Practical LSAT Prep Tips

LSAT TIPS

This post is especially for anyone in the LSAT prep process, or anyone thinking about law school. I don’t claim to be an expert or a prodigy – my LSAT score was pretty average, but I did learn a few things through my experience that I definitely want to share with others.

Take a practice exam.

This, in my opinion, should be the very first thing you do when starting to prepare for the real thing. How are you going to know what you need to improve upon if you don’t know where you’re at right now? I highly recommend taking this practice exam, straight from the LSAC website itself. I took it under realistic timed conditions (directions for that here) to see what a real exam would be like, but you can also do it untimed to focus more heavily on certain sections.

Identify your weaknesses.

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Image source: http://amzn.to/2tf8I4Y

Now that you’ve taken and scored a practice exam, you can see which section(s) are hardest for you. For me, logic games were the WORST. Using an outside supplement to help you deconstruct and understand the questions can be really helpful. I used the PowerScore LSAT Logic Games Bible, and it literally saved my life – and raised my score! I highly recommend their series – they have books for Logical Reasoning and Reading Comprehension, too.

Use your learning style to your advantage.

A lot of us law students (and future law students) are so used to naturally excelling in school that we’ve never really thought about what makes us most successful, or why some things come more easily to us than others. For me, I’m a visual and tactile learner. I need to either see something drawn out in front of me, or try to do it myself, in order to fully grasp a concept. You may be an auditory learner, so lectures might be the best way for you to learn. Knowing how you best process and synthesize information can help you decide how to study for the LSAT. Not really knowing my learning style at the time, I enrolled in an in-person class to prepare for the second time I took the LSAT. While the information did get through to me eventually, I generally find lectures to be tedious and often boring. But when I turned to my practice books and worked out some things myself, I grasped concepts much more quickly. To identify your learning style and strategies that may work best for you, I recommend taking this test or this test.

Start studying as early as possible.

The more months you have to prepare for the LSAT, the more you’ll improve. I promise. I only had two months to study for my October LSAT, and then about a month and a half to study for when I retook it in December. Two months sounds like a lot, but when you’re taking 18 credits and also have a job, it’s not much time at all. Giving yourself 3-6 months is ideal for the kind of growth you want. Any more and you may burn yourself out, and any less you will probably feel rushed for time. I’m glad I’m attending my top choice law school, but if I had the opportunity to prepare more for the LSAT, I would have – just to get my score a few points higher.

Study as often as (reasonably) possible.

I know it’s not fun, but the more hours you put into LSAT prep, the more you’ll get out of it. Change up your studying style to stay fresh. I alternated which sections I worked on during the week, and then took practice tests on the weekends. Don’t burn yourself out by taking more than one practice test in a sitting, though.

Don’t be afraid to take it again.

If you have the means, and you aren’t satisfied with your LSAT score the first time around, don’t be afraid to take it again. I believe my improved score really helped me get into the schools I did, and if you’re right on the threshold of a certain score – like a 158, but you want a 160, or a 163 , and you want a 165 – continued practice and another chance may help push you over that edge.

Warn your friends and family.

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My pledge family brought me dinner one night when I was suffering in the library!

By preparing for the LSAT, you’re making your first foray into the legal world, which means long hours and often means being tired and feeling ragged. Your loved ones want to help you out, but may not understand the rigors that come with starting a legal education. Let them know the things you need – a movie break, food delivered, a long talk on the phone – and let them know when you’re sorry, but you just need a couple days to isolate yourself and take frustrating tests over and over. It may be hard for them to understand what you’re pursuing and going through, but they’ll be there for you, cheering, on the other side.

Take care of yourself.

As I say in pretty much every post, taking care of yourself is crucial. The LSAT is not easy and there will be times when you’re frustrated, tired, confused, sad, annoyed, or bored. Take breaks after completing sections. Give yourself at least one day off each week from studying. Eat regularly and as healthily as possible, especially close to exam time. Get a full night’s sleep before the exam. And, most importantly, remind yourself that this is only one test, and one part of your law school application. It’s important, but not the final determination of your destiny. Study hard, be good to yourself, breathe, and focus. You’ll be just fine.

The Truth About Being Gay in Law School

Please check out this disclaimer before reading this post!!

 

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I came into law school fresh out of an environment that was pretty hospitable to my identities. I was part of an inclusive sorority, had tons of progressive friends from many different walks of life, and graduated from the top journalism school in the country. I felt pretty lucky, and I still do. But law school is a whole different ball game. I went from moving through a campus of about 30,000 undergrads every day to having all my classes within one building with roughly 400 other students.

I’ve been out in real life for about four or five years now, and out on social media for about three years. Despite that, I was somewhat nervous about being out and navigating a small law school, especially because I knew approximately one person in my incoming class of 106. How much do these people know about LGBTQ issues? I’d thought. Am I going to have to fight homophobes every day? How is my identity going to intersect with the things I’ll come across as a law student, and one day as an attorney?

I’m happy to report that I got through my 1L year with minimal issues (again, a testament to my privilege, and also probably to my reputation as someone who’d fight you if you said anything ignorant to my face), and now I want to offer some advice to future/other current LGBTQ law students.

1. Research your law school.

Every ABA-accredited law school in the United States, Canada, and Australia has been researched and surveyed by the Law School Admissions Council based on its friendliness toward LGBTQ students. The criteria in the survey include: whether the school has a non-discrimination policy that includes LGBTQ people, whether the school has LGBTQ organization(s), and whether the school has LGBTQ faculty/staff/administrators. I wish I had known about this survey prior to law school! I’m lucky that my school has fulfilled almost all the criteria.

That being said, even if your law school doesn’t have a non-discrimination policy that protects LGBTQ students, that may not necessarily mean the administration or student body will be hostile to LGBTQ people. It may even be a great opportunity for you (if you’re willing/able to do so) to bring students together to implement such a policy at your school. If you have specific questions about a law school’s environment, you should contact their admissions office, who may even be able to connect you with LGBTQ students or organizations at the school. And if your school DOES have a non-discrimination policy…then that’s a good way to hold people accountable ūüôā

2. There is no right way to be an LGBTQ law student (or person).

You don’t have to be out. Not in law school, not to your friends/family, not on social media. You don’t have to do anything until or unless you’re comfortable. There’s also nothing wrong with you if you are out, and are comfortable talking about it/bringing it up at school. Either way, I guarantee you are not the only LGBTQ person at your law school. I promise.

