The concept of bringing your significant other to law school with you almost every day probably sounds frustrating to some and fantastic to others. Due to my disability and the fact that she is my primary caregiver, my fiancée Caitlin attends school with me at least three days out of the week; I am sure you have seen us around. The truth of the matter is that it is both frustrating and great having Caitlin with me, oftentimes both at the same time.
Caitlin and I have been together since I was a senior in high school. She and I started living together when I started college and by my junior year she was attending the majority of my classes with me. Going into my 1L year the plan was for her to come to school with me three days of the week, with the other two days being covered by my other caregiver, Danny. Naively, I assumed that this plan would go just as smoothly for us as it had during the last two years of my undergraduate career. Having both attended Lakeland University, Caitlin and I shared a common group of friends there and she was already familiar with the campus and faculty. Even though the social sciences were not her area of study, she tended to follow along with some of my classes. We discovered quickly that law school is (at the risk of sounding incredibly cliché) a completely different animal.
There are many aspects of our current situation that can be frustrating. For Caitlin, the most frustrating thing about coming to Eckstein Hall so often is that she simply does not feel like she belongs there. Pursuing a career in law is my dream, not hers. An unfortunate byproduct of our situation is that Caitlin spends a lot of time helping me pursue my own aspirations instead of being able to use that time to pursue her own aspirations, as a writer and an artist. It is a problem that we have both acknowledged and are attempting to alleviate.
Even though our situation can be frustrating, there are definitely positive outcomes as well. One of the most notable benefits of having Caitlin with me is simply that she grounds me. Something that I do often, and something that I am sure my peers struggle with as well, is set my expectations for myself too high. Obviously pushing yourself to be the best that you can possibly be is necessary, especially in a law school setting. However, I think some of the toughest moments in law school are those where we fail to meet the standards, not of our professors or bosses, but of ourselves. Those moments where the brief that you have been working gets torn to shreds by a friend or professor. Those moments where you get put on call, fall flat on your face, and seemingly make a complete fool of yourself in front of an entire class. Those late nights leading up to finals where you are essentially trying to teach yourself the entire semester’s worth of material, all the while berating yourself for not “being better” throughout the semester. Those are the toughest moments. But they are also the moments where I feel the luckiest because I have my number one fan and supporter there with me through it all.
Maybe that brief was not as good as I wanted it to be. Caitlin reminds me that I am writing documents that most laypeople could not write and that I am doing it well enough to pass my classes. She reminds me that legal writing is a skill that I will not be perfect at right away (which is the admittedly unrealistic standard that I have held myself to all year). Rather, it is something that I will only get better at with practice and time. Maybe I did not do so well with that last on-call, but Caitlin reminds me that those are not make-or-break moments in law school and therefore it does not pay to dwell on them; “next time you will crush it.” Above all, she reminds me that going to law school is a pretty amazing feat on its own. Oftentimes, I think we law students get so absorbed in the day-to-day grind of what we are doing, that we forget the magnitude of what we are actually doing. We are going to law school! Succeeding in law school, even if you personally feel that you can do better, is pretty amazing. I am lucky enough to have someone who reminds me of that fact, particularly in those moments where I come down on myself in an unrealistic or excessive way.
I don’t think that I am bringing any new information to the table when I say that we are only as successful as our support systems. My college degree may have my name on it, but the truth is that without Caitlin and a few other special people in my life, I would not have gotten that degree at all. The same will be said about my J.D. Because really, what are we without those special people?