Sep 01 2009

Middle Children

Published by at 2:50 pm under Miscellaneous

First year law students seem to have it made.  There is a brief ‘smack in the mouth’ period until you realize how to adjust to a new life style, but ultimately you still hold the power.  Unhappy with your school?  Transfer up.  Need more scholarship?  Transfer Down.  Unsure how to handle yourself in professional situations?  There are literally volumes of books (and blogs posts) on how to make the transition to being a law student.  You don’t have to pick your classes, or who you hang out with (thanks to the cohort system), you are assigned an advisor and a preceptor to smooth the transition and give you some vision, and everyone is excited to welcome you to the school.

Third year students see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Granted, the bar looms in the distance like a severe thunderstorm, but many have just finished a summer internship that has given them some direction in life.  Some have standing job offers, some have a practice certificate so they can begin giving pragmatic meaning to their studies.  Some have prepared so well that they can coast down the road to graduation with electives and bar prep classes.

But what about the middle children?  The work load increases, because there are no ‘gimmes’ like first-year leadership.  You have some autonomy, but not enough to escape a pre-determined eleven credit workload.  You are forced to decide upon a specialization, which will mandate some classes that of absolutely no interest to you, regardless of your desired sector of the law.  And you must answer the overarching question of ‘What do I want to do with my life?’  This is the same question that many of you came to law school to avoid answering for another three years.

Somewhere in between the booze and coffee is the equilibrium of the second year student.  They suffer from what I call 20 to life, representative of the mentality of a prisoner who has been sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in prison.  You are too far into law school, in time and money, to get out and it is too late to decide you want to finish somewhere else.  So you are stuck roaming the halls, isolated from society and entrenched in a close knit circle of people in the same situation as you, perpetually talking about what you ‘should’ have done.  Against your will, the better part of the day is spent inside, while your body and your non-legal mind suffer the consequences.  No news, no pleasure reading, no exercise, just food/sleep/study/repeat.  I know the feeling well because it is much the same in the working world.  The phrase actually came from a guy who worked the midnight shift with me at the courthouse.  Biggest difference between here and there – we are not getting paid. 

Anyhow, this guy had been police for 10 years working from 11pm-11am most days, and was always in a good mood.  He was forever talking about his intramural football league.  He commuted almost an hour each way to practice twice a week, and once for games, from north of DC down to Gravelly Point, VA to play in league with no prize money, just pride.  But, football was what made him him.  He was always taking bets on the Atlanta Falcons when they played against your team, and talking about fantasy football when the rest of us walked around staring at the ground, drinking coffee, feeling tired and grumpy.  It was difficult to find someone who was energetic enough to throw a football around the office at 4 am on Tuesday morning after 5 hours of roaming the inside of  courthouse, staring at marble walls.  However, he was also the most well-liked guy on the shift because of his optimism.

Point is, in this arduous, and sometimes maddening process of school, you have got to find what makes you you.  Maybe it’s basketball, maybe it’s volunteerting, maybe it’s writing, but whatever differentiates you from the red eyes and noses buried in books is what will save you from crashing and burning.  Everyone tells your first year that you have to dedicate a night a week to your significant other if you want to make it work.  But, you must also allocate time for yourself.  It gives you stories to tell your friends, a means to relate to strangers, and talking points in your job interviews.  If you do not, at the end, we will all just be lawyers… and I don’t think anyone really wants that.

One response so far

One Response to “Middle Children”

  1. Kerri Sigleron 14 Oct 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Well said, Matthew!

    If you’re lucky enough to be at a school like Elon, where busy students still gather for athletic activities and urban family outings, then ENJOY IT! I was never in the drinking crowd, but I sure enjoyed sports and girls’ night out and the occasional NON-LAW book (gasp!!!) and, of course, Drag Queen Bingo.

    Like Matt said – anything to get out of law and into life!

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