But depending on your situation, you may feel lonely at times. Being out in law school has given me this reality check that undergrad didn’t. During undergrad, I was able to surround myself with many LGBTQ people and understanding straight people – and I had a big pool to choose from. In law school, especially at a small one, you kind of get what you get. Not that I don’t love the many friends I do have – but sometimes, being the (loudest) gay one is kind of isolating. It reminds you that most people in the world are, in fact, straight and cis. It reminds you that a lot of people just don’t know about LGBTQ issues. Hearing people constantly and unquestioningly treat being straight/cis as the norm can be really tiring. You learn about certain laws that don’t take LGBTQ people into account, or purposely leave us out – like sexual assault statutes or equal protection laws. It reminds you of how much work is left to be done. But if you’re lucky, most of the “straight/cis-default” environment of law school is due to inexperience with or ignorance about LGBTQ issues, instead of hostility or hatred toward them. Which, then, opens a door for you to…

3. Join (or start) your school’s LGBTQ law organization.

Again, of course, if you’re comfortable. Even if you’re not out, many LGBTQ organizations accept allies, so you can join and participate without feeling the need to disclose anything. At my law school, our LGBTQ organization had fallen by the wayside the semester before I started. Some amazing fellow 1Ls and I restarted our Lambda Legal chapter, and I’m excited to begin my second term as vice president. In our first year, we’ve gotten to volunteer in our community, talk with professors about LGBTQ issues, go to an eye-opening conference, and more. I’m excited about the opportunities our group will have going forward. If anyone is interested, I can definitely do a separate post about starting an organization at your school, or I can answer any questions about doing so directly via email!

4. Seek out a mentor.

This goes for all law students, but I think it’s especially important for law students of marginalized identities to have someone to go to when things get hard. Even if it’s not specifically an LGBTQ staff member, having someone who cares about your wellbeing as an LGBTQ student – not DESPITE your status as an LGBTQ student – is crucial. I’m lucky to have a few professors and staff members who regularly want to hear about not only my academic performance, but also my whole experience at school. This has made all the difference when things have gotten tough. It’s also refreshing to have a perspective from somebody who’s not a fellow student.

5. If you’re comfortable – educate somebody.

As mentioned, part of being one of the few LGBTQ people in any insular environment is that a lot of your peers just aren’t going to get it. They’ll unintentionally say something offensive, not recognize their privilege, or just flat-out not know anything about the issues. Depending on your background and experience, this may be frustrating, because a lot of this knowledge may seem like a no-brainer to you. I had a conversation with some classmates this past semester about gender identity and how one’s genitals don’t necessarily dictate one’s sex. Being able to see my friends move from genuine confusion to understanding was pretty cool. Obviously, not every interaction is going to perfectly, and there will be times that you just might not feel comfortable or have enough energy to educate people. That’s okay. The marginalized are not required to educate the privileged. But if the moment strikes and you feel comfortable, it might end up being a rewarding interaction for all parties.

6. If you’re comfortable – call somebody out.

In the same vein – some people are going to be downright ignorant and not care. Even worse, some might be ignorant and rude intentionally. Even more so here, you are not required to use your precious energy to confront them and educate them. I’ve overheard a few ignorant conversations in the past year. Sometimes I engaged, sometimes I didn’t. While it’s very noble to want to jump in and defend the LGBTQ community, consider your options and the possible consequences. There’s a chance it might go well – but some people are just stuck in their ways, unfortunately. As a bottom line, do what you’re comfortable with, but don’t feel bad if you can’t change the mind of someone determined to be ignorant. There are better, more receptive minds to work with.

7. If you’re having an issue, talk to somebody.

Law school is HARD. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve learned that while the material is very advanced and arcane, the lifestyle was the hardest for me to get used to. You’re expected to be “on” at all times, ready to be cold-called, in pretty much every class. After hours of class, you have to go home and do readings for the next day, in addition to whatever writing assignments you may have. And if you have a job, a family or are in clubs – good luck. All this is further complicated when you possess an identity that isn’t always respected or understood. It can truly be exhausting. You’re already tired, but then if you hear a particularly nasty microaggression or something else oppressive to your identity happens, you can break. I highly encourage all law students, especially those with a marginalized identity to seek out counseling if you even have the slightest inkling you might need it. It’s better to have a plan in place and not need it, instead of having to wait two weeks or more for an appointment that you need right now.

8. Don’t take unprofessionalism from anybody.

I’ve had pretty great experiences with the faculty and staff at my law school. Spring semester, Lambda held a brown bag lunch and invited all the faculty to talk openly about LGBTQ issues with us. The sheer number of professors and deans who listened to us, asked thoughtful questions, and then signed up to be part of our future events was amazing. However, I know this isn’t the case at every institution or in everyone else’s experience. If you’re outed, tokenized, ignored, talked down to, or experience any negative treatment from a faculty or staff member when you deserve the utmost respect – tell someone. Institutions of learning, especially professional schools like law schools and med schools, are places where you need to feel safe and able to learn. Just because someone is in a position of power over you does not give them a license to be disrespectful.

9. Help those who’ll come after you.

Believe it or not, 1L year will end, and you’re going to be just fine. You’ll learn a lot, grow so much, and hopefully will have established good relationships with people in your building. While I’d like to forget ever being a 1L, I know incoming 1Ls and other future law students will benefit from hearing about my experience – that’s pretty much the whole point of this blog. While you certainly don’t have to start a blog yourself, paying it forward in any way is super rewarding for both you and the people who’ll come after you. If you happen to hear of an LGBTQ student visiting your law school, volunteer to talk with them. Encourage 1Ls to join your orgs. Seek out 1Ls and even undergrads who may be considering law school, and talk frankly with them about the environment of your law school. They’ll appreciate it more than you know.

