Law School is Life-Changing—and about Changing Lives

Law school is hard. In your first year, you’re scared and unsure about what to expect. You know that “on-call” is a thing that happens, but you don’t know whether it’s like the movies you’ve seen or if that was just Hollywood. You know you have more reading assigned than you’ve ever had, and you don’t know how in the world you will get it all done. You don’t know anyone, or at least don’t know them well, as you go through the hardest task you have ever taken on.

Law school is hard. In your second year, you understand the process, but you’re starting to wear down. You have figured out how to read hundreds of pages a week—and mostly retain it—but you don’t know how to balance working and extra-curriculars and dramatic interpersonal relationships at the same time. You’re starting to get worried about having a job after graduation. The rankings roll in and you aren’t sure whether you’re succeeding, based on your own standards or those imposed on you.

Law school is hard. In your third year, you have a job . . . or you don’t. You’re tired—mentally, physically, and emotionally. You’re so excited to be done, but that light at the end of the tunnel is still so far away, and even that is scary. Sure, you’re ready to be done with law school—but maybe not ready to be a full-time, practicing attorney. You hope the work is done—after all, the three years are up—but you know that practice won’t be any easier.

Law school is hard. It is frustrating, challenging, infuriating, scary, soul-crushingly busy. It changes people, it changes families, it takes over lives. Research indicates that law students around the globe go into law school with similar—and low—incidence of mental health or substance abuse problems, but leave law school with up to 40% higher incidence of anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. See, e.g., Michael Appleby & Judy Bourke, Promoting Law Student Mental Health Literacy and Wellbeing: A Case Study from The College of Law, Australia, 20 Int’l J. Clinical Legal Educ. 461, 464-65 (2014); Jerome M. Organ, Davis B. Jaffe & Katherine M. Bender, Suffering in Silence: The Survey of Law Student Well-Being and the Reluctance of Law Students to Seek Help for Substance Use and Mental Health Concerns, 66 J. Legal. Educ. 116,136-38 (2016); Patrick R. Krill, Ryan Johnson & Linda Albert, The Prevalence of Substance Use and Other Mental Health Concerns Among American Attorneys, 10 J. Addiction Med.  46, 51 (2016).

Law school is, indeed, hard. But law school—and legal practice—changes lives. Three weeks before spring finals of my 2L year, I was deeply entrenched in the above sentiments. And then I received a text message from the wonderful attorney I worked with during my rising-2L summer. A client I worked with that summer won the first part of her case—on a crazy argument in a brief I wrote that didn’t lend itself to a high probability of success. A client who had lived through unspeakable loss and injury with so much hope, love, and resilience that she will remain in memory as a role model for me for the rest of my career. A client who deserved everything, but expected nothing from the legal system and from this country.

That text message forced me to revisit and revise. Law school is hard—but it was never meant to be easy. Law school is meant to test your resilience, your drive, your commitment. Law school is meant to make sure you are worthy of helping people; people who need you to be at the top of your game at all times. Law school is designed to demand your best, and put you in the habit of meeting that expectation for years to come.

Try to set yourself a reminder: Law school is hard, but it changes your life so you can change the lives of others. For that, it all seems worth it.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Elisabeth Thompson

    Amen, Courtney. Glad to be sharing the journey with you!!

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