My undergrad experience could not have been better. I played hockey for the University of Minnesota. Meaning, the day I started college I had 20 built-in teammates-friends that were like sisters. On top of that, Minnesota truly is filled with some of the nicest people in the world. I cannot say the same thing about law school classmates.
All first year’s are required to take Lawyering Processing. This class is focused on introducing students to the legal system, legal research, and providing client advice through written analysis. The assignment included library research and finding a specific passage from a case.
So there were roughly 300 students looking for the same thing over a one-week period. No joke, someone actually ripped the pages out of the book from the library so others couldn’t complete the assignment. What did this represent to me? That everyone was out for themselves and that I better get tough!
Separating Friends from Colleagues
This is one of those lessons that I will preface with: this does not apply to all situations. But, in most law schools, law firms and in most offices, it is very applicable.
Lesson: As much time as you spend with your colleagues and classmates in many ways it feels like they are your only option. But remember: They are not your friends. They also want to make partner. They also want to be top of the class. They also want to get the coveted clerkship. And the reality is that if they need to step on you to get there, they will. Yes, this was one of the reasons I chose to explore a non-traditional path post law school because I knew that I couldn’t live like that.
The real key is going into the experience with the right mindset. Leverage the skills that you have to protect yourself and build the right relationships is the way to go. Don’t get too caught up on the nouns: friends, colleagues, classmates—instead focus on the verbs of how people treat you and act.
Law Student Traits
There are the stereotypical traits: argumentative, snide, cut throat. And as applicable as all of those are, there is also a lot of people who have enrolled in law school to change the world. There are also plenty of enrolled students who want to become public defenders because they have had a personal experience that negatively affected them or a friend. Or others who have seen the injustice of the legal system and want to be a part of the solution.
Regardless of what traits these people have, you still have to realize that getting a law degree in an oversaturated market makes people do crazy shit. Even if they want to solve world hunger, that doesn’t mean they won’t step on your throat to get the job that will help them do that.
Six years later
Thanks to Facebook, I’m still connected to a handful of people but I would only need one hand to count the number of actual friends. Reflecting back on why this is I blame people’s inability to handle pressure. As a college athlete you are forced to handle pressure constantly while simultaneously performing on the ice. In law school, this is not the case.
Having this mindset allowed me to get through and not burn bridges but I also wasn’t opening myself up to the craziness. The reality is you have a bunch of people that all have the same goals and similar aspirations with a limited number of seats. It’s like musical chairs for life.
Taking the bar in Minnesota was an interesting pressure cooker to be in with zero classmates. This is where you really find out who your friends are. During the first day of bar review I was lucky enough to sit next to two other people who also didn’t know anyone in the room–One who had graduated from Northwestern Law School, and the other Drake Law School.