I remember the day I got my acceptance letter to Vanderbilt Law School. I was a combination of thrilled, anxious, and amped to get it over with. I talked to people that had been to law school, some higher ranked and some not, and they all said the same thing: “You’re going to feel like you’re being pushed to your limit, and you will be, but you’ll be fine. Just get through it and get that money.”
I thought to myself, “I’ve got this. I have nothing to worry about.” I realized how wrong I was the day I walked through those doors. Law school revealed a lot of different things that I was somewhat unaware of and unprepared for. Every single part of it feels like a rat race. The classes are high-pressure, which makes a lot of students turn the whole experience into a competition. Every student appears to be super “Type A”, which means my laid-back personality sticks out like a sore thumb. The road to success is told to you in a very linear form—you go to law school, you get on a journal, you participate in moot court, you go to a firm, and all is well with the world and your bank account—so if you’re like me, and you don’t know exactly what you want, you feel like you’re a mile behind everyone who appears so sure of themselves. At that time, my reality was that I was pushed over my limit and I wasn’t getting through it, at least not in the way I wanted
Initially, I came to law school so I could make a difference in the lives of those that are overlooked, under-protected, and constantly find themselves in a state of helplessness. I wanted to speak for them. I wanted to give them a voice. I didn’t have an exact answer for how I would do that, but that was the goal. However, by the end of 1L year, I was convinced that the only way law school would be worth it is if I checked every box that I was told to check and got a huge check at the end of it all as validation that the linear road is the only way to be successful. Never mind that I could care less about a specific practice area or that I actually hated the uptight, elitism of a particular office or that I would literally have to fake a smile everyday; none of that mattered if the money was right. Right? Wrong.
After endless small talks that I could care less about, I eventually became fed up with the façade. I had become so stressed that I started to have chest pains; that’s my tell-tell sign that I’m forcing something that isn’t meant to be. Both God and my body were telling me a harsh truth—everything in my life was going awry because I was trying to walk in every lane but my own.
Looking back as a 3L, I can boldly say…law school sucks. There was no one to tell me that I could be successful without booking a class or being on a journal. No one told me that it was ok to be unsure and to want something different from what I was being told to want. It seemed as if there were only two choices—move up to BigLaw or move out of the profession because you won’t be successful. Fortunately, this is a complete lie.
Law students everywhere could benefit from law schools recognizing that the law is such a broad area and can literally be used to change the world in a number of different arenas. Why not encourage students to pursue all of them? Some of us want to use the law to travel the world, some just want to be home by 5 p.m., some want to lobby for women’s rights, some want to provide legal representation to marginalized communities. We all want different things, and that’s ok. Law schools should be in the business of serving the students that fund them, which means informing them of all of the options that are before them, traditional or not. I suspect this won’t happen anytime soon, so….
Let's redefine success!
Success is….whatever you want it to be. You just have to have the courage to define it and pursue it, even if it means doing it alone.
If you’re anything like I was, my advice to you is OWN IT. I’m not on law review, I’m not a Type A personality, I’m not in competition with anyone, and I’m not completely sure about each step I may have to take in order to achieve my goals. I’m all of this, and I’m still on the road to success.