A Message for My Students

by ursavoice

Caroline Lee

I have always been drawn to lists. I think it is because they break concepts down into easily digestible pieces. They are structured, organized, and easy to understand. When Diana Palacios asked me to contribute a piece for the uRSA newspaper, I thought long and hard about what kind of article I should write. In staying true to what speaks to me and what I think is important to remember as a law student, I would like to leave you with a list of reminders. This is of course not an all-encompassing list, but rather a couple of reminders that I hope will help you guard your emotional well-being during law school and beyond.

1. Own your possessions; do not let your possessions own you.
There is a beauty and a freedom in living simply. Just because you get a new job that pays a ridiculous amount of money, do not let it go to your head. In other words, be thoughtful of your purchases. Avoid the common trap of working to support your possessions. Do not let them own you, your time, or your career.

2. Be purposeful about your identity.
Law school is a time of self-discovery. Although it is helpful to seek the guidance of others, please be purposeful about your identity. Do not rely on others to define who you should become or what you are capable of doing in your life. Although many of your mentors may have good intentions in giving you advice, only you can determine the best path for you. Remember, the only way you will be one hundred percent precluded from doing something is if you never give it a try. If your goals are within reason, ignore those people who tell you that you are not good enough. Follow your own compass and find your own way.

3. Welcome failure and try to take it in stride.
No one is perfect. We all know that, yet many of us strive to be the exception to this rule. The practice of law only exacerbates this desire and drive to have all the answers, to be the one who is responsible, smart, and precise—all the time. When I was a law student, I met someone whose life and circumstances often come into my thoughts. He was a fellow law student. He was nice and intelligent, and had a kind face. We were not close but we had a similar group of friends and had hung out a couple of times. After his 1L year, he decided to drop out of law school and start his own business. We lost touch during this period. It was only after hearing of his death that I learned that his business venture had not gone so well, that he had become engaged, and that he had taken his own life.

I wish we had stayed in touch. I wish we had continued our friendship. I wish I had had the chance to remind him of all the friends and family who love him, that his purpose on earth far surpassed this professional setback. I would have told him that whatever perceived “failures” and pain he experienced in his life would only be temporary and that he could find his way back to being happy once again.

Law students and lawyers are vulnerable to depression, anxiety, and other mental wellness issues due to the stress and demands of this profession. When you encounter failure (I say when because all of us will inevitably fail at some point in our lives), embrace it, and grow from this experience. Take it in stride as much as you can. I am not saying it will be easy. It is going to be hard and it is going to hurt.

Please try to remember that failure is a natural, humorous, and sometimes beautiful part of our lives. Many of the most interesting and awe-inspiring people I know have failed greatly at some, if not at many points in their lives. Your self-worth needs to rest with your character and your relationships, not on your achievements.

4. Do not act like a “lawyer” in your personal life.
If you have not already, you will undoubtedly be accused of “acting” like a lawyer during a personal conversation with your partner, your family, or your friends. It may be hard to do, but as much as you can, try to leave your lawyering skills in the classroom/office. Yes, during law school, you will learn to be a zealous advocate. You will also learn how to find holes in your opponent’s arguments. In lieu of using these newfound skills on your loved ones, instead, try to be an active and understanding listener. With the people you care about, being right is not as important as showing love.

5. Be kind to yourself.
Our whole lives, we have been taught the importance of being kind to others. As a law student, it is not only important to be kind to others, it is also extremely imperative to be kind to yourself. Please be patient and loving with yourself. Treat yourself with as much understanding and care as you would give your friends and family.

Taking care of yourself is not a selfish act; it is actually a loving one. Once you start taking care of yourself, you will find that you have an abundance of energy, kindness, and love to give to others. Please be good to yourself and remember to laugh during this stressful period in your life. Law school is better with lots of laughter added to the mix.

I want to end with a personal message to my students. Imagine that I am writing this message in the corner of a figurative yearbook (the space where people write things like K.I.T. (keep in touch) and have an awesome summer). Here is my message to you guys:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. Thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for trusting me. I will miss you. I am forever rooting for you. I believe in all of you. –Caroline