It all came down to this: Your future career depends on the words you conjure from the deepest precipices of your brain. But let us backtrack. You have spent countless hours going over a semester’s worth of class notes, imagining every possible hypothetical question, every single thing that could go horribly wrong. The school is filled to the brim with driven yet exhausted students, filling the air with palpable stress. There was only this massive obstacle preventing you from sweet liberation and a carefree mind. You do not even remember the last time you felt as happy as you know you are going to be in a few hours.
We millennials are so used to instant gratification, thanks in part to technology, and with so much on the line, a lack of grade-based validation starts to creep up on us. This culminates in a weirdness of massive proportions during finals week. Everyone starts to act strange, different students gravitate toward and away from each other. It is a strange tectonic shift in the social dynamic of law school. As the test comes and goes, the raw nerves that got grated are still exposed. Then you spend a month in limbo, awaiting your grades that would a) justify your behavior during finals, b) affirm you did the best you could, and c) confirm you belong in law school.
Grades can go one of two ways: They can supply a rude awakening or an exhilarating affirmation that is, at best, very short lived. As the first-week funk fades and people are putting on their best effort, you realize that instead of being able to breathe, you have to work still harder. Your best efforts must raise the bar even higher.
This new threshold has its advantages. You are comfortable with a heavier workload; you can absorb a higher frequency of reading; and you understand concepts the first-ish time around. The process of being broken down and built back up is starting to show, and you are reaping some benefits. These benefits come with a few mental hilarities of going “total law student.” While watching an episode of “Luke Cage” on Netflix, I immediately started thinking about liability, insurance, respondeat superior, and negligence during a high-action scene involving a stolen ambulance and rocket launcher.
Some values shift as well. You start to see time as a commodity. Free time in law school is fleeting, and you realize how you spend it is a huge investment. It is strange to suddenly find meaning in the “time-is-money” phrase. With all the networking, studying, interviewing and stressing, free time is as valuable as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
I have found that the best way to spend free time is seeking adventures with friends and family. Colorado has so much to explore, and something about the mountains allows the stress dial to go green while resetting your perspective on life. Most of the outdoorsy things require a lot of determination, mental strength and cardio. While they can be exhausting, the view is worth it. This process of building up my lower-altitude lungs and overall perseverance fuels my mantra for getting through the law school experience: short-term sacrifice for long-term rewards. Plus, time spent exploring your interests makes for great ice-breakers during interviews because you get to include “expert Grouponer” on your resume and share your adventures.
Speaking of interviewing, the second half of my 1L year has been full of it! January was such a messy month. You get your grades (emotional rollercoaster); advanced assignments are posted (infringing yet again on your carefree time!); you come back to a funk, and suddenly everyone is talking about the summer. It is funny how some things come full circle on this marathon to the bar (examination, not setting).
I always root for the underdog in movies, books and my life. But the reality is that the world is not black and white, and it is not always so simple to paint things broadly as villain, hero and underdog. To divorce myself from my preconceived notions, I sought out differing points of view. I attended a big law firm panel early in the first semester and pondered on a question. I did not know how to ask it, but I needed to know the answer, so I mustered some courage. I asked an attorney how he came to be the guy perceived as the villain. He took this in good humor and explained to me that his clients are more than just a name. Corporations are made of workers and in-demand services, which warrants a certain degree of protection for “heroes” and “villains” alike. This seedling of a thought prompted me to look at the law and its various practices in a new light.
Fast-forward a semester, and I am sitting in a lobby waiting for an interview. Guess who I bump into in the elevator? The “villain.” He remembered me, and we had a good laugh. Then we both got off on the same floor, walked in the same direction and guess who was my interviewer? Full circle. This community is a small one, and it is amazing to experience that firsthand. It made for a great icebreaker, and I am glad I asked the question that would open my mind to many possibilities.
I wonder what adventures are in store for the rest of my 1L year and how my summer will pan out. Until then, catch you on the flip side… D
Jessica Cordero is a 1L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.