“Shit doesn’t matter. That’s the key takeaway. Shit doesn’t matter.”
Charlie, a third-year JD who didn’t want to be identified in this article, had just walked out of a job interview with a well-regarded law firm. As everyone knows, the market for newly minted lawyers is hardly robust. It’s been in decline for years and 2014 isn’t likely to be much better.
But the student at University of California’s Hastings College of the Law is taking it all in stride.
“It really doesn’t matter,” he continues. “Just don’t fucking fail. And you’re not going to fail. It’s so expensive that they do everything they can to keep you in.”
His attitude is rare among law students, who are notorious for being perpetually on edge, stressed-out, and exasperated. After all, these days, law school is a grueling marathon that leaves most students deeply in debt and heavy with anxiety over whether they can connect with jobs.
‘MY ARM FEELS LIKE IT’S BEEN INJECTED WITH NOVOCAIN’
Exhibit A is this recent Reddit thread on post-exam nervousness among JDs. “For me, it’s the numbing,” one user writes. “For whatever reason, right around exam time, my entire right arm feels like it’s been injected with Novocain for days on end. Only the right arm, though. Everything else just hurts like hell.”
“I say this every time,” another advises. “Throw alcohol inside of yourself.”
Having worked with many students in one of the country’s top law schools, University of Michigan Care Manager Diana Parrish is well-versed in the symptoms of law school anxiety. “I think a lot of students just feel very overwhelmed,” she says.
Parrish surmises that though she doesn’t have data on the subject, she wouldn’t be surprised if a quarter of Michigan Law students were medicated for those symptoms. “I think the combination of the excessive workload and the stress of being in class itself is more than a lot of people expect, and I think they’re often surprised by how they react to it,” she explains.
HOW TO BE THE EXCEPTION
When I followed Charlie around for a day at Hastings in late March—hopping between a class, an interview, and an extracurricular meeting—my intention was to get a firsthand look at just how stressed law school students really are. What I found instead was more than a little surprising: I found someone who, by his peers’ accounts, had mastered the art of not giving a damn.
Most likely, some of Charlie’s calm comes from being a 3L with a possible nonprofit job lined up. The third year of law school is widely seen as kind of a joke. At one point, Charlie comments that skipping a class in which the professor is known for cold calling is legitimate because “3Ls don’t have time for that shit.”
Still, like most soon-to-be law school graduates, he has many reasons to fret. The odds aren’t entirely in his favor: He’s coming from the school ranked 54th in the nation, where only 30.0% of the class of 2012 was employed at graduation. Plus, he’ll be graduating with $130,000 in loans. That’s his conservative estimate.
He doesn’t let those figures get to him, though. Over the years, Charlie has developed the ability to keep cool under most circumstances—and if he can develop it, so can virtually anyone with an open mind.
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