I started a thread called 1L Blues a while back, because I thought it would give other aspiring law school students something useful and realistic to chew on.
Here's another unhappy camper (maybe he'll become a happier camper?) with some interesting things to say:
To be quite honest, I have not been happy at all with my law school experience. We are reading and discussing "big" cases in our nation's history (Marbury v. Madison, McCulloch v. Maryland, etc.), but the material leaves me cold. If anything, it feels stifling and a bit underwhelming. There are roughly 70 people in my Legal Methods section (out of a class of ~380), and I feel like I'm in a room full of pedants, people whose only goal is to correct my mistakes. I can't imagine dealing with these people and this material for three years, let alone some number of years afterwards.
All the grim realities of the legal profession seem to have reared their ugly heads. I feel like I'm taking a huge risk by spending three years and $130,000 to stay the course on school. If I had to summarize my feelings: I see why they have to pay people to do this work.
In thinking about it and speaking others, the main argument in favor of staying seems to be that finishing at [top law school] would be a valuable enough credential to allow me to do other things. The counter-point to this is that looking at the numbers, both debt and recruiting statistics, the main thing this degree is going to prepare me to do is work as a lawyer, with other possible initial opportunities in lobbying, policy, or government work. If I want to do something else, why not spend the time and money directing myself toward that goal?
While I've known this information in the abstract, being immersed in the environment and material has thrown everything into stark relief. I wish I could have come to this realization sooner, but I'd rather have it now than later. If I was 18 and just starting school, I'd tell myself that I probably just have cold feet. But at 26, I trust my judgment enough to realize that something else is going on here.
But I don't trust myself enough to operate in a vacuum. Is this a normal reaction? Is it something I'll get over? Is it something I should get over?
After polling as many good people as I could get a hold of, the general recommendation seemed to be that I should stick things out for a year and a summer and see where I stand then. Although this is contrary to my initial reaction, hearing the same advice from a number of people did pound the point home. I can't really believe that [top law school] is somehow conspiring with the people I know to keep me here.
Worst case, [top law school] has gave me enough money that firm work over the summer (assuming I'm diligent with the funds) comes pretty close to clearing out my debt for the year. I also had some people advise me to keep my eyes open for the area of law that interests me (not product liability suits from the 1800s) and be proactive in making sure I found opportunities to get work in that area. I have no idea if that area of the law is going to pop up for me, but I feel like after a year, I should have more information to make a better decision. Plus, it's a horrible time to reenter the job market in financial services.
I think too that if I left prior to completing the first year, there would always be some nagging doubt about whether or not I would have enjoyed it. Like you suggested, there is apparently a big disparity between legal study and legal practice, and the former may not have a lot of bearing on the latter. After making the initial decision to apply to law school, I know that I didn't really examine that decision again during the application process. It's hard to keep yourself motivated unless you are working toward a fixed goal. And once the results are in, the visiting, financial aid, and deciding processes take on a life of their own. This has actually been a good chance to sit down and reflect a bit on what I want to get out of this experience. Whatever that is, if a year goes by and it looks like I can't do it, then will be the time to reexamine.
Sounds as if this 1L is thinking about things sensibly. I'm curious to hear reactions from others. Thoughts? Please comment.
Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. Read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, recently updated and available as an e-book. Follow Anna on Twitter (@annaivey).