10. Be good to yourself.

Easier said than done – but if you’re an LGBTQ law student, or LGBTQ and considering law school, please understand how amazing you are. Law school as an institution is still very exclusive and still somewhat old-fashioned – many schools still don’t have an equal ratio of male to female students yet. According to a recent survey, less than 3% of practicing attorneys are openly LBGTQ. It can be daunting some days – but you’re doing it. Even if you don’t realize it, your very survival and success are revolutionary acts. Keep going, but don’t forget to slow down and take care of yourself when it gets hard. We’re in this together – and the world can’t wait to see who you become.

 

1L Survival Series

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With my 1L year solidly behind me – I did it! – and with eight more weeks of an amazing summer internship ahead of me, I’m going to be using my downtime this summer to blog as much as I can. I’m not exaggerating when I say that 1L year was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. While I’m still by means no legal expert, I want to share the wisdom I’ve gained this past year, and I’m excited to share with you all the 1L Survival Series I’m going to be writing. I’m going to touch on different things you can do as a law student to make your first year less of a headache. Among the topics I’m going to be blogging about are:

  • The Truth About Being Gay in Law School
  • LSAT Prep: What I Did, What Worked, and What Didn’t
  • The Law School Application Timeline
  • How to Pass a Difficult Class
  • How to Stay (or at Least Somewhat Become) Healthy in Law School
  • Law School Drama and How to Stay Above It
  • How to Rock Your On-Campus Interviews
  • Summer Internship Wardrobe Essentials
  • Outlining
  • The Best Apps for Law Students
  • The Best Planners for Law School
  • Budgeting in Law School
  • How to Have the Best Intern/Externship Ever
  • …and hopefully more!

I truly appreciate everybody who follows and reads this blog – I didn’t think hundreds of people each month would be listening to and identifying with my stressed-out ramblings. With that said, I want to be able to give you all as much insight as I can, in order to help out future (and current) law students. Law school is no simple undertaking – but knowing what to expect can truly make all the difference. Watch this space – I hope to have at least one post up each week!

Moot Court and Appellate Brief and OCIs, Oh My: Handling the Second-Semester Scaries

It has been a hot minute since I blogged – law school ain’t no joke, y’all. I should definitely be reading property right now, but as a writer, when the right feeling strikes you – you gotta write.

So let’s do a quick recap. First semester finals came and went, grades came out, and I survived. My grades/rank aren’t exactly where I want them to be, but I know most people also feel this way. I also feel very lucky. With every passing day it becomes more and more apparent how incredible it is to (1) be in law school to begin with, and (2) be at a law school filled with people who genuinely care about your learning and your wellbeing.

If not for this environment that I have now comfortably grown into, I would still be floundering around helpless, like I felt many times last semester. Thankfully, as many other second-semester 1Ls will tell you, by the time you’re in our shoes, you know how to “do” law school. Which makes you able to handle what second semester of 1L entails.

In addition to our three continuing classes from last semester – contracts, civil procedure, and legal research & writing/advocacy, we’ve added criminal law and property law to our workload. It’s definitely manageable, but also definitely more reading. But we overall now know how to play that game. And this semester in our legal writing course, we’re learning how to write an appellate brief instead of a legal memorandum. So that’s also pretty similar to what we’ve done before, but now we get to focus on persuasive writing, which I like even better. Once our briefs are done, we get to argue our case against the other section in a moot court competition.

Now comes a fun twist – jobs. Oh, you thought we didn’t have to look for jobs as 1Ls? LOL. It’s pretty much an unspoken rule that you should have a legal internship/job the summer after 1L year. And I totally understand why it’s important, and I’m very excited about the possibilities that will entail for our class. Essentially, students apply for jobs listed on a law school-affiliated website, and if your application catches the eye of that firm’s/department’s hiring attorney, you will be invited to do an on-campus interview (OCI) with them. And then after your interview comes the waiting game.

At this point in the semester, all of the OCIs have concluded. I know probably a dozen other 1Ls who have secured their summer jobs, some who are studying abroad in South Africa instead, and some who are doing other kind of work this summer. But most of us are in the waiting game. And to you, dear reader, and to anyone on earth who’s not a 1L, that should seem pretty standard and nothing to worry about.

But we’re law students. All we think about are hypotheticals – what if ABC Firm didn’t like me because of my handshake, or the shirt I wore? Why didn’t I get a callback? What if it was my grades? My resume? My face? What did Friend A mean when they said X about my brief facts? Am I getting cold-called today? Do I look okay? Do people see that I’m trying? Am I trying too hard? Am I not trying hard enough?¬†

And while we’ve got one semester under our belts, the combination of the weather changing and millions of deadlines and section drama and 12-hour school days and waiting for our dream jobs to tumble out of the ether and into our laps makes us Freak. Out.¬†

So we have to step back and off this rollercoaster for a minute. (And I need to take my own advice here, because I’ve been sick for two weeks with some kind of monster-allergy sinus-hell hybrid, and I think it’s at least 75% attributable to the stress I’m feeling.)

“But how do we do that, Cat?” you ask.

(1) Prioritizing your life, and (2) practicing self-care. A lot. I know – easier said than done. And a lot of these things are intertwined.

Part I: The Big Questions

First, it helps me, at least, to go back to my own beliefs and causes to find motivation to push through. Some things to think about include:

  • Why are you in law school?
  • How did you get here?
  • Why do you care about the law?
  • What are you passionate about, besides the law?
  • What are you gaining by being here?
  • What are you sacrificing by being here?
  • Who in this building keeps you going?
  • How can you show those people your love?

Really give these things some thought. You don’t have to have a definitive answer, but use a spare moment – like when you’re driving to campus, or making coffee – to reflect on your purpose. And if you haven’t found a burning desire for one specific thing yet, that’s okay. You’re trying, and that’s a big deal. And your desires and priorities are always changing, which is natural.

