Created in partnership with Kroger Gardis & Regas LLP.
Hours and hours of reading, gratuitous Latin, and the constant pressure of public critique in a lecture hall: Law school is not for the faint of heart. It’s competitive and jam-packed with strong intellects and intense personalities. (These aren’t guesses; there’s a fairly fresh JD on my wall.)
If you’re thinking about applying, you’ll need a strong why to push through the angst of cold calling, the demands of the coursework, and the sweaty agonies of diabolical multiple-choice questions—one three-hour exam’s worth of which dictate entirely your semester grade. Unless, of course, it’s an essay exam.
I saw people dissolve into sobs during class. Saw others read through an exam, shut their laptops, and walk out. Those were memorably tragic moments. Others were majestic; certain students seemed unruffled at all times, eloquently dropping Cardozo-level analyses without putting down their iced mochaccinos.
Undeterred? That’s a good start. Here’s more from two law-school veterans-from our partners at Kroger Gardis & Regas—one graduating soon and the other a practicing attorney with several years experience.
A rocky route to Advocacy
“I knew this was a field that would help me learn to advocate for others,” said Shannon Harding, currently front desk receptionist for Kroger Gardis & Regas and a student at IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law.
Harding had low expectations for her law school experience: “I thought it would be isolating because it’s competitive,” she said. “What has surprised me is that although law school is competitive, the students and the law school community are accommodating and collaborative.
“I’ve made quite a few friends who I can tell want to help and want to be there for other people.”
Melissa Hamer, associate at Kroger Gardis & Regas, tackled law after a career as an environmental consultant, which saw her working alongside attorneys and participating in litigation. It wasn’t long before those experiences convinced her law was right for her. She enrolled at IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law while her two kids were young, clearly someone who loves a true challenge.
As a returning student, Hamer felt that first year was a steep climb.
“I had not anticipated how much informal knowledge you were supposed to have to go to law school,” she said. “I was not prelaw in undergrad, and no one close to me had gone to law school. It took me a while to get my feet under me.”
Even three years in, Harding still struggles sometimes to feel that she belongs—but recognizes how common that feeling is within such a competitive crowd. “I like to keep in mind that, in law school, people are fighting that fish-out-of-water feeling in the form of imposter syndrome,” she said. “And I’ll remember to tell myself or any other person in law school: you deserve to be here.”
The good, the bad, and the gunners
“It just feels like climbing a mountain,” Hamer said. Her solution was to find a study group and get involved in school organizations, where she found other women who were in similar situations. “I really started being blunt about sharing information—what have you seen with this; how are you doing that? That was the biggest help for me.”
The struggle does bring its satisfactions—and more struggle: “I like learning new things,” Harding said, “and that by itself feels like an accomplishment to me. The challenging thing is the repetition. After the first two semesters, you know what to expect, and that can get dangerous because you can start slacking. But when you know what to expect, you’ll know how hard you need to work to keep things at a satisfactory level.”
Although the law-school trope is the ruthless gunner, Hamer found the opposite to be more effective.
“You absolutely need humility and openness—and that’s not something you get a whole lot of in law school because it’s very, very competitive,” she said. “But I think the people who did the best were those who could work well with others. And those are the people we all stay in touch with now and who will help out.”
Brace yourself—and be nice
Law school will challenge you, freak you out, and make you feel like the dumbest person in the room (often). Yet people get through it. They figure it out, make it work and come out ready for careers that charge them up. So how do you make all that easier?
The temptation to push and push and push some more is a familiar one to law students. “If you’re in law school,” Hamer said, “you’re used to pushing yourself. It’s a room full of high-achieving people; half of them are valedictorians.” So keep some perspective—are you pushing out of habit? Fear? Escalating competition? None of those will serve you like making sure you get some sunshine and a walk more days than not. Knowing how to slow down when you can makes the grind easier to bear.
Remember it’s temporary, Harding warns, and that you have to prioritize your own well-being while you’re in the very stressful thick of it: “When we become engrossed in accomplishing a task (and finishing law school is certainly a feat), we can get lost in it. When I think about what comes after law school, it helps put things into perspective for me: I may not be able to do everything right now, so I’ll do what I can.”
Another critical point, according to Hamer, is that the law-school environment has little to do with the real experience of lawyering. “School is uber-competitive,” she said, “but in the real world, you need people. You need to learn how to work collegially and professionally. And you’re going to be a lot better off all around if you have relationships to lean on during law school—relationships you can count on when you’re out.”
Traci Cumbay is a contributor for Indy Maven.
All of our content—including this article—is completely free. However, we’d love if you would please consider supporting our journalism with an Indy Maven membership.