Friday, February 4, 2011

Tips for Law Students: Gaining Sympathy From Your Loved Ones

I recently took some time out of my schedule to meet with an old law school friend.  Over a pint at a local watering hole, we reminisced about our days as fresh faced law students.  He razzed me about my first day of law school.  I had missed the entire orientation period to attend a family wedding. As my fellow classmates prepared for class, I had spent the entire weekend being praised by cheek squeezing aunts who declared how proud they were of me.   I was a law student in Manhattan.  The sky was the limit.  With family obligations, I had no time to prepare for my first class. Coming from a liberal arts background, I assumed I could "wing it".

I arrived early for my first year contracts class and selected a seat in the back.  Armed with a pen and a notepad, I hadn't even broken the plastic wrap on my book.  Surely it would just be a "welcome to law school" speech accompanied with a recitation of the class syllabus and the professor's office hours.  Instead, it was an introduction to the teaching methods of Socrates. Although I clearly recall not raising my hand, the professor decided to call on me. 

Mr. Baron, in the matter of... "Me?" I answered.  Are you Mr. Baron?  Yes, I answered meekly. Then, yes the matter of... I had the audacity to stop him mid sentence.  "I pass sir."  You what?  "I pass."  The class let out a nervous giggle.  Pass? Not my class if you don't answer the question he answered.  Although it was clearly my own fault,  I cursed my family for making me go to that wedding. I promised myself I would never again put my family obligations before my law school obligations.     

My friend "Jim" had it worse.  He blamed law school for the breakup of his marriage.  His wife couldn't understand why he spent so much time studying in the library.  She eventually assumed he was being unfaithful.  In a sense he was having an affair.  Except it was not a woman.  His affair was with our first year contracts professor.  As I demonstrated on the first day, if you came unprepared to his class you were called on it.   My law school chum was determined not to let that happen to him.  He was determined to be the top student of our class. As a result, "Jim" started missing family events to spend time with the professor's syllabus.  He neglected taking out the trash.  His home time was shared between studying and sleep.  She resented him for being an absent husband.  He resented her for not understanding the pressure he was under.

I had my own share of ruined relationships during my law school years.  I had broken up with girlfriends after one too many missed dates.  I had lost touch with old friends who couldn't understand why I wouldn't go out with them.  I had missed a myriad of family events. I used to dread being asked to be an usher in a wedding or the Godfather to someone's kid.  I even spent one memorable birthday listening to my friends and family sing to me over the phone.  They had thrown me a surprise party on a weekend they had expected me.  They didn't understand what I was going through because I never took the time to explain my situation.By the time I entered my second year, I had learned from my mistakes.  I now take this opportunity to impart my considerable expertise on young legal minds who are embarking on their own legal careers.  

  • Communication is Key: Keep a line of communication open.  Law School can make or break relationships.  For "civilians", their idea of law school is akin to the film "Legally Blonde"  They see law school as no different than what they experienced in college.  Inform your loved ones about what you are going through.  Show them your casebooks and your reading assignments. 
  • Don't Become a Jackass  You may not realize it, but you may be becoming a jackass.  As I like to remind my readers, jackass law students often turn into jackass lawyers.  Let's try to nip it in the bud.  As law students, you are trained to think a certain way. You tend to look for your opponents weakness. You learn to be critical as well as defensive. Take care that you do not project this on your friends and family. Are you becoming more critical of people? Are you more aggressive? Do you take the fun out of every law related movie and tv show for those around you?  Do you constantly talk about law. Do you tend to over analyze everything that is said to you. Do you have a chip on your shoulder?  Thinking like a lawyer does not have to be a 24 hr job. It is a career skill, not a life skill. Take care of the way you relate to others. While being mindful of your studies, try to have somewhat of a social life and remain grounded. It is the well rounded lawyer that usually achieves the greatest success. So while you are in law school, try not to turn into a complete jackass.
  • Buy the Movie "The Paper Chase" In my second semester of law school, I was wondering how I would tell my former girlfriend that I couldn't attend a Valentine's Day dinner with her because I had to study.  A third year law student had given the solution.  He gave me a worn copy of the film "The Paper Chase."  The trials and tribulations of a first year law student at Harvard proved to be a great tool in all of my relationships.  I prepared screenings for my family.  Is law school really that horrible?  They would ask.  "Absolutely" I would answer.  You would be amazed at the sympathy and understanding it could bring. OK, so maybe law school wasn't that bad.  But they don't need to know that.  


"Nutmeg" Law Student said...

Attorney Baron,

Thank you for your hilarious take on a problem I am currently experiencing. Great practical advice. Just wanted to let you know that I enjoy the way you present your posts. They are interesting and fun to read while getting important info across.

Film Co. Lawyer said...

Perhaps your statements on maintaining a social life & being grounded explain why I'm not a jackass & why I don't feel that sense of community w/attorneys in general.

Right before I got accepted, my brother in law died. He was 21 & had a heart condition but was very low on the transplant list. His death literally came out of left field. His widow, my younger sister, was 21 & they'd just had my nephew (who was 3 weeks old). I was 22.

When your sister loses the love of her life & your nephew is left without a father, it seems silly to obsess over law school grades or impressing law firm partners. I vowed that no job/career would ever come before my soul mate (if I had one), friends/family or my well being.

To this day, I still remember that experience + the death of my infant niece in 2009 & continue to live by that pledge.

Equus Spirit said...

There are parallels in other fields-medical/vet schools are notoriously similar as are some engineering schools. Anyone who is in a field outside of the humanities is most likely a "slave" to it in some form or fashion. I should know-I've been one-in a clinical laboratory.

You are correct-people don't understand the pressures. However, you were fortunate in a sense. No one would literally DIE because you made a mistake. I did have that sword of Damocles hanging over me. Like attorneys, we are required to obey confidentiality rules and to put our charges first and foremost. The pressure is astounding-both internally and externally.

Add to that-we are regulated by the federal and, in some cases, state governments. There simply is nothing like working with everyone looking over your shoulders waiting for you to screw up!

I burned out. So what did I do? I turned to law-there's less pressure! (oh, who do I think I'm fooling?!?