Part II: The Little Things

Then, on some day where you have a good chunk of free time (lol), re-evaluate your life (for a lack of a better term). For example:

  • Are you eating three meals a day?
  • Are you sleeping at least 6 hours each night?
  • When did you last wash your hair, or take your meds?
  • Do you have a pet/partner/roommate/relative/friend you need to take care of, or check on in this moment?
  • Do you need to go to the doctor for something you’ve conveniently been ignoring?
  • How are you doing on your budget? Are you paying your bills on time?
  • Are your notes up-to-date?
  • How are your outlines coming?
  • Is there a professor or dean you need to talk to?
  • When was the last time you exercised?
  • When was the last time you took an hour to do something fun that has nothing to do with law school?
  • When did you last hang out with people not from the law school?

And around these questions you can form action items. I know that sometimes I don’t eat three full meals a day, just based on how hectic our weeks are, but I try to always have a water bottle and some snacks readily available. I also try to study in a coffee shop when I really have to get something big done, because the environment of the law library can sometimes make me anxious. Really look at what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what you can do to alleviate any unnecessary stressors.

Part III: The Heart of it All

Philosophical questions and practical matters aside, to survive in law school, you also need a team. As Leslie Knope once said, “No one achieves anything alone.” Law school can be such an isolating environment, that it’s sometimes hard to find the time to seek out people, or know where to even begin making friends. But once you do, it can completely change your outlook. Here are my tips:

  1. Start small by looking to people in your section. Who seems to have similar priorities? Or a compatible sense of humor? Offer to start a study group or work on a project together.
  2. Yes, the other section exists – and some of them have pretty cool people. Even though you might be #SectionOne4Lyfe like me, in section two you might find some lifelong friends.
  3. Get out of the 1L bubble. Seriously. Some of the most amazing people I’ve met so far are 2Ls and 3Ls. They might seem intimidating or too busy for you, but believe me – they GET it. They know how scary and overwhelming 1L year is because they just recently were terrified baby 1Ls themselves. And they have advice – so, so much advice. They have outlines and snacks and pep talks and overwhelming generosity. Go meet a 2L/3L and change your life.
  4. GET INVOLVED! I know we were sick of hearing that in undergrad, and especially now, but listen – while employers very much care about grades, rank, and work experience, they also care about having well-rounded associates. You don’t have to immediately take on an executive board position. Start volunteering with WLA or tabling for a bar prep company or helping to plan Barrister’s Ball or literally anything besides briefing cases and crying. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, but get away from the books once in a while.
  5. Your professors are literally so cool and they really want to help you. Whether you’re struggling in a class or want to talk about a random topic, they’ve got open ears and open office doors. They might even invite your whole section over to their (amazing) homes for a pizza party. Take advantage of being around so many caring intellectuals.

And part of being a 1L is just not knowing what you don’t know. I now know how to take a law school exam, how to do an OCI, and write a decent memo, but there are so many things ahead for me to tackle. Sometimes it feels impossible, especially when everything is piling up at once. But as I often say to others: you can’t pour from an empty cup. You have to take care of yourself first in order to do meaningful work, and in order to change the world. And if you’re having trouble, help is closer than you think – it might be just on the other side of your carrel.

So happy Tuesday, friends. Let’s get through this week (and semester) together.

First Semester: What I Wish I Knew

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With the end of my lawyering final yesterday morning, my first semester of law school has come to a close. Never has sixteen weeks ever gone so fast, but also so slowly. I’ve grown and changed and thought about things in ways I never dreamed possible. I survived, and I have a lot more to show for it than I thought I would. I turned 23, I wrote three memos, I made friends, I cried a LOT, but smiled even more. Even in times of stress and anxiety, I’ve come to love that little brick building I spend 12+ hours in every day.

First semester of 1L year definitely does change you – besides learning the actual material, you also learn how to manage stress, how to think like a lawyer, and how to “do” law school. There are a lot of things you can only learn through experience, but there are a number of things I wish I had understood before or during the semester. Here’s what I wish I had known:

