As the month is now halfway gone, I offer these thoughts in an attempt to fulfill my guest-blogging obligations and hopefully to hear how others feel their experience within legal academia has shaped their perception of the world. To be completely honest, I have struggled to think of a topic to write about, but I believe this topic is fitting as the end of the 2010-2011 year was not that long ago, and many of us find ourselves trying to figure out exactly what impact the previous academic year has had on the way we interact with the world around us.
For me, this is a difficult topic to explain because at this moment I am only able to recognize that I am a dramatically different person. I cannot articulate exactly how this past year has changed my perception and sense of self. To put things in perspective, and hopefully explain better what I am referring to, I think it is easiest to move back first to high school and college.
When I entered high school as a freshman, my teachers constantly reminded my classmates and me that we would experience personal growth and change by the time we graduated. They were correct, and those changes were obvious. For most of us, four years passed from the time we were freshman to graduating seniors; we were more mature (hopefully) and the four years that elapsed had prepared us to survive on our own in whatever endeavor was to come next.
For me, that next endeavor was college. When I entered college, the freshman-senior transformation was not belabored quite as much, but it was still apparent. My professors still explained that my classmates and I had a lot to learn, that there was a whole world view that high school had failed to impress upon us, and again, how different we would be by the time we became seniors and graduated. Once again, my professors were correct, even for those classmates that only completed a year or two of college, as my classmates and I became more mature and perceived and reacted to the world around us differently as a result of our college education.
To be sure, when I entered law school, I was informed that my legal education would impress drastic personal changes as well. I was informed that I would learn a whole new language, be instructed to think in a whole new paradigm, and would be challenged academically like I never had been before. Unlike high school or college, however, there was never an impression that these changes would not be experienced until graduation, and for good reason.
After only one semester of law school I felt like a completely different person, almost as if there was a whole world out there that I had just discovered for the first time. Torts, Contracts, and Criminal Law were not merely classes or bodies of laws, but they were now part of my life. As odd as it may seem, I could see all three in action on a daily basis, knowing quite well that they were always there, but I had previously been uninformed of their existence. Suffice it to say, my first semester of law school drastically changed the way I looked at the world around me.
The changes in my perception and personality did not stop after that first semester. After completing my first year, I felt vindicated. Regardless of where I stood academically, I had survived. My only goal in life was to go to law school and after my second semester I felt that I had realized that goal. On top of a personal sense of accomplishment, I also realized that my method of thinking and the ways that I approached any problem had also dramatically changed. The analytical tools that I was taught in the classroom did not stay in the classroom; they had now bled into all aspects of my life, and impacted almost every decision that I made. Again, my second semester of law drastically changed the way I looked at the world around me.
This long-winded explanation of how my experiences in academia have shaped my behaviors and perceptions of the world was necessary to illustrate two things: (1) that, in my opinion, a legal education dramatically and very quickly alters the way that individuals act and view the world around them in a positive fashion, and (2) that unlike high school and college, every semester of law school has this impact on each student’s life. Thus, I realize that my third and fourth semesters have also impacted the way that I perceive the world, only I had not considered this reality at all until recently.
All of which ultimately brings me to my main point, that the second year of my legal education has impacted my perception of the world more than any other activity prior to it. It has done so in such a fashion that I cannot even begin to articulate how my personal behavior or perception of the world differs from my behaviors and perceptions prior to my second year. The change has been so profound that I can only say that I am a dramatically different person than I was a year ago, and I continue to struggle to understand exactly what has happened. Even though I cannot put my finger on what happened, I know that it has occurred.
Upon further reflection, this enigma seems to make more sense. It is well known that the second year of law school is the most difficult. There is some control that a student can have, depending on how many activities one takes on, but regardless, it is universally agreed upon that it is the toughest. This reality was no different for me. I am proud of what I accomplished in the second year, and I am glad that I survived it, but I would never want to experience it again. At the same time, I do not regret the activities that I engaged in, or the actions that I took. Similar to a marathon or some harrowing physical feat, I believe that a student’s second year of law school makes them a better person simply for having completed it. After such a demanding year, it is not that surprising that I have experienced personal changes without actually taking the time to realize what they are.
In short, this whole idea came to me when I thought of something I did a year ago, and realized how much I have changed in such a short period of time. Reflecting on this memory made me realize how different I am today, even though I cannot explain what changes have occurred or give any explanation of how I have grown as a person. Although it may seem obvious that personal growth continues on during one’s legal education, for me it was somewhat of a surprise as I felt that law school’s impact had ended after the first year was completed.
I may never know how my second year has changed me, but writing this piece has made me come to the conclusion that even though we often place all of our focus as law students on the economy, jobs, class rank, and academic competition generally,I realize that a legal education is a brilliant investment regardless where one eventually comes out in those categories. As idealistic as it may sound, the personal growth that I have experienced, and I know I will continue to experience, will always make my legal education worth my time, effort, and money. Hopefully, one of these days, I will be able to realize exactly how the second year of my legal education has changed me as a person. For now, it is enough to understand that I will never regret my choice to pursuit a legal education, because I can confidently say that the changes I have experienced as a result of my legal education have made me a better person in every aspect of my life. In the end, perhaps that is all there is to it; my first year taught me I could make it through law school and my second year taught me that it was the correct decision to go to law school all along.