Seeing as it’s been over two months since my first year of law school ended, I guess I should probably write something at least semi-coherent about what happened during the infamous nine months of 1L.
Which is a lot harder than one might think. Even though I’ve had several months, multiple glasses of wine, countless chats with friends (both lawyer friends and otherwise), and a total change in locale (hello, NYC!) in order to both distance myself and reflect on the past year, it still feels difficult to put it into words. So I settled on a compromise - a list! - because let’s face it - I don’t think most of the (few remaining) people who still read this blog are all too interested in Torts, Contracts, and the like.
The work. Let’s be honest - most of the past year was spent doing ^ THAT ^ - reading, highlighting, taking notes, and repeating it all again and again and again and again and again until I realized I was reading the same sentence realized I was reading the same sentence realized I was reading the same sentence over and over. That usually meant it was bedtime. But you know how one’s tolerance for spicy food, or alcohol, or high altitudes can grow? So can one’s tolerance for the driest, dullest, most convoluted legal writing. (If you want a taste, take this guy out for a spin and then get back to me with a concise summary of the main legal issue. Yeah.) And while first semester it may have taken me an hour to read six pages (not an exaggeration), I was doubling that by second semester.
The people. Some of the rumors are true. People generally don’t go to law school to slack off, and people don’t generally go to law school because they lack lofty goals. Add both of those together, and you’ve got a class of Type-A go-getters who are used to being A students. And the curve (more on that in a second) means it’s literally impossible for everyone to continue being an A student. Only 10-15% can be. So, the competition is real, and it’s not fun. I’ve long considered myself a competitive person, but I was on the relaxed (yes, you read that right) end of the spectrum. There were a few people I learned the hard way that I needed to just steer clear of, because I realized studying with them just made me more anxious, because their levels of stress were higher than mine and infiltrated the mood so quickly and completely. So, what I learned was this: to spend time with people like me, who cared enough to work hard, but loved life enough to have a beer and talk about something completely non-law-school-related. And once I started doing that, at the beginning of second semester, I was so much happier, and I made some incredible friends.
The curve. I’m convinced that if law school didn’t have such a heavy curve, it’d be a totally different experience. It’s not a fun feeling, knowing that your best doesn’t matter at face value - it matters only in comparison to everyone else’s bests. The only way out is through.
The power of positive thinking (and sleep!). As I’ve hinted, I really went through a huge shift in the way I thought about things between first and second semester. I wasn’t happy with how stressed and exhausted I felt at the end of the fall semester, even though I know it’s par for the course with 1L. So I made two simple promises that I wanted so badly to keep: 1) get in bed by 11:00 p.m. every night, & 2) every night, write three positive things in my journal about my day. You guys, both of these were REALLY hard sometimes. I’ve never been a night owl, but it’s so easy to stay up late working and just suffer from exhaustion the next day…as I explained to my parents on occasion (usually when they worried about me), I could have read all night and still not caught up, sometimes.
And my list-making? Let’s just say that they’re pretty funny now. January 15: “1) A woman in the Metro this morning stopped me to ask where I got my shoes. 2) I had a good chat about Mock Trial with a 2L and am excited for tryouts! 3) I discovered “Let it Go”, sung by the one and only Idina.” Or, February 26: “1) It was sunny AND snowy today, all in one. 2) I got my first Stitch Fix (personal styling service) in the mail. 3) I took a much needed nap.” But as pathetic as some of those sound now (sunny AND snowy? come on, Claire…), I think it really helped me then.
A support system. This is maybe the hardest part of the year to put into words, but I think the most incredible part of the past year was how supported I felt by my friends and family. My parents were amazing. My dad flew out for a long weekend just to help me get settled in the new apartment, and drove Rachel and I to Ikea, Costco, and all over the place. He made THREE trips to Office Depot to get me an office chair. He put together my bed, and my futon, and our coffee table. My mom came into town on a Friday evening and spent most of it in the library with me, sitting across from me at a table, just reading and keeping me company, until we left to get margaritas. She spent an entire day shopping and cooking a freezer’s worth of delicious soups and stews that lasted me the entire semester, and for which I was grateful every time I got home at 8 p.m. and just couldn’t handle the idea of making dinner.
My friends were incredible as well; they sent care packages and little cards telling me how much they loved me and how proud they were, and they called and listened to me even when all had to talk about what law school. They reassured me that it was okay when I didn’t call them for weeks and that they understood.
