My first year of law school at the University of New Brunswick was like a Patrick Chan Olympic skate. In the months and weeks leading up, there was focused preparation followed by equal parts fear and anticipation. Once it began, there were moments of glorious success and moments of utter disaster — with the encouragement of coaches throughout. Monitoring the performance of competitors became routine. In the end, the judges decided it was neither first place nor thankfully last place.
It was this month last year that, on my way to work, I hurriedly retrieved an envelope from my mailbox. Addressed to me, the envelope featured the University of New Brunswick’s logo. It was among a handful of law school responses to my applications of admission I was still expecting.
As I walked to work from my Cabbagetown home in Toronto, I opened the envelope and pulled out the single-page letter. Until that point, other law school letters came bearing bad news. Opening rejection letters had become dismal routine. I had cast my law school application net wide without considering the personal toll of a series of letters saying “thanks but no thanks.” University of British Columbia. University of Alberta. University of Toronto. All no.
I began to wonder if my legal aspirations had been misguided. Having worked in a PR and marketing managerial role in recent years, I found myself drawn more to contract negotiations and statute compliance than crisis communications or applying the four Ps of marketing. I followed my legal inklings, wrote the LSAT, and applied to law schools as a mature student, asserting in my personal statement my work and life experience would translate into academic success.
An early riser, I read the letter at dawn with help from the morning streetlights. Reading the offer of admission, I doubted my eyes and positioned myself beneath a streetlight for clarity. I reread the first paragraph. “I am pleased to advise that the committee has decided to offer you a place in our 2013-14 first year class.” There it was in plain English. I had earned a coveted spot in a Canadian law school.
Months later, having said goodbye to my friends, family, and partner back home, I found myself in Fredericton preparing to return to the classroom.
Within days of starting law school, I realized my declaration that maturity equals academic success might have been a stretch. I observed my Gen Y classmates, most straight out of undergrad, who appeared to be stealth bombers during lecture. Ably flipping from Facebook to note-taking in time to type down the professor’s take-away message, the majority kept a low profile when the professor invited questions. In this new world of “act like everything is normal,” there seemed little room or reward for looking foolish through uncertainty.
Outside of the classroom, most were conversational mavens and as current on global events as they were on Buzzfeed’s most recent Top 10 list. Many had five- and 10-year plans. I was among an unfamiliar set of switched-on peers. While I found my classmates engaging, given law school’s ranking system, they were equally intimidating to me.
Within weeks however, I found comfort among this fresh-faced cohort as we banded together in a sort of “us versus them” mentality; “them” being the professors who sprint lectured through cases and assigned endless reading. Study groups and note-sharing networks formed. And as professors and the academic expectations bore down on me, I was grateful to have family and friends, both in school and back home, to lean on.
On weekends, I deliberated endlessly over social invitations. Unlike my two previous undergraduate degrees, I considered each invite through the lens of how it would impact my studies. From working out to going out, every non-academic commitment was carefully assessed. Living it up couldn’t come at the expense of learning. It was unfamiliar territory.
Adjusting to the Maritimes was another challenge though my life was quickly overwhelmed by school and, fortunate or not, my surroundings became nearly inconsequential. I became an aficionado of the school’s libraries. In the winter, I happened upon my predecessor’s column and identified with Rebecca Lockwood through her honest observations and brave confessions of life in law school.
And I learned a new form of advocacy. Fuelled by an issue on which all law students have an opinion — the introduction of a Christian law school at Trinity Western University and its impact on the legal profession — I led a group of concerned fellow students to resurrect OUTLaw, UNB law’s society for gay students and allies. As we joined the national anti-TWU campaign, my fellow members and I gradually found a new voice, bolstered by arguments of legal principle learned in class.
A gruelling but satisfying first year of law school has taught me as much about myself as the law. And those lessons have come equally from my professors and classmates. Though I uphold diversity, school has formed an appreciation for unity and commonality.
As students, together, we vacillate between states of confidence and doubt while taking on the rigours of law school. We all experience the status of “law school student” that holds a different currency on-campus versus off-campus. In school, we are often left feeling unworthy. Off campus, as law school students, we are generally held in high regard (with the exception of the local hotel banquet manager based on our behaviour at the formal).
We are also alike in our attempts to be unalike. We strive to be different from one another to get the grade, the scholarship, and the job. Despite the forum of competition in which we study, from my experience in 1L, we are more alike than we might otherwise think. It is my hope this column continues to strike that chord and identify issues and topics that resonate with many of us.