Law school is a wonderful experience. It’s terrifying, I have to admit, but it’s an opportunity that few people get and it’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Coming into law school, I heard many a rumor including things like: you won’t have much, if any, free time; the workload is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before; and on-calls are really, really scary. If I could send a message to incoming 1L’s and my pre-1L self from right now, there are a couple of things that I would tell myself. The main thing that I would say is that all of those things are true, with some caveats.
In the beginning of 1L year, I found myself with little to no free time. Days were spent in class and nights were spent doing the reading assignments for said classes. (Side note: don’t use the word “said” to refer to something. It’s old “legalese” and it’s out of fashion. While I’m at it, forget how you thought attorneys spoke and wrote. You were wrong.) At first, I had no idea what I was doing. I read the cases, briefed the cases, and hoped to god that I got the right things out of those cases. Those three things consumed most of my time every day during the week and weekend. This is exactly what I feared law school would be: a never-ending stream of work that I didn’t know what to do with. However, as time went on, I started to understand what I needed to look for in cases and how to be more efficient with my time. It wasn’t an overnight process, but the saying that “practice makes perfect” applies directly to law school. If there was one thing that I could tell myself prior to the first day of class on this topic, it would be to remain patient. Learning “how to law school” takes time and the assignments will be hard to get through for a while.
The next thing I heard about law school stems directly from the first one. The workload was supposed to be unlike anything I had seen before. There are no qualifying statements about this one. The workload is large, and homework will take longer than it used to. If I could do one thing to quell the nerves about this rumor, it would be to ask myself a simple question. Isn’t that exactly what you were looking for? It’s law school. It should be challenging and time consuming. You’re here to learn how to take complex problems and put them into simple language. People are going to trust you with their potentially life-altering problems in the future, so the least you could do is do the work required of you to learn how to handle those problems. The workload is large, but the work is rewarding and it’s what you’ve been looking forward to for years.
The last rumor about the dreaded on-calls requires the most qualification. On-calls are really, really scary. At least, the first few are. The first week of law school I was called on in back-to-back classes. I don’t remember a word that I said, and my heart raced faster than it ever had for those 10-15-minute time periods. However, after those first two, things got easier. If I could tell myself one thing about on-calls, it would be that it’s alright to mess up. Nobody will think that you’re an idiot because of it. Everybody will be in that same situation at least once in law school, and your classmates will pick you up. So long as you do the assignments and try to comprehend what’s going on, you should be fine. If a professor asks a question and you have no idea, that’s okay. Try to work through it, but if you ultimately don’t succeed that doesn’t mean you’ll be a failure as a law student or lawyer. On-calls are scary, but if do your work, everything will be fine.
I would close by giving myself a couple of pieces of advice. First, things are going to be uncomfortable and confusing for a while. The people who can help the most with that are your professors. Those menacing figures who stand at the front of the classroom and make you go through those previously mentioned on-calls are there to help. They’re professors for a reason. They’re intelligent and want to help you learn what the law is. Go to their office hours and ask questions if you have them (If Professor Oldfather is still offering pretzels, take him up on that for me. I regret not doing it at least once). Second, Marquette is a special place. The law school environment is crazy competitive, but the Marquette community knows how to take a step back from that. Most people will be really nice and willing to help. That isn’t the case in some other law schools, so be mindful of it and learn to work with your classmates. Lastly, enjoy it. You put in the work to get here, so take some time to appreciate the process. 1L year is hard, and there are always bumps and bruises along the way. Things do get better, so don’t take the rumors too seriously.