  1. Law school is hard. For most people, at some point it will feel like law school is the hardest thing you’ve ever done. And in a way, that’s true. In order to feel prepared for class and competent, you have to be on your A-game all the time. But life happens, and sometimes you don’t do the reading, or you get sick, or your workload is so heavy that you only read for one class and try to skim the cases for your other ones. You’re also surrounded by some of the smartest people you’ll ever meet, and all of you are competing against each other (and the other section) for top ranks. Your best effort, although valiant, may not be the best in the class. But that doesn’t mean you’re not worthy. If you put in the effort, you’ll see results.
  2. Your professors are your best resource. Seriously. Especially at my law school, where the professors are not only super accomplished in their fields, but also extremely understanding and willing to help out a nervous 1L. Go to office hours. I’ll say that again. GO. TO OFFICE HOURS. Especially if you’re struggling in a class. But even if you’re doing fine in a class, your professor can offer another perspective – and in law, there’s always another perspective. I spent 20 minutes in one of my professor’s offices just talking about prosecution and where the best place is for me to intern this summer. Your professors have so much to give, and they’re just waiting for you to knock on that door.
  3. Law school is a job. Yeah, I know, you’ve heard this before. But it’s true. While you may not be studying from 8-5 (because that doesn’t work for everyone), you definitely have to put in about 40 hours a week to stay on top of it. This can be late at night after work, or early in the morning before class, or in between obligations during the day. Regardless of how you do it, studying definitely takes top priority in any 1L’s life. I’ve come to realize that in order for me to do my best, I need to focus just on school. I’ve really liked the job I had during first semester, but my schedule next semester makes it too hard to get hours. And right now, my grades are the biggest factor that will impact future internships and jobs.
  4. TAKE. CARE. OF YOURSELF. This is a lesson I still need to work on. I’ve gotten better at getting enough sleep during most weeks, but it’s also crucial to eat healthy and work out (at least sometimes) during law school. While studying is immensely important, making sure you have the energy and balance you need is even more critical. You can’t pour from an empty cup. There are always more supplements you could read, or more practice problems you could do. But if you’ve only been surviving on ramen and caffeine and running on three hours of sleep, and the person next to you got six hours of sleep and ate a full breakfast, who is going to do better that day? Little stressors add up, and when it’s crunchtime, you’re going to feel better because you’ve been treating yourself better.
  5. You (might) want to do too much. Remember how I said law school is a job? It’s still a school, though, and law schools have awesome extracurriculars. If you were really #involved in undergrad, you’ll probably want to be invested at the same level. You probably can’t. At least not during 1L, when grades are most important. But, it will definitely help to join one or two organizations, because you can bond with people outside your section, and give back to the community. You’ll get to meet amazing people you never thought you’d be close to, and you may even pick up a leadership position!
  6. Don’t forget your friends and family on the outside. Your friends and family most likely won’t understand everything you’re going through, but they definitely miss you a lot. Hopefully, they’ll be understanding about why you’re so busy, but you can’t just let your relationships fall by the wayside – both for the sake of your relationships, but also for your sanity. There will be days where you just can’t stand to be in that building anymore, or around law school people, and being with your loved ones will re-energize you. Additionally, life doesn’t stop for other people just because you’re in law school. You still need to make an effort to be there for the important things – big/little reveal, graduations, engagements, your best friend having a bad day – whatever it is, they’re still counting on you.
  7. Don’t judge a book by its cover. You’re going to be thrown into an environment where you might not know anybody in your class prior to orientation. Your school might be small, like mine, or on the bigger side. Regardless, you’re going to come across all kinds of people – those who agree with you, those who vehemently disagree, 21-year-olds, 50-year-olds, people of all races, religions, orientations, and histories. I’ll admit that I’m tempted to judge people based on their political views. While some of my biases have been confirmed, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by others. Especially after the election, as hate crimes spike and divisiveness characterizes our nation, I’ve been met with nothing but respect by (most) conservatives in our building. This might be an anomaly, but I will say that people will surprise you.
  8. You’re going to fail at some point. Law school is scary at first, and sooner than later, you’re going to make a mistake. It might be minor, or it might end with you crying in your favorite professor’s office. It may feel like it’s the end of the world. It might feel like you’re going to fail out of law school. You might feel like you’re never going to be good enough. As long as you’re doing the best you can, all those voices in your head are lies. Some things only get better with time, and 1L is one of them. But the storm won’t last forever – I promise.
  9. In the same vein, you’ve gotta believe in something. Whether it’s yourself (props to you), God, fate, the universe, or just in the fact that it’s going to get better, you’re going to have to put your faith in something. It may sound funny from someone who’s really removed herself from the Church, but having a dogged, stubborn belief that things are going to be okay is critical. Law school will test you, and you’ll have to prove that your faith is bigger than your fear.
  10. Law school can be fun! Truly. Whether you’re laughing deliriously with your closest friends at midnight in the library, or hanging out at a professor’s house and eating cupcakes that turn your mouth blue, you’re going to have some great times. I’ve met some truly amazing people in my section AND section two, and I’ve already met some 2Ls and 3Ls who have changed my life. We’re all in this together, and becoming close with people who understand what you’re going through makes all the difference.
  11. You’re going to actually enjoy (at least some of) what you’re learning. I genuinely had a good time taking my civil procedure final, because I felt invested in the material. Maybe it won’t be during 1L, but you’ll find classes that you’re passionate about. After all, this is a professional school – you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t care about the legal profession and what a legal education entails. For me, I’m excited to take criminal law courses. Some people might love tax law. Whatever it is, something will set your heart on fire.
  12. These are real people’s stories. While tests and hypos and practice exams can be frustrating, we need to also remember why we’re here. In the biggest sense, we’re in law school – and will become attorneys – to help people. While the hypo you’re reading about the Simpsons characters may seem ridiculous, these stories are about real people. People experience property damage, violent crime, broken contracts, and more. They go through unimaginable things, and they need an attorney to help them out. Getting a legal education and understanding of the law is a privilege. People are depending on you.
  13. You have so much time. We’re 1Ls. We’re constantly bombarded with applications and tests and competitions and meetings and opportunities. We still have five semesters (and two summers) to explore what we’re interested in and what we value. It’s a new slate, and we have time to make it count.
  14. But then again, it’s going to go fast. Remember how quick undergrad felt? Law school is a year shorter and at least twice as action-packed. During this past semester, the days seemed to drag, but the months went by in a flash. I’ve heard alumni say that this will be the best three years of our lives, and also the quickest. Go out and grab an opportunity you never considered before. You might just find something amazing.
  15. You’re going to be just fine. For most of the semester, I’ve felt like I’ve just survived by the skin of my teeth. But now I know what I’ve done wrong, what I did right, and what I can improve upon. Nobody expects first-semester 1Ls to be perfect, and I think we’ve all done better than we feared. And at the end of the day, our ranks are just one part of who we are. This is just the beginning.

Midterm Madness

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Now that Section 1’s midterms have come and gone (thank goodness), I feel able to write about them (among other things). Here’s what I know:

A law school exam may physically look like any other college exam – multiple choice and some essays – but law school prompts ask so much more of you than just to formulate a correct answer. The most helpful thing to learn (besides the material, lol) is how to format your essay answers in the way your professor best can understand them. For example, I had my torts midterm two weeks ago. For the material on that exam (the intentional torts), it made the most sense to write an IRAC for each tort. An IRAC looks something like this:

Issue: Was a battery committed?

Rule: In order for battery to exist, there must be (1) an act, (2) intent, and (3) harmful or offensive contact. An act is defined as …(explain what each element means if unclear)

Application: In this case, when A struck B, an act was present…(apply the facts of the case to the definitions of the elements)

Conclusion: Battery was present because when…(bring it all together succinctly)

For my contracts midterm, formatting differed a bit, at least in the way I decided to answer the questions. I’ve found it harder to hit all my key points when I’m not sure of exactly how I’m supposed to be laying out the answer, which made me nervous during the exam. Let’s just say that I’m glad the contracts midterm is ungraded.

