Reflections from a Completed First Year Law Student
The law school experience I envisioned is not the law school experience I received. I had heard quite the horror stories from a friend who was attending University of Pennsylvania; stories about getting yelled at by professors for not having the correct answer, about a torture method known as “cold calling,” which professors loved to use, and stories about her breaking down in tears in the bathroom. I disregarded all these anecdotes of course, as I already had my mind set on attending law school. I had a passion to defend the rights of those whose voices are not loud enough to be heard by the criminal justice system. I wanted to know the law and use that knowledge to help others. This passion caused me to plunge head first, eyes closed, into unfamiliar waters, not heeding any warnings or advice. I figured if others had done it, then surely I was capable of completing law school as well.
Fortunately, I was right. I am still alive and about to enter my second year of law school. Looking back on my first year of law school, it really was not as much of a horror story as some had told me. Yes, professors did cold call, but none of them yelled when a student did not have the correct answer, and I did have a break down here and there, but only because of my own lack of sleep. Overall, my first year as a law student was unforgettable.
I would attribute my success in part to the mentor program Florida State University College of Law has set in place. A couple of months before my first year of law school was to begin, FSU paired me with a mentor who was a rising 3L. It was perfect timing as that was when my nerves started kicking in. I had no idea what to expect. What were the classes going to be like? What was the best way to study? Was I even smart enough to be in law school? Did FSU send me an acceptance letter by mistake? Perhaps some of my nerves were unwarranted, however, at the time nothing seemed impossible. My mentor was my saving grace, quite literally. She sent me all her outlines as we had all the same professors. She also answered my every question, gave me tips, and entertained me with stories of her first year in law school. When classes came around, she introduced me to all her friends and calmed my every panic attack. Within weeks, my mentor was my best friend. My nerves slowly started to dissipate and I realized that most of the first-year law students felt just as lost as I did. We all had the same classes so we were able to bond over our hatred for property class, our love for the law school socials, and desire to be anywhere but the library. Law school introduced me to some of the greatest, most brilliant, passionate individuals. We all had a common love for knowledge and yearned to learn more. So while all of us had absolutely no idea what we were doing, thus leaving us incredibly irritable and stressed, we all had one another to lean on.
The professors also took me by surprise. I expected overly pretentious, boring, hard to comprehend scholars with too high of expectations that first-year law students could never fulfill. Instead, I was taught by overly brilliant, compassionate scholars, who saw first-year law students eager to absorb any knowledge they bestowed upon us. Each professor was astoundingly different, with quirks that set them apart, making me want to go to their office hours and get to know them personally. All of my professors were just as eager to build relationships with their students. Each professor offered coffee hours or “tea times,” for us to attend, where we would get to sit down with them and talk about subjects other than law school. It was a personal, inviting experience, and it made these incredibly accomplished, brilliant, law professors, just a bit more personable and human.
While the amicable atmosphere took me by surprise, there were still moments that fit the stereotypical law school experience people envision. Finals would sneak up and anxiety would engulf me. My first semester, finals were to take place the week after thanksgiving break. I am from Miami and so heading home for the holidays would have cost me 16-hours of studying as the drive is 8-hours each way. There was no way I could afford to give up that many hours of precious study time. It was my first time away from home during the holidays. I was overcome with sadness and the stress did not make it any easier. Unfortunate to say, I had a few nervous breakdowns during that time. I am an avid nail biter and finals week leaves me with nothing but nail buds. I do not know how else to describe finals week. I look back at both fall and spring semester finals week and I am almost positive I am suppressing the memories; nothing but coffee, aspirin, lack of sleep, and casebooks come to mind.
Those few weeks of hell are outweighed by the positive experiences law school has provided me, that I briefly touched upon earlier. I reflect back on my first year of law school and am incredibly grateful to have accomplished as much as I have. There are certainly parts of my first year that I do not want to relive, as I was an emotional nightmare, but there are other parts I wish I could replay over and over. My first year was not what I was expecting, yet it was everything it needed to be. It pushed me to grow, to accept who I was as a person, but never let that be my best, to force myself out of my comfort zone, take on new challenges, never take no for an answer, and take each day as it comes, knowing that I am 100 percent capable of anything I put my mind to.