If you were to ask 30 different law students why they were pursuing careers in law, you’d likely get 30 different answers. This of course, despite the fact all of our personal statements said we wanted to “save the world.” Yes, some, including myself, do naively hope to leave a lasting impact on the lives of our future clients. Others want to revolutionize business, constitutional, employment, and even tax law! And some among us are pursuing legal careers for the sole purpose of ensuring personal financial security. Regardless of what brings students into the law library for late night study sessions, there is one piece of advice I feel applies to all and that is to cherish and soak up every opportunity for growth and learning.
Throughout my undergraduate career, there were numerous times when I told myself: “There is no way I could possibly work harder than this.” Was I ever wrong. Law school forces students to push themselves to the very edge. Through the chaos of working nights and rising early for morning lectures, I was forced to develop an entirely new skill set and all of my existing abilities were greatly enhanced. In times of stress and despair, I said to myself: “This is a means to an end; a stepping stone to my career in law.”
Looking back on the past year, I can now appreciate that the experience of law school itself is something to be treasured. I acknowledge these may be some of the most challenging years of my life, however, I will not wish them away and nor should you. The person who, years from now, will be drafting corporate M&As in the downtown core or drafting Charter applications for superior court will be shaped by the high and low tides of these years.
Last summer, before starting my journey as a 1L student, I was bombarded by rumours and anecdotes relating to the first-year law experience. These tall tales managed to skyrocket my anxiety. I was under the impression this arduous year would be spent alone and characterized by competitive jealousy from peers and cold shoulders from aloof professors.
For those who are beginning law school this fall, let me put your mind at ease and provide my limited wisdom. Getting a legal education is a privilege; it is important to note that you are among the best and brightest of your cohort. Entering law school with a sense of competition is a massive strategic error. All students have their own strengths and weaknesses and by working together you can learn and grow from one another while maximizing efficiency. Although some students choose to keep to themselves, they are few in number. One of the greatest things you can draw out of your time in law school is the ability to be both a strong leader and a supportive team member. This is not only an academic education but also a social one.
With several summer months now under my belt, I have had time to reflect on the past year and the school environment, which I, quite literally, raced away from after exams ended in April. Surprisingly, some of my fondest memories are those of sharing the reading room with my brilliant peers and now close friends and also getting involved in the extracurricular and social environment provided by my school. Don’t let these opportunities pass you by.
Having spent the majority of this summer working in a law office, I can assure any 1L up-and-comer that being well-rounded is an essential quality. Law school can be all consuming and in order to maintain even a shred of sanity it is essential to take time to laugh and pursue your outside interests. I was fortunate to attend a school that provided yoga classes, had numerous sports teams, and even its own variety show, Mock Trial. If your interests are not yet represented at your school, take initiative! The time and effort which may appear burdensome while juggling readings and exams will pay off tenfold when you are enjoying your work product and maybe even getting a nod from the dean for all you accomplish.
The final piece of advice I will offer in this month’s column is to take advantage of the wisdom of upper-year students. I was fortunate enough to have some amazing mentors in 1L. The guidance I received was invaluable. By detailing both my foibles and successes through this column I hope to disseminate some guidance of my own while allowing readers to laugh alongside me as I eke out my path in the Toronto legal scene.
Lauren Berdock joins Canadian Lawyer 4Students online as our new monthly columnist. She will be entering her second year at Osgoode Hall Law School in the fall and is currently vice chairwoman of events of the Criminal Law Society. She is the author of the blog “Educating Lauren” at advocatedaily.com. She would love to hear any and all feedback, funny anecdotes, or success stories and can be contacted via e-mail at LaurenBerdock@osgoode.yorku.ca.