Just one perspective on how to get to the ‘other side’ of 1L in one piece

Laura Lively
Class of 2017

Dear 1L,

I am writing to you on the eve of the fall grades release. Although, if you are reading this, you are at least two weeks into accepting whatever results your transcript has to offer you in exchange for the months of your relentless hard work. I hope this letter will provide you with a couple of principles of encouragement as you dive back into the second half of your 1L year.

First, it is okay to be slowly falling out of love with law school. You have probably daydreamed, maybe for years even, about this experience. To be in it inevitably means that your idea of what law school was going to be is fading. Do not let that discourage you. Part of becoming a lawyer is growing out of being a law student. The law is often based on “logical” avoidance of the very moral and ethical intuitions that brought you here. Figure out when you think that is okay and when you do not.  The law and your moral intuitions need not be mutually exclusive. More importantly, though, they are certainly not dependent on one another for credibility. Embrace the cognitive dissonance.

Second, yes, 1L year is unbelievably rigorous. It has and will continue to stretch you beyond your known capabilities. Even worse, it sometimes feels like it is never going to end. But guess what? It. Does. End. Even when you are so tired that you are not sure whether you can keep going, I promise you can. Stare straight into that challenge. Do not back down at all regardless of how well or even how disappointing last semester might have gone. This year will be over before you know it, and I promise that the greatest satisfaction you will get comes from looking back and knowing you worked hard the whole time.

Third, it is okay to change a little, or even a lot, in law school. Do not miss out on any opportunities to become better at lawyering while you are here. Let law school change your thinking. Let it grow you up. Let it humble you in certain ways. On the other hand, there is RARELY one right way to do anything, no matter how often law school tries to spoon-feed you the opposite. Do the things you need to do to stay healthy and successful; maybe you are still learning what those things are and that is okay, too. Just remember there is no one recipe for success, so it is okay for your recipe to look different than someone else’s.

Fourth, success in 1L is mostly about conquering the mental madness. To put it even more frankly, 1L is kind of like being perpetually punched in the face everyday. The road of things to do stretches out in front of you and you can start to feel weak. But do not forget the mental footwork it takes to succeed—how to dodge the punch and throw a jab at your stress and anxiety—those are the keys to making it to the “other side” of this mental madness.

Staying on top of this mental madness is hard, I know. Far too often, even at UCI Law, 1L can feel like a series of times missing the mark. 1L allows you no time for celebrating your successes. 1L is like a petulant boss who never acknowledges the tasks that you perform right. Then, the one time you make a mistake, your boss rails into you. But see, YOU have to actively acknowledge your accomplishments. YOU are responsible for celebrating your personal growth. No one else can do that for you.

Finally, and most importantly, you are not defined by your successes or your failures. This is true regardless of how you feel about your fall performance. I know we operate in an often-cynical and always-competitive industry, but when the rivalry propaganda is torpedoing at you, remember that the culture of UCI Law does not exist for those who cannot handle the competition. It does not even exist for the “nice.” Our law school exists for those of us who realize that being a great lawyer requires more than good grades or a list of cases won. It means being a good citizen of this world, a shining beacon of hope for the oppressed, and an ever-believer that justice will rule the day if hard-working people can come together. You have a responsibility to foster that truth.

So, as you prepare to immerse yourself once again in the 1L crazy, hold on to these truths and the tools that keep your mind and your soul healthy. Stay confident. Stay kind. Stay excited.

See you on the other side!

Laura Lively