or, Rome wasn’t built in a day
The first rush of excitement has passed, the people who complimented you on wearing it so well have gone back to their daily lives. You’re ten weeks in and you don’t remember whether you’ve showered this week, when the last time was you had a decent meal and it seems like sleep has never been more than a distant memory. Every day is a new test, with new wrenches, and every person you talk to seems to know what they are doing and have it all under control. You knew this was going to be more work than you’d ever done before. But you didn’t realize you would come to question your core in such short order.
Maybe the first term of 1L was a breeze for you, or maybe you think I’m in your head, but I’m actually describing the first three months of each of my children’s lives.
We are often told how exceptional a legal education is, how unlike anything else we might do in our lives but I find the analogy to parenthood a very helpful one. For a lot of people, parenthood is something they aspire to, for many it is something they are thrown into. In either case, what we imagine of parenthood, much like what we imagine of a life in the law is both bigger and further off than the first three months would lead you to believe.
In both cases we often imagine the large-scale and long-term and when reality hits, that can mean that we get completely caught up in the minutiae. In the first three months of a baby’s life most people I know wonder who allowed them to be in charge of such a small person, while at the same time struggling to re-define their entire person based on the new relationship to their partner, this new person, and if you are nursing or healing from birth, your body. Even mommy brain, which is back in the news again seems to resonate, at least for me.
But here’s the thing. I can only speak about birthing people, because we have not adopted children. But when they first come out, babies have to teach us how to understand them, but the range of things we have to understand is fairly narrow. Law school is pretty similar. Instead of feeding, changing, soothing from pain and helping them sleep, we have started learning how to read cases, learn for exams, and select areas of interest to us. This term, we are adding job search and mooting for all, just as you start to add daytime entertainment and more physical movement to the mix in the next few months for many babies. It’s a change and it feels like we have no control over it, but it is a gradual change and it allows us to grow into our roles.
When my first child was tiny, I realized that at first, perhaps even in the first year, we were not so much parents as a couple with a blob. A beautiful blob, who could make their feelings known to us, but not someone who needed boundaries or a great deal of adulting to help them along. The first months of law school are no different in this regard. Of course we are learning a great deal and it asks a great deal of us, but no one’s life is actually on the line, no multi-million dollar deal, no judgement that needs to be appeal-proof.
I have many disadvantages, being 40, being chronically short 20 hours a week in study time and being divided in attention at all times between my studying life and my home life. My grades from the fall are in the bottom third of the pile. But one advantage I have, is that I know that I get to be a parent again tomorrow, next month and next year. That means that if I screw up today (which I will, countless times), I will also get opportunities to give my best at other times. It is much the same with a life in the law. We are writing papers and exams, mooting, learning how to relate to each other as professionals in an extremely well-established profession. There will be plenty of opportunities to mess up today. But you’re not going to get kicked out of law school, unless you actually commit a wrongful act. So take the opportunity to learn who you want to be when you are a lawyer, while you are in law school.
It is easy to get discouraged by the arduousness and impersonality of relationships based solely on being in the same program, by the cost of tuition and the cost of working seemingly all the time. But we are growing into this and we will have many opportunities to keep growing. You don’t have to be a lawyer today, just as you don’t become a parent overnight.