I’m halfway through law school, but it seems like just yesterday I was sending in my application. With winds of fortune at my back, I accepted a spot at a school in South Florida, and rather eagerly began my first semester. I’m happy that, standing here at the halfway point, I can say that my enthusiasm for this massive accumulation of knowledge has not dampened; a law school education, taken mindfully, will help me to be more effective in whichever profession I choose.
Beyond Marbury v. Madison and Massachusetts v. EPA, the entire experience of being a law student has taught me some valuable lessons. Below are 7 things I’ve learned or re-learned thanks to law school.
1. Dress for success.
There is a reason most successful people in the “real world” don’t wear flowy flower-print skirts and tie-dye Dead shirts to work. I don’t know exactly what the reason is, and I know there are exceptions to the rule, but the bottom line for me is that professional, polished attire makes me feel like I’m ready to kick ass and take names. My attire as an undergraduate was only slightly more professional than what I wear to music festivals, but upon entering law school, I felt a little shift was in order (even though my school does not have a dress code). It didn’t require a complete overhaul of my wardrobe, but by adding a few sleek blazers to the mix I was down to walk into the boardroom and demand an end to deforestation.
Dress for the occasion. How you present yourself will make a difference in how you are received, and thoughtful presentation will boost your confidence. I began to enjoy getting up in the morning and ironing my shirts, not to conform, but because I take pride in myself. I dressed nicely to take exams because it boosted my confidence. For me, if I’m polished on the outside it means I’ve got it together on the inside as well.
Without being vain or self-obsessed, we can reflect the good stuff we’ve got going on within by choosing to look good.
To find my place in the law school world, I’ve learned to ask for help from those who have gone before me. My professors and development counselors have helped me think about my career path when I’ve gone to them saying, “I’m not sure I want to be a lawyer but I’m frustrated with the way things are.” I have a mentor in the law school who has helped me to put things in perspective, and his path is one I may want to follow one day (he is the director of the Mindfulness in Law program at my school). The faculty of my law school have been helpful and encouraging for me not just as a student, but also in general, as a person trying to navigate through the many options life has to offer.
While we may be carving new paths and doing things radically different from the way previous generations did it, words from the wise and experienced still need to be sought out. They have a perspective that we may be incapable of seeing from our young and opinionated vantage point, and even though we may not always take their advice, it’s a good social exercise to be able to hold a conversation with granny. Much of the new age movement is trying to reincorporate the wisdom of the ancient sages into our modern life, and on a smaller scale we can incorporate the wisdom of our parents, and grandparents, teachers and neighbors into our thought processes.
During my first year of law school I was concerned that I would have to give up a lot of my free-spirited, tree-hugging personality to succeed in such a competitive and professional environment. I wasn’t sure I wanted to succeed in this environment because I wasn’t even sure I’d practice law after graduating. I was scared that if I chose a more traditional route I would lose my identity and lose sight of my ideals as I became more and more driven by the potential for high earnings in a legal career.
But the opposite has happened (so far). I have maintained my ideals of making the world a better place, have deepened my personal yoga practice, and incorporated mindfulness teaching and learning into my academic experience. I’ve managed to pack my schedule with things that matter to me, whether it’s my academics or extracurriculars. I genuinely care about the issues written about in my law review, and the topics discussed in my classes, so it’s become a pleasure to go to school.
Success in law school never became more important than following my heart. I focused my efforts on the things that spoke to my heart, and I did not sacrifice the practices that keep my life in balance (like yoga, music, and time to relax and enjoy).
If you are not doing what you love, you won’t be as good as you can be at what you do. The Universe needs us to satisfy our callings, so do not rest until you feel you are on the path to satisfying yours. There are a million jobs to be done, and with a little bit of creativity you can find your niche. Think outside of the box, speak to people that inspire you about how they got on their path, be willing to work, and don’t settle!!
4. Don’t compare yourself to others.
At my school, students fill in the range from those who spend most of class playing Angry Birds on their iPhone, to those who spend almost every waking hour working on something law school related. There are those who have no idea what they want to do, and those who know exactly what position they want at which firm, and exactly what to do to get there.
