confidence can heighten your feelings of insecurity. If everyone seems to get it but you, then what does that mean about your abilities? Nothing. Remember–law school is a competition, but you have to focus on your own race. Don’t worry about how “easy” it is for everyone else because you already know you have to work hard, sacrifice, and plan to succeed–focus on that. 

Four. It feels like a mistake. That is the biggest problem you may face once you start school. You may feel isolated, confused, overwhelmed, and homesick. And let’s not even talk about stress and confusion. You can be a few weeks in or semesters in and feel like you made a mistake. This happens to most people because law school is not fun! It’s an intensive process that literally teaches you a new way to think. Difficult is an understatement. Don’t make decisions when you’re feeling low. Take the time to remember why you’ve chosen this path–and keep moving forward.