Behind the Curtain

by ursavoice

Joseph Bui
J.D. Candidate 2013, Berkeley Law

I always feel a little dishonest when I talk to my law school-bound friends about my experiences as a 1L at a “laid back” school. I tell them about all of the cool cases I have studied, the engaging class discussions I have had, and the connections I have been able to make with some amazingly brilliant, passionate people.

The unspoken truth? Despite liking everything I am “supposed” to like about law school, sometimes, it is hard to imagine that I desperately wanted to be here at some point in my life. The law school experience is so much more than thought provoking classes and brilliant professors. It is about the way law school makes you feel about yourself, such as the stress that comes with the 1L summer job search. The fear of not knowing the answer to a cold-call question or, worse yet, answering after an awkwardly long silence. And the worst: The feelings of self-doubt and inferiority when you look around the room and think about how accomplished, well-spoken, and brilliant some of your classmates are.

So, I decided fairly early into law school that, for their benefit, I would avoid telling starry-eyed undergrads about this version of the truth. At the time, I told myself that it was for their own good. Your first year of law school is supposed to be particularly rough. I might have had a particularly stressful experience, and maybe I am not the person who should describe what law school is.

But, just like many of my final exam answers, I was absolutely wrong. A little into my second semester, I now realize that what I needed to hear before starting law school—and what we all still need to hear—is the truth about what all of this is.

Instead, what so many of us seem to engage in is this admissions-created fiction that we attend schools known for being “laid back,” as if there was such a thing.

I have since come to resent the myth of the relatively stress-lite law school. Sure, some law schools are going to have different cultures than others. And some may be relatively less stressful. But the actual merits of that admissions- constructed image aside, I am convinced that not much good comes from this.

There is so much pressure to live up to an image of what it means to go to a “laid back” law school that students do not want to admit that the reading can be really difficult, that the workload can be overwhelming, or that it is so easy to feel like we are undeserving and inadequate. The result is an isolating feeling, as though you are all alone in this. That, despite what may have been said in orientation several months ago, you are not going through something “normal.”

I originally wanted to end by explaining that I did not write this piece to complain. But I guess I kind of did. There really is so much to like about law school. Dean Ortiz has said that after your first year, your brain physically changes; you see the world in a way that you were not able to before. But there is also so much to not like about it. So if you do not always find law school manageable, stimulating, and awesome, it is okay. Your opinion has been validated.