If I compared myself to many of my classmates, I would certainly see my time at law school as having no direction or cohesion, thus undervaluing myself. And of course, I could overvalue myself by comparing myself to some other people who have had less motivation and opportunity in life. The only way to really know how I am doing is to look within. Do I wake up and feel excited to move through another day? Do I feel that I am at least trying to live up to my potential or am I constantly getting distracted? Do I feel that I am packing anything into the stream of life, or am I feeling insignificant?
Have faith in your own journey and take time to reflect- not on how you compare to others, but on how your life compares to the life you want for yourself. Feel happy for the success of others. We all have our unique journeys to follow and yours is radically different from everyone else’s in the world. You can use comparison as motivation, but avoid allowing it to be a source of discontent.
When I wanted to see a free yoga class offered at my University, I was able to speak to different administrators and make it happen. After I approached a table serving free green tea to ask how I could help be a part of this service, I eventually found myself president of the student mindfulness club, making decisions about what kind of mindfulness-related offerings we could bring to law school students.
The norm is to sit back and wait for somebody else to do it. We often doubt our ability to offer something helpful or to get anything done, even when our input would be appropriate. When you become the person that speaks up, your voice becomes much louder than you thought it could be. This world runs on people interacting with each other, voicing their opinions, and getting their ideas off the ground
At America’s founding and for many years after, we were a nation of people that spoke up. Our current state of political affairs is an example of how democracy goes awry when people stop voicing their opinions via local elections and interaction with their representatives. If you don’t participate or try to insert yourself into the process, you have no right to complain. Next time you see a problem in your neighborhood, maybe ask yourself who you can speak to about getting it fixed. If you’d like to see something happen, create it. If you believe in a better way, offer it!
My tendency is to try to go at it alone. But I’ve seen success increase when I engage with others. When I decided to start a voter education initiative through my public interest internship, I thought I could do most of the work myself. When I laid my ideas out on the table it became clear that this was too big a task for just me. Thankfully, a few other interns were intrigued by my idea; when we joined forces, the project became even better than I had envisioned it. Sparkleberry Lane itself exists only thanks to the teamwork of passionate people.
Working with like-minded people to get good work done is an essential tool for all of us if we are going to create meaningful changes in the coming years. In this day of hyper connectivity, it’s almost impossible not to find someone that agrees with you or believes in something you believe in.
And don’t think that your input is not needed somewhere. I know you’ve heard this before, but if everyone decided that their vote wouldn’t make a difference, we’d all be fucked. Have you ever met an activist that didn’t want even just one more person rallying with the group? Do not underestimate the power of forces joining together.
7. Look at things from many angles.
It is an axiom in law school that one must look at a problem from every angle possible. A lawyer has to anticipate an adversary’s arguments, and gauge whether his own arguments have merit. He has to listen carefully to each witness’ story- to the victim and the accused. Before law school, if someone told me a government in South America is displacing native peoples to build a hydroelectric plant, I would have immediately sided with the natives. But today I consider the government’s position as they try to create a reliable source of energy for their cities, and I wonder what other options may have satisfied each party’s needs (see arbitration).
Everyone is seeing the world through different glasses. Think about that. No two people have exactly the same perspective on everything. There is so much we can learn from each other, and so much of our horizon left to expand. When we constantly judge and come to conclusions, we close ourselves off to the wonder of living in such a multifaceted world.
We won’t be able to get everyone on board with our opinions, and rarely will we be able to change anyone’s opinion, but we can consider how our decision will affect others, or how we would feel in another guy’s shoes before we judge him. By trying to understand the motivations and pressures that others are working under, we may decrease our own frustration when some interaction isn’t going our way. The next time you find yourself jumping to a conclusion, step back, and leave some wiggle room. The world is never just black and white.
Has anyone else learned anything cool about life or themselves while in school? I know I’m not the only nerdy Sparkleberry in our network! Feel free to leave your revelations or feedback in the comments section!
And if you learned something really awesome that you’d like to expound on in your own article, send your ideas in an e-mail to [email protected].