We find out our torts midterm grades tomorrow, and in the two weeks we’ve had to wait, I’ve felt everything from contentment to sheer terror. The roughest part of law school exams is that you’re graded on a curve – no two people can get the same grade, and once a professor counts up all the points for each test, your tests are then graded against each other. Even if you write the best answer of your life, the person next to you may have pulled out a fact or counterargument or two that you didn’t think about, and your score will certainly be lower than theirs. At the end of the semester, you get your grades back – and your class ranks. The person who gets the highest score in the course “ranks” the class, and everyone else’s scores fall somewhere beneath them. The person with the best scores in each class is number 1 – literally, their rank is the top of the class. Most people fall somewhere in the middle of the bell curve, but when you’re competing for the top 10 spots – or even to be in the top half – tensions are high.

In that same vein, law school friendships are also quite different from undergrad – at least in my experience. I definitely do have some friends in law school, but my social life is not necessarily going the way I had pictured. During orientation, 1Ls hear from upperclassmen and staff that the people in your section will be your “best friends for life.” I can tell the people in my section are very intelligent, dedicated, and accomplished people. I do admire them. But sometimes I don’t feel like I necessarily belong.

Nobody told me that making friends at 22 (almost 23) would be so hard. Everyone is coming from a multitude of undergraduate institutions, from different states and backgrounds. Even though I went to the same school for undergrad, I only knew one person coming in to law school. I don’t necessarily feel like I have that “#squad” of people in my year or section that I know I can go to for everything. Part of that is because of my schedule – I have to work 4-5 days a week in the afternoon, and a large number of my classmates do not. They get more time with each other, and more opportunities to bond. Neither experience is superior to the other – that’s just how it is.

It’s only been two months, and I hope with time I can find more common ground with my peers. Part of my occasional feelings of isolation are definitely due to my identity – only 40% of my class is women, which I expected, and I think I have met maybe 3 or 4 other people at my law school who fall into the LGBTQ community. I definitely don’t expect my straight peers to understand what it’s like to be queer, but it honestly feels weird at times to be in an environment where everyone is assumed to be straight. Coming from a large, progressive and accepting sorority and friend group in undergrad, into a very small, homogeneous professional school has certainly been an adjustment for me. I know we’re here to get our law degrees, and that’s everyone’s primary focus. But I believe that one’s senses of self-worth and belonging definitely influences how you perform academically.

I don’t mean this to be a sob story though, because it certainly is not. I’ve found that when you’re in a minority, you have to be creative and seek out people who you know will validate how you feel and encourage you when you feel weak. Those people may be in your section – but they may not. They may not even be in your year, or they may not even be students. Sometimes your best conversations are with one of your professors, when you go out to lunch and talk about Nicki Minaj and pop culture. Sometimes the people who understand your experience as an LGBTQ law student are in another section, and you didn’t even realize who they were until the middle of October. Sometimes what you need to get out of a slump is to talk to the most patient 2L ever, who’s willing to just let you complain to her for an hour. Sometimes you need to just hear, over and over and over again, that it’s going to get better, that you need to keep going, that you have the strength to go on. That you’re not going to be a poor little 1L forever. That there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and at the end of the day, no matter where your name falls on that rank list, that you’re here for a reason. And while you’ve stumbled, and cried, and doubted yourself hundreds of times in the first two months, that it’s okay to feel awful – but don’t you dare give up. There are a lot more people on your team than you think.

You just have to go find them.

 

 

1 Month

jdandme-wordpress-com

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, and for good reason – law school keeps me ridiculously busy. But I’ve caught a break tonight, and have wanted to post an update for a while now.

My first month of law school has come and gone, and I now can say that I feel good. Last week was the first week of class that I didn’t cry or seriously doubt my ability to succeed in law school. It sounds dramatic, especially since my time in the journalism school was more or less smooth sailing, but law school is more than just a new step in my education. My whole routine has changed. When I’m not in class or at work, I’m reading or outlining. Even though I give myself Saturdays off from homework, I still sometimes have moments of panic when I think I should be doing something.

My primary identity¬†is “law student,” and I spend most of my waking hours at the law school. In some ways, it feels like high school again – 380 of us in one building all day, and we even have lockers. Being in such a sequestered environment made me nervous at first – would my classmates like me? Would I like them? Would I be able to deal with the same 53 people in all my classes for the next year? Or the same 106 for the next 3 years? Luckily, I already know that I can definitively say yes to those questions.

I’ve learned over the past month that pretty much everyone has the same doubts and fears. None of us know how to do our ICWs correctly on the first try. We forget exactly when certain assignments are due. We miss our friends from undergrad. We want to be in the top half of the class, but we want to make friends at the same time. I think a big, weird thing we’re all dealing with is that people who know us outside of law school consider us extremely successful for even being in law school. But to us on the inside, we’re almost drowning, and may feel at times that we’re not going to even make it through this semester. But I know that getting closer to the people in my section has certainly helped me through the rough patches so far. And now that the 2Ls and 3Ls have become less intimidating, I’m fortunate to have become acquainted with some of them, too.

I also literally cannot say enough about our professors. I haven’t met a single one I don’t like, and the ones I have this semester have such a variety of personalities and teaching styles. These individuals are extremely driven, intelligent, compassionate attorneys who decided to dedicate their time to teaching us – terrified, overambitious 1Ls. They all have had such illustrious lives before coming to our law school – one wrote for National Geographic, another worked for the Department of Justice, while another was a dean at another law school before coming back to Mizzou – just to name three. A vast number of them hail from Ivy League alma maters as well. These educators could have chosen to stay where they were, or to have spent their time in literally any other way – but they decided to teach – in mid-Missouri. Anybody who tries to jazz up civil procedure in order to make 53 tired people understand is an angel in my book.

Another concern I had was balancing my work schedule with class and studying. I am one of a good amount of law students who needs to work during school, and my initial work hours interfered with mandatory 1L meetings I had to attend after class. Luckily, I work for a bunch of attorneys, most of whom also attended MU Law, so they were very understanding about me adjusting my hours.

