Law School

Breaking Barriers: Overcoming the 1L Emotional Roller Coaster

By now, I’m sure most of you have heard or read that super odd article by David Brooks. He tried to explain that the rich and powerful maintain a culture of separatism from other socioeconomic brackets in an effort to keep others from joining their ranks. A valid point, followed by the most asinine example of a friend too stupid to pick out sandwiches, apparently. I definitely side-eyed the hell out of that example, but I have to admit that he was right in that there’s a culture and code that is hard to break into. If you’re about to enter into law school soon, I don’t want to scare you, but I do want to warn you—law school may feel odd for you. It’s highly likely that unless you come from a high-income family or are used to living and networking with higher socioeconomic brackets, you will experience a bit of disorientation when you start school.

I want to flesh this out to help you realize that it’s not you—it’s the system. It’s normal for you to experience a bit of a culture shock the first few months (maybe longer) of your 1L year. You may feel uneasy about the expectations, unsure about your ability, and out of place with people who just seem to naturally “get” it.  Unless your law school is hella diverse or has done a great job of making sure students of color feel welcome, this may be your experience and it can be disheartening. Even if you went to a private institution for undergrad, your law school experience will be like a heightened sense of privilege and it takes a while to adjust. I remember a classmate asking me within the first weeks of school how financial aid worked because she had never had to use it (!!!).

So again, it’s normal to feel out of place. The schools do a great job of hyping up the “accomplished” students they drew into the school and hearing about their accomplishments can make you feel small. Sitting at my orientation hearing about the doctor joining my class, the professional sports players, the former teachers, etc etc. made me ask how I got a seat there? How could I even compete with them? No doubt, those accomplishments were great, but mine were too—schools just don’t tend to tout the importance of first gen students or students who pulled themselves out of poverty/violence/systemic racism… Think about your own struggles and hurdles to get to where you are and trust that you aren’t out of place—you’re where you belong.

You may also begin to self-doubt that you’re able to meet the requirements set before you. I remember how I struggled to understand legal writing when one of my classmates just seemed to innately know how to do it. He must have been so much smarter than me and better at learning, right? Sure. Or it helped that he came from a family of lawyers—something I didn’t know at the time. So instead of realizing this person knew his stuff because he had guidance and familiarity with it, I just assumed it was because I was dumb. And if you find yourself in that tailspin—stop! Of course there will be people smarter than you in school, that’s a given, but it’s a death spiral when you start to assume that everyone is better than you. You’ll rarely know the big picture and history/resources behind a person—instead focus on your own growth and know that you’re capable.

1L is a rollercoaster of emotions. If you read our past summer series guest post from rising 2Ls you’ll see a common theme in many of them—1L year strips you down and often you lose sight of your goal (why you went to law school in the first place) because you feel out of place or disconnected. This emotional process is completely normal. And once you know the signs, it’s easier to manage.

Ok let’s not end on a downer—law school is scary, but it’s exciting! You’re about to embark in an exciting adventure that will give you tools to make a difference that’s long-lasting and meaningful. Don’t question for a second that you’re not where you’re supposed to be!