Ignoring the Jones’s

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For whatever reason, you decided to come to Harvard Law School. Welcome.

Some of you have arrived in these not-so-ivy-covered halls fresh out of college, still holding on to your fraternity key chains. You’re worried that law school is somehow going to be radically different than undergrad, and you won’t know how to deal with it. For the first time, you’re up against people who know a lot more about the real world than you do. And you’re beginning to realize that your little corner of the Grope is not the dream home you were hoping for.

Others of you are coming to HLS to begin second careers. You haven’t opened a book in ten years, and you’re worried that you’ve forgotten how to study. You’ve got commitments — parents, spouses and children — that can’t be put on hold for three years. Every year people like you come to HLS. But you don’t come alone. In the dark corners of your suitcases, somewhere between the clean underwear and the wool socks, you packed your insecurities and hauled them to campus.

Once classes begin, those insecurities will grow. You will begin to worry whether you’re studying enough, whether you’re studying in the right way, and whether you’re keeping up. Thrown into a new situation where the rules are unclear, you will search for guidance in the only reference point you have — your 1L peers.

Don’t know how much to study? Study as much as your next door neighbor does. You’ll be fine! Don’t know how to study? Well, most of the people in your A-group have formed study groups, so you’d better get on it. You’re behind the game already. Right?

You, like everyone before you, will make yourself miserable by measuring your happiness and habits against an exogenous, arbitrary standard — your classmates’ behavior.

It’s the psychology behind 1L year — Keeping up with the Jones’s! Law school has a way of reducing students to one-dimensional beings who begin to think the sun rises and sets around Pound Hall. Somewhere between flubbing a question in Civ Pro and developing a bloated respect for your peers, you’ll lose faith in your own judgment.

Even if you’re aware of the problem, you will fall prey to this phenomenon at some point. That doesn’t mean you have to be complacent about it. That intelligence and judgment you’ll be putting so little faith in is what got you here. The best antidote to this disease of the mind is to remember who you were before you came to HLS.

You had interests other than the law. You didn’t study all the time. You played the cello, you slam-dunked like a pro, or you went out every night. It was those interests and talents that made you the person you are.

Keeping perspective at law school is about remembering that law is just a part of your life — a big part — but just a part.

You cannot let this place, as all-encompassing as it sometimes is, define you. If you do, you’ll spend your three years trying to measure up to people who are busy trying to measure up to you.

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