There’s a lot of useful advice going around about how to succeed in law school, how to take advantage of its myriad opportunities, and how to set yourself up for a happy and productive career. I have written about how to create a good law school outline, and how to read critically by using deductive reasoning. What is most enjoyable to relate, however, is why law school was the most enjoyable educational experience of my life. I loved law school so much. Every year I force myself to revisit the extraordinary experience of law school in order to better understand my students. What follows are some of the reasons law school was such an educational treat.
- Law school permanently alters the way you think
Prior to law school, I relished discussing abstract topics with my friends, and I always loved analyzing books, music, and movies. I thought I reasoned decently well and knew how to control for confounding factors, because I was a science major. However, law school transformed the nebulous way I approached issues. I noticed that my law school friends and I had cleaner, more logically framed discussions than my pre-law school ramblings.
The process of reading cases, extracting the relevant rules and principles, and resolving seeming inconsistencies in order to harmonize cases with prior precedent sharpened my ability to be precise and consistent in my own thinking. If you allow yourself to really struggle with the case method (don’t resort to commercial outlines or googling to understand cases), law school will transform your mind. You will train your brain by exposure to the process of legal reasoning. You will notice that others are often not on point when they respond to objections to their own thinking. You will appreciate a logical argument that seems five steps ahead of how you were thinking about an issue. My own law school professors’ responses to my in-class questions seemed more like responses to anticipated responses of mine to what might have been their responses than they were direct responses to my rudimentary actual question.
- Law school is hard, but the work you do is directly for you
Everything you learn in law school directly benefits you. Every exam period, when all you do is study, and every late night you devote to writing a brief contributes to your success. After law school, you will have to answer to judges, or senior associates and partners. This will be a rewarding experience, but there is nothing like working for yourself, and being accountable to yourself for your own intellectual growth. And what intellectual growth you will experience, because….
- Law school opens up another universe, while teaching you so much about the one you already know
One of the most simultaneously maddening and exhilarating aspects of law school is that you enter another dimension, with a new language, new processes, and new lenses for viewing the world. I remember having the most trouble reading cases in Civil Procedure (my favorite class when I was a 1L), because to understand the case, you had to understand many unfamiliar terms. However, to truly understand these terms, you had to understand the case. I was often stuck on the outside of a cycle of learning, finding it difficult to crack my way into a case (continue trying; really make sure to appreciate every word you read). Class didn’t always clarify the case, but instead complicated it. But then, after reading the case, attending class, and going back over my notes, I would have an epiphany. I would understand the case on a deeper level, and the disparate pieces of understanding I had about a case would coalesce. Then, at the end of the semester, all of the cases and doctrines would coalesce into a harmonious, unified understanding of the subject. That sort of intellectual high is as rewarding as it gets.
Plus, because the law incorporates insights from economics, philosophy, history, and science, everything you know will ultimately help you better understand each area of the law. Crim Law will help you better understand Constitutional Law. Economics will better help you understand Torts. There are endless lenses to use and analogies to draw upon. The law, at its best, is the sum total of human progress at a particular point in time, yet gives deference to the wisdom of the past.
- Law school is an adventure
Let yourself explore. You don’t have to control everything, or know what you want to do when you graduate. Have fun, enjoy this time of learning, struggle mightily, and you will succeed. Make friends, do crazy fun student things, embarrass yourself in class a few times, love to hate certain students or professors, expose yourself to new ideas, learn from others. Read, above all else, just keep reading. Your first year of law school will end sometime, and then you can stop reading cases constantly (and maybe sometimes even read fiction or poetry, to exercise the parts of your brain that law school kills a little). Ask questions, especially if you’re having trouble with the doctrine. Ask another student — or ask your professor. We love talking about the law. We do it for a living.