Rachel, my roommate and one of my best friends, was a true superhero. I don’t use that term lightly. She, more than anyone else, had to deal with Law School Claire, and she did so like a champion. She continued to ask me about my days, every day, even when I all I would say was, “Ugh.” She sat on the couch with me eating Thai takeout (oh, there was a lot of takeout) and distracted me with Say Yes to the Dress and other
trashy fabulous reality shows. She invited me out with her whenever she made plans, and kept doing so even when I could almost never go. She told me I was absolutely entitled to eat Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter Cocoa Swirl out of the bottle with a spoon while standing in the kitchen at 10 p.m., and eat it I did. She overlooked what were unquestionably a dozen Annoying Roommate Things because she could tell I was stressed and distracted. And she cheered me on every step of the way - that photo above was our doorknob the morning of my first final). I feel like it’s largely to her credit we’re even closer now than when we first started living together, and I feel unimaginably grateful for her support over the past year.
Brian was also a superhero of the first order. He bore the brunt of the “long distance” part of our long distance relationship, taking the train or bus to DC every other weekend(and sometimes even two weeks in a row) in order to sit on my bed all weekend watching TV while I sat at my desk reading. Seriously. Those were our weekends, punctuated with maybe one Fun Thing, like seeing the cherry blossoms, or going out for dinner. He’d go grocery shopping for me, rub my shoulders, and make me laugh. He understood and accepted that I just couldn’t really do anything past 11 p.m. on weekends, and that I was often too exhausted when he arrived on Friday nights at 10:30 p.m., after a four hour bus trip at the end of his work week, to do anything besides fall asleep. He even watched the Bachelor wedding special with me one weekend, probably because he knew it’d take my mind off of the books - and that’s the ultimate sacrifice for a guy whose favorite shows are The Wire and It’s Always Sunny. He brought me McClure’s pickles and bagels from New York, which, as anyone who knows me knows, is the equivalent of a dozen long-stemmed red roses in my book. As I’ve told him, I hope (for his sake!) that he never has to do anything as all-consuming and not fun as 1L, but if he does, I will jump at the chance to be as supportive for him as he was for me this past year.
I’m a lucky, lucky girl.
I’d do it again. I know. I know. After reading all of that - and if anyone actually did, I applaud you - I imagine that it would be hard to understand why I’d put myself through 1L again. The reason? Because more than ever, I know so clearly that in order to work as a public defender - which is, cliche alert, my dream job - I need a J.D. I’ve spent this summer in an incredible public defense office - more on that another time - and I just know it’ll all be worth it.
1. Date a boy who makes you happy, but marry him only if he makes you laugh deep-belly rumbles that hurt your ribs as they expand outwards. Date him when he sees that you’re hurting and he gives you a moment to feel that pain like a handprint spreading across your consciousness, marry him only if he can make you smile even while you’re gross sobbing. The world is not a kind place. You will feel a lot of pain. Make sure you are with someone who makes it all bearable. Humor is an excellent gauge of intelligence. Life gets boring. Find someone who makes the banal interesting.
2. Make sure he has scars on the back of his hands, it’s a good sign he has experience either fighting or making things - creation is an act of selflessness and bruised knuckles are a good sign he knows how to defend himself. You’ve got too much soul to be handled by someone who has never been passionate. If he’s never thrown a punch, let him at least have tasted the insanity of bringing an idea into existence. Rough palms are better than soft ones, they have been salted by this earth and made into leather. Callouses are evidence he has lived, that he has broken skin and been in pain over and over and over again and still came back to the source of it. People rub against each other. Don’t marry him if he can’t handle even a little blister.
3. Before you say yes, get him angry. See him scared, see him wanting, see him sick. Stress changes a person. Find out if he drinks and if he does, get him drunk - you’ll learn more about his sober thoughts. Discover his addictions. See if he puts you in front of them. You can’t change people, baby girl. If they are made one way, it doesn’t just wear off. If you hate how he acts when he’s out of it now, you’re going to hate it much worse eight years down the road. You might love him to bits but it doesn’t change that some people just don’t fit.
4. Trust your instincts. If he ever makes you feel unsafe, don’t make excuses, just get up and leave. That’s all there is to it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
5. If he puts money before you, he’ll keep pushing you to the bottom of the pile until you become his last priority. It’s one thing if he can’t afford what you want, it’s another if he has the cash but won’t spring for a box of Chicken McNuggets. Money and love are arch enemies. 62% of divorces occur due to economic strain. Make sure keeping you is more important than his 401k.
6. How a man treats animals is a good indicator of how he treats children. If you see him raise a hand to a dog, pack your things into a little black bag. Animals at their worst are only half as annoying as a toddler on their best behavior. Your kids will be beautiful, but they will also misbehave. Same goes for waiters and hotel maids - if he’s rude to those who are working for minimum wage, it says a lot about how he sees himself. Patience is rare and so important. If he’s not forgiving to a dog, he’s not good for your kids.
7. If he isn’t in awe of you, he doesn’t deserve you. You are my little girl and you were born perfect. If he can’t see that, it’s his loss. There is someone who thinks your flaws power his heart. Be strong. If he asks you to change, be like like rock of your birthstone, do not waver. You are wondrous just the way that you are.