Transitions: Three 1Ls on growing into life as law students

The decision to attend law school is a pivotal point in students’ lives. Not only is it a transition into a new school year (or heading back to school for many,) but law school kicks off a new way of thinking and approaching the surrounding world. The transition to law school in particular means unfamiliar subjects, unforeseen challenges, and a new pace of learning. As their first semester in this new environment wound to a close, three first year students reflected on the subject of transition.

By Caity Zimmerman

Caity Zimmerman is a 1L at University of Montana.

In the last 10 years, I have tried to learn four different languages. German, French, Norwegian, and Afrikaans. I know how to say “Do you speak English?” in each language, but for the most part, I have been left with a few useless phrases like “please bring a ladder.” I’ve learned through all this trial and error that language is not my strong suit, but improvised communication across a language barrier is. I have been in situations where I cannot rely on my English (or feeble language skills) to communicate and have learned to find ways to adapt.

The best analogy for law school I’ve heard is that it is like trying to learn a new language except all the words are in English. You transition into a world where the words around you are all familiar, but they don’t seem to mean what you think they mean. You learn from your classmates as you all try out new vocabulary. You pick up new definitions from the parade of reading that rushes past you if you are lucky. You feel out when a professor is using the word in a new way. Like learning a new language, you have to find the cognates and spot the false cognates.

When I learned to adapt to a new language, I learned that there is often no easy shortcut to becoming proficient, only the hard, time consuming way. I started law school after two years of full time volunteer work and getting back into the swing of school was the easiest part.

I expected that law school would be different, but I was unprepared for how drastic a change it would be from all my past school experiences. As my language skills gain strength, I gained equally important time management and self-care skills out of necessity. Law school has been breaking down everything I know and rebuilding something new in its place. But like a new language, the start was the hardest and immersion can be the best scenario for rigorous trial and error.

Finding Equilibrium
By Lucas Wagner

I started law school in August 2016. Almost immediately I realized I hated it. I came to Alexander Blewett III School of Law after a four-year hiatus from the academic world. In 2012, I completed my undergraduate degree, and wanted to do anything but more school. Montana hired me as a forestry technician. I spent four years performing physically demanding, but mentally light work. Eventually I felt like I was stagnating in the jobs I was working, so I applied and was accepted to law school in Missoula, Montana.

Lucas Wagner is a 1L at University of Montana.

Law school (and I’m told any graduate school) requires a much larger time commitment than most undergraduate programs. This time commitment drove my initial hatred for the new path I had chosen. I often found myself sitting and staring at a case, not actually reading it. Rather I wallowed in self-pity. I thought about how I used to read for pleasure, how I used to run or bike most days, how I prided myself in staying in touch with friends through semi-regular phone conversations. During my first month at law school I convinced myself that these things were gone from my life forever. I was wrong.

Studying law is a challenge. It forced me to better myself. I’ve learned to prioritize tasks, my time-management skills (which were severely lacking) have improved immensely, my ability to concentrate and focus on the task at hand has grown. Those pleasures I thought were gone from my life forever? After three months, they are already back, and I value them even more than I did before. I believe that real challenges precipitate real growth, and without a doubt law school is a real challenge. I don’t know where it will lead me, but early returns are promising.

Be the River or Be the Rock
By Nancy Clark

As law students, it is crucial that we know the difference and choose wisely as we transition through our lives, our careers and our cases. It is a law of nature that there is resistance to change. This resistance can make transitions difficult. We can help ourselves know when and how to transition by considering the river and the rock.

The river, on one hand, seems to be very open to change; it flows according to the easiest

Nancy Clark is a 1L at University of Montana.

course and, as it is says, “goes with the flow.” When something is dropped into the river, it makes room for it and molds itself around the item. When it encounters something in its way, it simply goes over, under, around, or even through the obstacle. If the temperature changes, the river changes with the temperature–gas, liquid or solid. The river can, by persistence and sometimes subtle action, influence or force changes to its surroundings. It can, by turns, be patient or insistent, calm or violent. When the river faces adversity, it simply accommodates it.

On the other hand, the rock resists change at every turn. It is what it is. It does not easily change its form; it practically dares outside influences to change it. This may seem stubborn and difficult, but the rock stays true to its nature and is stalwart against adversity. A rock is always a rock–it is the same regardless of the temperature, the shape of its surroundings, or where it is located. Rock is dependable. However, rock also limits its potential by being resistant to change. An incredible amount of force is needed to break a rock. It takes eons to change the shape of a rock. Something pretty severe has to happen to move many rocks. When faced with adversity, a rock simply stands up to the pressure and tries to stay true to what it is.

As people, we are able to choose when to be the river and when to be the rock when faced with transition. There are times when accommodation and flexibility can create great advantages and transition should be embraced and pursued; however, there are also times when it is important that we be dependable and unbending and resist at least segments of transition



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