Entering law school, you will find among your peers science majors, math wizards, human rights activists, corporate sharks, and many, many BA students. In order to appeal to everyone, and of course for other practical purposes, the first year is extremely broad. The 1L student is able to engage with the basic components of contract, tort, criminal, constitutional, and property law. At my law school, our schedules in first year are entirely circumscribed but for one elective course. It was compulsory to study topics from all areas of the bar and collect a year’s worth of general legal knowledge.
I entered my first year with an honours BA in criminology and was extremely confident that I would pursue a career in criminal law. Anyone who told me to enter with an open mind got an earful and anyone who doubted or questioned my decision got two earfuls. Being a perfectionist, despite my tunnel vision, I still worked extremely hard to achieve academic success in courses that were not related to my career ambitions.
Over the course of the year, all of my outside energy was channeled to seek extracurricular opportunities in criminal law. In order to engage with the crim community and further my goals, I became involved with the criminal law society, enrolled in the criminal law intensive program, and got a summer position volunteering with a member of the criminal defence bar.
This summer, my interaction with and knowledge of the legal system grew exponentially. I met with clients both in jail and at the office, conducted research on and prepared files, dissected disclosure, negotiated resolutions with Crowns, and attended court to speak to matters. This truly was a spectacular experience.
One important lesson that I drew out of my summer volunteering shocked my friends, family, and myself. In a state of fear and excitement, I realized that I had been too hasty in my unwavering commitment to criminal law.
The implications of this were that less than two weeks ago, long after course selection had started, I had to rebuild my entire schedule. Second year, unlike first, has no required courses. Now, looking to re-ignite my passion for the law, I am enrolled in a wide array of courses and am eager to begin this academic year.
The nugget of advice that I hypocritically want to pass along to first years is to be open to any and all opportunities that come your way. When I look back at my first year, it is with amusement that I recall my favourite course was contract law. Had I been more open minded I may have embraced a completely different path and perhaps not have been stuck taking all 8:30 a.m. classes in my winter semester this coming year (all that was left after enrolment began)!
Law is not like it is on TV. My experience, limited as it may be, has taught me that it is not glamorous but extremely hard work requiring dedication and perseverance. Passion will go a long way in your ability to meet and exceed the expectations of your future employers and therefore it is important to find an area that can fuel long-burning commitment and enthusiasm.
If in crim law class, R. v. Grant makes your blood boil, you are fascinated by the snail in Donoghue’s ginger beer, you cannot wait to read about contract remedies, and the division of constitutional powers ignites a spark in you, fear not. Too many times have I heard the concerned rants of friends and peers — that they had not yet found their niches and did not know what area of the law beckoned to them the most. In retrospect, I can see that stubbornly limiting myself to one area of the law was a foolish mistake.
Going to law school is a privilege and opportunities for involvement in every field abound. I can’t think of a more ideal place to feel lost and take my time being lost. With the guidance of professors and mentors and the patience to take our time, we can all emerge more wise and confident after making a well considered decision of where we want to find ourselves when our formal legal education sadly and inevitably comes to an end.