When people would say, “It’s all downhill from here,” I never really got it. I’m not a biker or skier or lover of roller coasters, so the literal meaning didn’t resonate with me. Of course, I knew its metaphorical significance, but it was such a physical analogy that I just took the meaning for granted. This past week, however, I have come to understand the idea absolutely and completely: second year of law school is over and I’m like the little kid on the toboggan at the top of the hill, shouting with glee, smiling ear to ear.
The sensation is a mixture of relief and excitement. The past two years have felt like an uphill battle. What kept me going was knowing the top of the hill (OK, more like mountain) was in sight. To be honest, first year is pure survival — the beginning feels so long and eternal the end is not even comprehensible. Second year is about being resourceful. You draw on all of your motivation — be it a job, cause, title, or renewed pride that you’d finished first year — and push through until you reach the top. Now that I’m here, I feel significantly lighter.
The excitement comes in when I remember I’ll get to learn for learning’s sake. I forgot what that felt like. The obsession with “The Curve” in law school is astounding. Very quickly, schooling becomes a strategy: you decipher the ratio of pages to read versus hours spent in lectures in order to get the grade of choice. This kind of skill isn’t necessarily bad because it’s helpful for time management. But it doesn’t really allow you to sink in to the material and wrestle with it, at least not in the way you might like.
The way I view third year though is an academic period where marks matter less (although I’m sure I’ll still care) so I can enjoy a course, period. For some, I think third year is a time when they can finally get involved in all of the extra-curriculars they want to. Personally, class time didn’t hold me back from other activities much because those were the things that made law school worth it for me. But I do recognize how much more time 3Ls feel they have and so they make the most of it.
The last time I felt this light and excited about my schooling was during my third year of undergrad when I went on exchange to Spain to complete my major in Hispanic Literature. Marks didn’t matter; it was pass/fail. So I indulged in Spanish romantic poetry and magical realism and soaked up every word of this foreign tongue that I loved so much. And I drank a lot of wine while I did it. I’m not sure if estates will be as sensuous an experience, but I’m hoping that at least I’ll get to have more glasses of vino as I go.
Of course, we have another mountain ahead of us: articling. I’ve heard it’s an absolute . . . joy. Oh yes, and then a legal career and a partnership to acquire and family to raise and mortgage to pay, etc. Simply put, there are many more uphill battles ahead. I’m not naïve to the fact. This law school stuff is just training for the stressful times ahead.
There is still something just so satisfying about finishing (OK, almost finishing) law school. Being two-thirds of the way through such a difficult degree feels good. We have another year to spend with the great friends we’ve met and just learn. We can roll and tumble and cartwheel the rest of the way down.
Until the bar exam whacks us in the face. But let’s not think about that right now!