Think about it: Do you actually want to attend law school? While questions around student debt, rankings and employment opportunities should rightfully play a central role in their decision-making process, prospective law students often neglect to consider whether they are the right personality fit for this hellish academic venture.
First, you should analyze your chance of maintaining mental sanity among your fellow law students. While stereotypes are meant to be shattered, law school stereotypes hold true at least some of the time. Competitiveness commonly creeps into conversations. Sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes it’s not. I wore pajamas to my property final, and Student X told me there was a study that the worse you dress in a test-taking situation, the worse you perform. This lovely confidence boost took place five minutes before the exam. If you boil at the audacity of people who talk about the reading due in a week, when you are struggling to finish reading for a class that’s beginning 10 minutes later, your patience might be frequently tested. It’s not that you should act this way if you choose to attend law school, or that the majority of law students are even like this. Luckily, at the UC Berkeley School of Law, where I attend, very few people fit this personality type. You must be someone, however, who can survive the daily anxieties that are passively and purposefully exacerbated by law school and by the minority of students who are this way.
The second battle in law school that you should consider is that of academic rigor. Finals, usually worth 100 percent of your grade, will fill your dreams and make you forget how to interact with human beings. You will read and obsess until you cannot read and obsess any longer — maybe in a library, maybe in a cafe or maybe in a La-Z-Boy chair — but I assure you, you will obsess at least at the beginning. You will never feel you are as prepared as you could be. You will be cold called on specifics that often do not matter to your understanding of any legal concept. People will watch, and although few will care, you will think they do. In that moment, you will know they do. Law school is a cult filled with hazing. This hazing is deep and unwavering. If you can maintain a life among the craziness, then this harrowing experience will be worth it. If you cannot, you should seriously think about whether this is the right place for you. Stress is usually a choice, but law school can make you forget that. Don’t forget it.
The third question is less melodramatic. Are you intellectually curious? Now, I know you said you were in your personal statement, but I really mean it — are you? You will be examining countless stories about down payments, fires and people doing absolutely crazy and illogical things. You will then be reading the opinion of people — the judges — on those stories. On exams, you will read hypothetical stories, and you will craft your opinion on them and pass judgment. If this sounds like a thrill to you, then the hours you put in will feel tolerable. You need to connect with concepts, theories and stories that you are not automatically inclined to care about. You will know more about foxes and defective tires than you ever thought imaginable.You need to love to ask questions.
Lastly, and probably least importantly, you should ask yourself how much you enjoyed your time in high school, because you’re essentially going back to the ninth grade. In terms of surface-level similarities, you will be blessed with lockers and an equivalent to prom. You will have cliques. You will have a lunch period. You will share most of your classes with the same people and will have a seating chart. Gossip will spread like wildfire, and few things will be private. On a somewhat deeper level, some of the teaching tactics revert to the strategies used by high-school instructors. Hand holding reappears in certain classes, while fear-based teaching styles such as the cold call make a comeback. You will stare at the clock fairly regularly, waiting for recess.
With an embattled legal market that begs its own set of practical questions, people forget to ask if they are the right fit for this experience. I recognize that my questions relate to the law school experience and not to being a lawyer, but they are still relevant to your choice. I am also aware that my knowledge is limited to the first year of law school, and that certain concerns will dissipate and others will arise. Regardless, to avoid a less-than-happy period of your life, these are essential questions to ask. Although few would want to press the slow-motion button on law school, you also don’t want to wish you could fast forward away your time there. It’s an all-too-common feeling among law students. Good luck with your decision.
Noah Ickowitz is a student at the UC Berkeley School of Law and a former columnist at The Daily Californian.