I’ve also started to make peace with various things from my life that I’ve brought with me into this next chapter. I’m learning a lot of things, too – forgiveness, self-love, and self-discipline, to name a few. This period of growth is more than just intellectual for me, and I expect for others as well. Going to a professional school, and growing up during the process, really makes you think about the things you value and the things you want to keep with you. Is peace of mind more important than a grudge? Is time with loved ones more valuable than aimless scrolling through Twitter? At the end of the day, will my grades matter more than how I treat people? (I hope not.)

So this is my life now, and while it’s hectic and scary, there’s also a simplicity to it – work hard, keep learning, and be good. Those are the most important things I need to do right now. And while scary things are on the horizon (midterms in two weeks), I think I’ve identified the things I need to get through the next three months – and the next three years.

Happy Sunday, friends. Let’s get through this next week together.

 

 

I’m Just a 1L, and Life is a Nightmare

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I just finished my first week of law school, and let me tell ya, it’s been quite the adventure.

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kinda like this.

Okay, maybe I have a flair for the dramatic – it’s not all terrible, but it’s certainly been terrifying at times. I’ve found myself eating less, but being more hungry, sleeping less, but being more tired, and understanding less, but studying more than ever before. The stress level is like finals week in undergrad – but only year-round.

And in the middle of that stress, I totally messed up.

By Wednesday morning of this week, I was exhausted. But I managed to get myself up on time, showered, and left home early to re-read my civil procedure assignment before class. I was proud of myself and thinking about how diligent I was being, until I got a text from my friend Cameron.

“Where are you?”

I froze. Wait, what? Maybe she’s early to our contracts class?

“What are you talking about…”

“We had torts today.”

Oh my god. I whipped out my schedule. She was right – torts meets Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Just when I thought I had my life together, I created a new problem for myself. I emailed the professor right away, and explained to him what happened – that I was literally just a stupid 1L who didn’t have my schedule memorized yet. I hoped he’d be understanding.

Then came contracts class, and with it, every 1L’s fear – that they would be cold-called. The professor was going down the attendance sheet, asking the class questions about what she had taught us on Monday. When she called my name, I think my stomach dropped 10 feet. I totally didn’t remember the entire answer she asked me about. I gave a kind of roundabout answer, and then felt the words “…and I don’t really know the rest,” die in my throat.

Luckily, the professor was nice about my mistake, and I later redeemed myself and gave a correct answer to another question. My torts professor was also understanding, I made it to the rest of the classes that week.

So, what’s the moral of this disaster story? That I survived, and managed to have my stuff (somewhat) together on Thursday and Friday. I knew law school was going to be scary going in, but once I actually experienced some problems, I panicked a little. I can tell my peers are panicked about random things as well. Sometimes, it’s really scary. Throughout this week I’ve wondered if I’m cut out for law school, or if I belong here. Even walking in the building, I feel like a scared baby. This blog post is even hard to write, because I don’t like admitting that I’m not good at something, or that I’m afraid.

But then I see some of my classmates, and I feel less alone. It’s when we talk about how much we miss our friends outside of law school. It’s when I talk about my life, and feel comfortable mentioning to some of them that I’m gay. When Zach laughs at my jokes, or when Taylor and I try to decode the contracts syllabus. When Ayana lets me have her last two cookies, because I was so overwhelmed that I forgot to pack a lunch. When Cameron goes out of her way to find me, because we didn’t see each other at all the day before. It’s when Lauren and I are frustratedly combing through databases, trying to find a statute that applies to our memo assignment, and we both stumble upon the same relevant one. It’s when everyone is whispering in class about how confused they are, and one girl makes a comment so sarcastic and biting that everyone breaks into nervous laughter, which turns into full-on, crying-on-the-floor, Thank-God-we’re-in-this-together laughter.

As I sit in the library and finish this blog post, I’m still nervous. I definitely don’t have it all figured out, and the 2Ls, 3Ls and graduates I know say that nobody has it figured out. But I’m grateful for Sundays, when I can slow down and figure out what I need to do for this week. I’m grateful for the veritable army of people behind me, ready to talk or let me vent or just offer their support when I’m freaked out. I’m grateful for my friends and others who accept that I can only hang out with them during maybe 36 hours out of the whole week, and aren’t upset about it. I’m grateful for my bosses at work, who also went to law school and know exactly how tired and overwhelmed I am. I’m grateful for my friend Sam, who I can text about any tiny law school question or issue. I’m grateful for my family, for my ability to access higher education, and for my cat, because she is really the light of my life, tbh.

Below is a video of a song that I’ve been listening to on repeat the past week. It’s been helping me keep things in perspective.

Happy Sunday, friends. Let’s get through this next week together.

 

 

Image source

21 Thoughts You Have in Your First Week of Law School, and more

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Now I know why so many law student bloggers don’t post that much during their first semester of 1L year – it’s exhausting.

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I usually manage to complete the homework, but the chance of me understanding what I did, or being confident in what I know is pretty much a 50/50 shot. Luckily, I can tell my peers are feeling a lot of the same things, which has led to this list of thoughts:

