It’s mid-October. I’m halfway through the semester, and a quarter of the way through first-year hell.
One of my classmates has taken the liberty of describing what these first six weeks at McGill law have been like. I would have written something similar, but I lack the time management skills and energy that my classmate possesses. And so, with her permission, I have recopied her note from Facebook and pasted it below.
N.B.: To my friends and family — if you find that when you phone me I sometimes sound tired, busy and unenthusiastic, this is why:
Three things to know if you are applying to law school
I’ve noticed that there have been quite a few people I know whose statuses recently read something about law school applications and/or LSATs. Some of you may have perhaps contacted me asking about law school. Some of you may have simply attempted to contact me to keep in touch and I haven’t yet responded.
There’s probably a couple things you should be aware of. I’ll be brief. My opinions now may perhaps change soon enough and probably differ from experienced upper years. But this is what I see so far:
1) It’s hard.
People who got into law school told me it was hard. Yeah, I didn’t believe them. So I’m telling you it’s hard. I suppose it’s out of sheer idiocy that by writing that, I’d hope you’d believe me.
Now why is it hard? There’s a lot of readings. Generally, in undergrad, I made it through generally not reading stuff timely. I’ve only recently just fallen behind in readings in law – but the consequences are much higher than in business school. Following along in class really does not work well. You’re not talking about what was the content of the readings but you’re applying it and creating new hypotheticals. You’re comparing legal scholars’ points of view. You’re comparing cases that have opposing judgments with seemingly similar facts. Not reading timely makes this nearly impossible.
2) You’re on your own
This won’t make sense to you if you didn’t do a group-based undergrad like business. There’s no group work. Currently, it seems like it’s you versus the above-mentioned hundreds of pages of readings (note: I’ve probably read two semesters worth of reading in the past month, I’m not exaggerating). Some people form study groups; others don’t. Studying individually has benefits in that your mark doesn’t depend on someone else, but there’s the disadvantage of having only your point of view on a difficult subject.
Students generally seem to now disappear at lunch to bunker down in the library. In some cases, it seems to me that this takes away from a sense of community. You’ll probably pass people in the halls that you somehow have half your classes with but have not said a word to in a week.
3) Stress is in the air
There seems to be a lot of similarities to the LSAT and law school. If you’ve done the LSAT, you’ll remember the amount of anxiety in washroom lines at the break. Nervous people chattering, attempting to compare answers or find out which section was experimental.
From what I’ve heard of upper years, this stress anxiety atmosphere is characteristic of first year law school. Apparently it gets better in upper years. But you can really see it in people’s faces that we’re all getting a little nervous somehow, sometimes. Part of it is a common fear that all our efforts currently are useless and we’re spinning our wheels into the mud.
Notably, we haven’t gotten to the point of Scott Turow’s fragility in the opening pages of One L:
“By Friday my nerves will be so brittle from sleeplessness and pressure and intellectual fatigue that I will not be certain I can make it through the day […] I am distracted at most times and have difficulty keeping up a conversation, even with my wife. At random instants, I am likely to be stricken with acute feelings of panic, depression, indefinite need, and the pep talks and irony I practice on myself only seem to make it worse.
“I am a law student in my first year […] and there are many moments when I am simply a mess.”
It certainly does not seem too far off from the possible truth. Let’s see how we’ll be in late November.
My two cents (since that’s all I can afford right now): Add to this post to the new words I’ve learnt (“scintillated,” “interstitially,” “res judicata,” “res nullius,” “stare decisis,” et al) and constantly comparing common law and civil law (two legal systems + two languages = twice the mental work and a headache), and there you have it — my first few weeks at McGill law. It’s unlike anything I have ever experienced academically. You will begin to question your intelligence and everything you know to be true (like justice, the state, and other airy-fairy notions). I still don’t know what I am doing, or how I should be reading this stuff…
Strangely enough, I love it!