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First Semester of Law School: Has Stress Ever Been This Real? ~ By Jessica Cordero

As a graduation newborn, I thought studying for the LSAT was hard. I remember considering all of the brilliant people out there going through the same process and wondering if they thought it was just as hard. When test day came and went, I allowed myself to breathe and forget about the hypothetical smart people who sat through the same mind-melting four hours I did.

Before I fully realized what was happening, it was time to leave everything I had ever known to move to Denver and pursue a career in law. I was filled with a roller coaster of emotions, the most prominent of which were fear and wonder, as I had never met a lawyer prior to law school and had no real idea how this was all going to play out. I was essentially walking into a dark tunnel, unaware of where I was going. Armed with street smarts and dreams of changing the world, I took a deep breath and walked into the glass doors of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

After each chapter of my life, I like to evaluate where I have been, how I have changed and whom I want to be going forward. I always ask myself, knowing what I know now, what would I have wanted to tell myself five years ago? Ten years ago? This self-reflection has enabled me to connect with the past versions of myself so that I can learn and grow into whom I want to be going forward. During one particular thought session, I decided that although law school was notorious for being competitive, I was going to be kind and open to other people and their stories. I realized my big-city mentality of keeping strangers at an arm’s length did not make sense anymore because I had left the comforts of home and was suddenly surrounded by strangers. These strangers were all of the forgotten, hypothetical people I had imagined during my LSAT days. Now they had faces, names and a unique perspective that I wanted to know and discover. Getting over the “heebie jeebies” of meeting new people was not too difficult, but I found myself wondering when the ball was going to drop. I was meeting all of these wonderful people; I was in beautiful Colorado; and my school seemed amazing. My professors, although intimidating, were brilliant. Then the work began.

I thought my time management and study methods were spot-on before walking through these glass doors. But I realized that law school not only changed the way I saw the world, it challenged the way I operated within myself, and I was slowly changing. Procrastination was out of the question, and I had to really think before I spoke, lest I be corrected by a brilliant professor in a way that was both embarrassing and infuriating.

Nothing really prepares anyone for law school. The free time/work time rhythm shifts on its back, and after reading the same page three times, I realized I had just spent an hour trying to understand what justices of the past were trying to tell me. It was irritating and an insult to my perceived intelligence that it took all night to get through a few pages for each class. I wondered how these brain workouts were going to pay off. Then the weeks passed, and I could issue-spot the first time through! I knew some lingo and, to some extent, a bit of old school Latin. However, for every advance I made, there was another challenge waiting for me.

In the big bad world out there, there is a calm after the storm of stress surrounding a goal. Law school knows no such calm. It is an onslaught of “challenge, stress, finished work, existential crisis” that keeps repeating itself. I had been through quite a bit in my life but nothing like this.

There is no such thing as a “weekend.” Sure, my friends and I will set something up, contemplate canceling because of our homework to-do list, figure we deserve a few hours away from being students of the law, have fun and instantly regret the hours not spent being productive. The weekend bliss felt as an undergrad has ceased to exist. I look at the undergrads, dressed to the nines, enjoying life, and suddenly remember that was a very real point in my life. Where did that time go?

Do not get me wrong — I love every agonizing second of law school. I was built for this, and although I complain at times, I feel I have met my tribe. All of us “Type A’s” who compare how many hours we studied and laugh through the stress are people I have come to love and appreciate. We are those who stress about not being stressed, and no one had ever understood that. In earlier chapters of our lives, when we were all randomly put together with people with other life goals in mind, being smart or different was not always celebrated. Here, it is embraced. Our awkwardness and social anxiety bonds us, melds us into confident people with inspiring stories. We are more interested in what each of us brings to the table than in surface conversation. I have met remarkable people who not only share and challenge my interests, they encourage me to be inspired.

Facebook memories reminded me while writing this article that I took the SAT 6 years ago. How the time has passed! If I could tell the awkward teenage me who always felt like an outsider that I would find a group of people who dared to dream and who have bookshelves full of books they have actually read, then I would have never believed it. These people exist? Yes, they do. They are my home away from home, and even though I never thought law school would have opened these doors for me, I am as thankful for its trials as I am for its highlights. D

Jessica Cordero is a 1L at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. She can be reached at jcordero19@law.du.edu.