Welcome to Harvard Law School! If you’re anything like me, even next year you’ll probably still be shaking your head in disbelief as a 2L.
I could give you general life advice, like “don’t judge people by the first impression,” or “say what you need to say,” or “don’t buy polyester suits or plastic shoes,” but those are easy enough, so I’ll give you some longer ones. Like all terrible things, my advice comes in threes.
Don’t take advice from other students (myself included)
If you need career advice, see OCS and OPIA (probably both, since it’s not always clear how to achieve career goals). If you need mental health help, see a counselor on campus (Ariella’s article touches more on that and you should read it). If you need to know what’s really going on in your classes, go to office hours (some professors don’t really have them, so you may have to try to grab them after class; your most aggressive classmates will already have figured that out).
Put bluntly, while your classmates sometimes have a better idea than you on what HLS specifically will be like and how to succeed here (more on this later), they often don’t know what they’re talking about.
William Butler Yeats hit the nail on the head in a poem: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” If you lack confidence, it may be that you are wiser than your loud classmates who insist they have it all figured out (which could also mean that you are wise enough to know that you do not know, but in that case, you should be wise enough to know whom to ask).
If you are one of the loud classmates, repeat after me: unsolicited advice and explanation are rude. If you’re a certain kind of person, it can even be called mansplaining. I once had a classmate who used to be a consultant explain what teaching is like to me, a former teacher. That was fun and not at all disheartening! Don’t be that guy, even if you’re usually kind and thoughtful.
You shouldn’t listen to 2Ls and 3Ls either. First, no one truly understands how grading works. Second, you should do what you want to do and not what we tell you to do as far as extracurriculars go (personally, I’m confident that you want to write, which means you should write for The Record since we offer creative freedom). Finally, the political situation is changing so drastically and constantly that we can’t tell you if any of our own knowledge from 1L will still be applicable in the weeks to come. Cheerio!
Keep your support network close to you
If you’re fortunate enough to be here in the first place, chances are pretty good that you have a network of people who love you and want you to succeed, whatever that looks like.
Call those people. When you have time (probably not until 2L), buy a plane ticket and go see someone you miss. If you’ve ever experienced anything outside of the Ivy League campus environment and an upper middle class lifestyle (if you haven’t, my advice would be to do that as soon as possible before you find yourself clueless and resented by the rest of America for it), they will remind you what the real world actually looks like.
You will make good friends. But after law school, you won’t see a lot of them very much, so make the most of the time you have with them (which at this school often means going to the Kong and may mean forgetting said time entirely), but don’t forget about the people who will always care how your day is going, be there when you falter, and celebrate your accomplishments.
That doesn’t mean you need to stay with your long-distance significant other who lives halfway across the world if it isn’t working anymore, but it does mean you shouldn’t drive Mom and/or Dad away just because you’re angsty about the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
You aren’t alone and you’re very lucky
I’m not here to lie to you and tell you law school is easy. It’s not. I subbed in kindergarten classes before law school, and I remember thinking how unfair it was that some kids were so much more ready and had so much more support going in than other students in the same class.
That inequity doesn’t change when you go to an Ivy League law school. There are students whose parents both went here, students who already kind of know how the system works, and students who don’t have a clue. Of course, that’s not fair or easy for students in the latter camp.
To make matters worse, most people you meet will be nice and will have a lot of the same values and cares in the world, but an inherently competitive environment can sometimes bring out the worst in people. And when it comes to looking for internships and jobs, it’s always sort of harrowing to realize that your professional life will soon begin if you aren’t ready to decide what that should look like. The atmosphere in this country isn’t exactly comforting right now. These things, in varying quantities, can all create a maelstrom of self-doubt and sadness for anyone.
But you know what? Many students here are going through similar struggles. Some of them are crying for help, and yes, you should reach out and have those conversations. In some cases, they won’t and shouldn’t replace professional mental health guidance. But a life preserver is better than nothing if you’re drowning. Take care of the people you meet — and let them take care of you.
Remember that if you’re already here, the road will lead to good or better outcomes. Good outcomes are still good and will still make you a better person and a better lawyer. And you know what? Five years after law school, if you do great work, your law school experience should be but a fond and distant memory. It’s only school, after all, and real life awaits.
The real world may not have study rooms named after Anthony Scaramucci, but it has sunshine, falling leaves, and puppies. It has airplanes that can take you far away from your job, if you have the audacity to go. You can experience it now if you step away from your casebooks occasionally, but you’re here to get there on a more permanent basis with a great career that will put you in the position to enjoy those things sometimes and help others for hours and hours at a time. Plus, you get to learn from and be around such brilliant people who will also do great work.
That makes you very lucky, indeed.