In March, I had a wonderful opportunity to speak with many incoming 1Ls as part of a panel hosted by the Laurier Law Society. With a level of retrospective comfort (after all, I’m a law student now), I encountered students in one of two broad categories: the overconfident, and the overwrought. For the latter, I am sure nerves will eventually settle as the unfamiliar becomes day-to-day. My advice is for the former.
I’m sure many law students can attest to the fact there are students who, despite not being in law school, seem to know more about the law than they do. They often have family members with prestigious partnerships and pedigree. They are sure their academic performance will be a caricature of their undergraduate marks —notwithstanding of course, the unforgiving grading policies of most law schools. Ideally, every one of these students would be a fictional Harvey Specter personified, coasting through school, and closing only the biggest of Bay Street deals.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news: most students end up in the B-range with considerably less colourful futures largely unfit for television. This should come as no surprise, but this statistical reality seems to be lost on many incoming 1Ls.
During one orientation event I talked to an incoming student who displayed, in my opinion, a potential downfall in subscribing to this mindset. It was a very unpleasant experience, and one I hope students can learn from. My conversation with her went something like this:
“I already took law courses in undergrad,” she said. Of course, she did very well.
“It’s great that you have that exposure, but I have to warn you that introductory law classes in undergrad and law school courses are very different,” I responded.
After all, how could they not be? In law school, students are not regurgitating information. Instead, students are expected to utilize their developing legal skillset, learning to not only apply black letter law, but also traverse through myriad jurisprudential exceptions, dissenting opinions, and nuanced factual variations.
Far too often, overconfident students tend to think their majors will somehow ensure them academic and professional success. From my own experience — for what it’s worth — law school will be vastly different from anything you encountered in any undergraduate course.
Students should come to each substantive course with an open mind without pigeonholing their interests prior to law. To be fair, I am sure some programs will be helpful for certain areas of law. For example, I found my degree in politics to be extremely useful in public and constitutional law and in contextualizing political principles grounding property law.
“Well, my professor in that course is cross-appointed with the faculty of law and it was a really difficult course,” was her response.
“In any case, if you need any help, I would be happy to send you my outlines or give you some tips.”
“Thanks, but I already have a friend working at a big Toronto law firm and I’m going to do my own outlines.”
Every law student will realize an upper-year student’s help is indispensible. The problem with overconfident students is they are unwilling or unable to seek help, perhaps out of lofty personal conviction, or an equally lofty ego.
I was guilty of this. But sooner rather than later students will realize, as I did, surviving law school alone is impossible. There were countless times throughout my 1L year where I had to actively reach out for help, from one-word answers to full-blown discussions of legal concepts. I can honestly say without that help (and those people know who they are), I would have missed out on many opportunities, both professional and extracurricular opportunities, that made up much of my 1L year.
In the years to come, your law school alumni will continue to support you. Incoming students must take advantage of the best resource out there, which are students who already went through what you will be going through.
“Good luck with law school.”
To provide the proverbial ratio decidendi — a term the class of 2017 will all become very familiar with come September — if you are an overconfident student, take my advice.
• First, you need to make sure you remain grounded amid all your not insubstantial past accomplishments and view law school as a new intellectual chapter in your life. Law school is very different, but as exciting as it is different.
• Secondly, you need to be willing to seek and receive help, especially from your fellow peers and upper-years. A successful 1L year requires the humble initiative to learn beyond the walls of a classroom and the pages of a casebook. Be confident in yourself, but don’t let it hinder you and turn you into an overconfident 1L.
Derek Kim, currently a second-year law student at Queen's University, has studied political science at Wilfrid Laurier University and the Graduate School of International Studies at Seoul National University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.