In my first interview for a summer internship the interviewer asked me if I liked law school. I looked him straight in the eye and hesitated. I hesitated for a really long time. It was awkward. I finally managed to squeak out a nervous “Yes?” He asked me if I was lying. No, I wasn’t lying, but how I feel about my first semester of law school is far more complicated than what I was able to easily articulate in that stuffy interview room.
My decision to go to law school was an easy one. I have known this is what I wanted to do for many years, but the timing never worked out for our family. I assumed my decision would be met with support but I was surprised at the negativity I encountered. Lawyers I knew said some of the same things we all have heard, that law school is cut-throat and competitive. Attorney colleagues warned my husband that law school would change me, that I would become this person he did not know or like very much.
Sadly, the most negative responses came from my female friends, the majority of whom told me I was making a mistake. One of my closest friends, upon hearing I was accepted, asked, “Why the hell would you put yourself through that? Are you crazy?” Even a few family members expressed their unhappiness with my decision to go to law school, regarding it as a selfish choice for a woman my age.
Despite the naysayers, I forged ahead, not blind to the stressors that awaited me. Generally, there are different pressures for a non-traditional law school student of my age, not worse necessarily, just different. I have a mortgage, children, and a spouse with a busy job, all which involve some measure of pressure beyond school.
While these pressures present unique challenges, I am thankful that I don’t have to deal with the pressures other students do. My children are all in college, and therefore, I do not have to decide when and if I want a family and how this will impact my career. Nor am I forced to practice in a certain geographical area. And while I realize my career path may be limited because of my age, I do not have to worry about daycare or sick children and I do not feel guilty about spending time at the library instead of at home. And I am certainly glad that I don’t have to date in the era of Facebook, Tinder, and Snapchat.
I think the best way I can describe my feelings about the first semester of law school is that it is was a daily exercise in humility. I felt pretty confident about my intellectual abilities walking through the doors the first time. This confidence lasted until I began reading my first assigned case. What the hell were all these words? I recognized most of them, but they were arranged in a way that made no sense. Those first few cases were like wading through thick mud: slow going and messy. I ended up reading some of these early cases four and five times before I understood what rule was being taught. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy my classes and my professors, I did, but it was frustrating to have to work so hard to understand even the most basic concepts. It was tough going at first, but, as our wise contracts professor predicted, the fog eventually lifted, and the rules, theories, and purpose behind what we were reading become clearer.
After completing my first semester, I agree that law school changes a person and frankly, I don’t know how it could not. To be successful in law school, you have to make compromises and sacrifices and even the most supportive partner or family member may not understand. I like to think that how I handle these complications determines whether I change for the better or worse.
I will be the first to admit that I have not dealt with the pressures of law school with as much grace and charm as I am capable of. For example, three weeks before finals I told my husband he was now responsible for everything: cooking, cleaning, pets, laundry, EVERYTHING! I could handle nothing more. I am fortunate to have an extremely patient, supportive spouse who he wears headphones most of the time and is, therefore, oblivious to my stress induced tirades. It works for us.
I know I should say that studying the law is my favorite part of law school, but to be completely honest, what made my first semester overall a positive experience is my class of fellow 1Ls. Learning alongside this group of funny, creative, and brilliant students is inspiring. With few exceptions they get along, support each other, and recognize that because we are all succeeding and suffering together, kindness is the best approach. The law school and those practicing law should take great pride in knowing that these students represent the future of law practice in Montana and elsewhere. I am proud to say that I am a law student at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law and am honored to be part of the class of 2018.
Written by: Jennifer Morgan.