This week, law schools across Canada are back in. Admittedly, my back-to-school emotions are mixed.
As an out-of-province student, I am excited to reunite with friends and classmates. I am equally sad to leave my partner, family, and friends behind in Ontario. As e-mails and announcements regarding bookstore hours and class registration trickle in, an additional feeling is setting in as I prepare to return to Ludlow Hall: angst.
I do not identify as a student who found first year easy. Not even a little bit. Coming from years of working where big efforts tended to translate into big rewards, in law school the pain, relative to the gains, is sometimes so disproportionate it leaves me disillusioned.
On our first day of classes, John Williamson, University of New Brunswick’s former dean of law, cautioned the first-year class. “Law school will require some adjustments,” he said. “The study of law is somewhat different than what you experienced in other disciplines. Be patient and give yourself time to make those adjustments.”
He was right. In 1L, every non-academic undertaking — from my love life to laundry — took a backseat to casebooks, study group meetings, and office-hour visits with professors. All the while, I was alert to how my classmates were performing given the often-unspoken law student dogfight to be “above average.”
It was not until mid-May — off campus and away from the grind — that I began feeling like my normal self and I became fully aware of the toll of law school. Apparently, I am not alone.
“I feel both anticipation and some angst about second year,” says Geoff Kowalski, my spirited UNB classmate. “1L was demanding and given what I now know about law school, despite the fact that I have more latitude in course selection this year, coming off the summer, I need to gear up and get ready for another eight months of intensity.”
Like Kowalski, knowing what I am stepping back into, I can prepare accordingly. With one caveat: some days in law school I am not certain I actually know anything! It’s a shared sentiment among several of my classmates that somehow, law school congregates the best and brightest students, then lobs at us a curriculum of such paralyzing workloads and unfamiliar content that our once-titanium confidence begins to corrode.
Having survived and succeeded in first year and now a little older and a tad wiser, my confidence is returning.
And it certainly helps that I can choose five of the 10 courses I am taking this year. I expect ranging topics like labour law, securities regulation, and gender, sexuality, and the law will hold my interest more easily than first-year mandatories like constitutional law (my 1L bugbear).
My fellow 2L students across the country and I are mindful of new challenges awaiting this year.
As student recruitment by large firms in Calgary, Toronto, and Vancouver rolls out in the fall, students eyeing a summer job in these markets need to add prepping for interviews to our to-do lists, above and beyond academics.
University of Toronto law student Vidushi Hora, my new friend who I met on the Bay Street law firm tours junket this summer, is mindful of the on-campus interviews.
“I’m pretty excited to be going back to school especially now that the application process for OCIs is done,” she says. “Things will probably get hectic once law school is in full swing and we begin to prepare for interviews, but one thing I’ve learned is that there is no point in wasting energy in stressing about something that is out of my control.”
And similarly, she is keen on the flexibility of 2L. “It will be great to take courses in things that I’m interested in and not have to take mandatory courses in subjects that I know I won’t be pursuing.”
Taking on leadership roles on campus is another commonality for 2Ls. With a co-chair, Hora will be leading the South Asian Law Students’ Association at U of T this year.
“I’m really looking forward to co-chairing an organization that has not been a part of University of Toronto law for far too many years.”
Balancing school and extracurricular commitments will be a juggling act I also need to steady. My time management skills will be tested by filing this monthly column as well as my responsibilities as chairman of OUTLaw, UNB’s law society for LGBTQ students and allies. I recall from first year, however, that outlets like these help to keep school in perspective.
The transition from 1L to 2L for a handful of students is compounded by transferring to a new school. Though many law students, like my friend and former classmate Jim Wu — who is transferring from UNB to the University of Victoria — are incredibly adept at change.
“I am excited about transferring to UVic,” says Wu. “I moved a lot as a kid so I don’t mind being a new student. Plus I heard UVic possesses all the qualities of UNB such as friendly and supportive profs and classmates, small classes, and a very collegial and welcoming environment but with the added bonus of west coast weather.”
My friend Justin Wong is following the same path to UVic from UNB.
“Anticipating the start of second year as a transfer gives me a feeling that I am becoming all too familiar within my study and practice of the law,” he says. “The same feeling I had the first day of class in first year. The same feeling I had the first day of summering at the law firm. The same feeling I have every time I received a research question from a lawyer. The terror that I know nothing and the excitement to find the way ahead.”
As campuses reopen, a degree of terror and excitement seems to be the new normal for many 2Ls, this writer included. But if this mashup of feelings is becoming familiar, we are learning, improving, and growing.