  1. Okay, I’m here. Let’s find Room 332A.
  2. God, this backpack is heavy. When I’m an attorney, I’m gonna need a chiropractor on retainer, because I can already tell I’ve damaged something.
  3. Just one more flight of stairs, here we are, and…the door to the hallway is locked.
  4. Wait, what? Ugh, I’m gonna have to walk around the whole building to get to the other staircase. Day 2 is off to a great start!!!!
  5. Finally, I’m in the right place.
  6. …and my whole class is here already. It’s only 7:50! Either they’re overachievers or I’m seriously slacking.
  7. Wait, class is already over? Did I black out?
  8. No, I wrote down notes. I just don’t completely get the requirements for the tort of battery. I’ll figure it out when I review later.
  9. Cool, I finally have a break between classes. I’m gonna check out the library.
  10. This place really is smaller than my high school. I bet all the older people can just TELL I’m a 1L.
  11. Is it bad that I wore leggings? Should I have dressed up more? Am I really already at the point of my life where I have to look good by 8 a.m. every day?
  12. I don’t recognize any of these people. They must be from Section 2.
  13. Time for my last class of the day – it’s only 11:00 a.m. but I know I’ll be up until at least 11:00 p.m. LOLLL
  14. I see and hear the professor talking, but the words coming out of his mouth are like a foreign language. The people behind me are whispering and I think they’re confused, too.
  15. I’m so hungry. I don’t know if it’s socially acceptable to eat a granola bar in here, but I’m going to anyway.
  16. Why is it so cold in here?
  17. Did he just say “memes”??
  18. Now he’s talking about his wife and kids. I wonder if I’ll ever have a wife and kids. Or a job. Or the ability to feel awake before noon.
  19. Maybe I’ll be good at this class because it’s about writing. I have a whole degree in that already. Maybe this won’t be so bad.
  20. Class is over, and thank god it’s time for lunch. Time to get outta here, for now anyway.
  21. …and it’s raining.

So the above list is a little bit dramatic, but it’s true that 1L is definitely not easy. And I don’t just mean the course load – it’s a major life adjustment. In addition to my new apartment, new job, new car, new friends/other people in my life, and new cat, law school creates the perfect storm for an anxiety spiral. One thing I already know I need to work on is eating. It sounds silly, but when you wake up in the morning and you’re too nervous to eat, and then have 20 minutes before work in the afternoon, and then don’t get off work until 5, you could accidentally skip all 3 meals for the day (which I kind of did yesterday, RIP me). I have a crockpot now, so once I can grocery shop this weekend, I’m going to try and do meal prep for next week.

Probably the hardest thing for me personally is being away from my friends. I’m lucky to have stayed at my alma mater for law school, but I have tons of friends still in undergrad here who I can’t spend much time with. When I was in undergrad, I could just go to class and see ten people I knew, go to my sorority house to eat lunch with 50 people I knew, head to the student center with other friends, and then go home and see my ¬†(former) roommate, who’s also my best friend. Now that I know about three people at law school, I feel really isolated. But I’m lucky that the people in my life get it. They know I have to be studying every night, Sunday through Thursday. They understand when I have to say no to plans, and when hanging out with me consists of drinking coffee and studying in silence. They remind me to get back to my case briefs and notes when I’d rather be eating ice cream and doing nothing. I even feel guilty about how much time I spend away from my cat, and she basically just lives on my bed. I miss seeing my loved ones, but I’m lucky to have a such an amazing support system. Even if I only get to see them once a week, I know they understand that I’m undertaking law school for the greater good.

But even as I miss them, I realize my law school peers also have friends, family, partners, loved ones, and other people in their lives they have to distance themselves from too. Today I met three new girls in my section, and I can already tell we’ll get along great. So as isolated as I feel, maybe I’m not alone. I just have so much more to learn.

Image source: http://gifrific.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Everything-Hurts-and-Im-Dying-Parks-and-Recreation.gif

 

Orientation Wrap-Up

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This week/weekend has been such a whirlwind, I didn’t make time to finish up blogging about orientation! Honestly, Wednesday was a blur, but a lot of stuff from Thursday, the last day of orientation, stuck with me. We had a mock class with one of our professors, where he taught us how to brief a case. Taking notes in law school is nothing like undergrad, so it was a little confusing at first. Here’s an example of what a case brief looks like:

  1. Title and Citation: Plaintiff v. Defendant,  citation of the casebook it was found in 
  2. Identity of the Parties: here you write a description of the plaintiff and defendants, like their age, and some identifying information
  3. Procedural History: where the case originated and what courts it has been through before
  4. Facts: a list of information pertinent to the case
  5. Issue: problems that arose when the case was tried 
  6. Holding and rule derived from case: what the court decided and what precedent it set for future cases
  7. Reasoning: why the court decided the way it did 
  8. Comments/Questions: anything about the case you find important or confusing

Our homework for Thursday was to brief two cases about false imprisonment. I was glad that I briefed most of the case correctly, but our mock class really taught me a huge thing about law school – it’s not answering the questions, but analyzing the situation that matters. Instead of asking if a certain situation constituted false imprisonment, for example, we analyze what could have happened if particular details were different. By the end of class, my brain felt a little like this:

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(aka the widest highway in the world)

But I know now that I really enjoy law school already. I know it’s going to take a lot of hard work, but figuring out how all the pieces of a case fit together is so cool.

The other big event on Thursday was a luncheon with 30 alumni of my law school. I ended up at a table with all women, and a female alum who was just awesome to talk to. She said that back in her day, they didn’t even have a women’s bathroom in the law school, because there were seven of them in her class. Compared to the 44 women in my class now, that’s so wild to think about. I am definitely grateful to be a part of this generation and to have all the opportunities that I do.

One of the speakers at the luncheon talked a lot about being professional with your peers, your colleagues, and as an attorney in general. As someone who’s been very political since I was about 6, I’ve been known to butt heads with people whose views very much diverge from my own. And while I think I stand for ideals that make the world a better place, I haven’t always been 100% civil while engaging in debate with those who disagree. The speaker’s remarks really made me think about how I want to conduct myself in law school, and his words have definitely stuck with me.

Once we got back from the luncheon, one of the deans gave us a talk about social media in law school. He emphasized that posting anything racist, homophobic, sexist, or any other kind of offensive content is unacceptable, and those who do will be subject to discipline. That made me feel a lot safer about being gay and out in law school – that the faculty (and probably most of the students) are on my team.

So tomorrow is the big day – my first day of law school. I have homework due for Civil Procedure and Contracts already, but thankfully it’s not too much. I’m nervous but excited, and I’m glad I already feel like I know a few of my peers and some of the faculty and staff. But for right now, I’m going to finish my assignments and then go enjoy the beautiful day outside. It’s bid day at Mizzou, and I can’t wait to see all my sisters.

 

 

Image source: https://qph.ec.quoracdn.net/main-qimg-db744258aa94dc660d2abbcabc58dd9f?convert_to_webp=true