“Stay in your own lane”
These five words allowed me to stay (relatively) sane throughout my first year of law school.
One of the amazing things about Allard, and the law profession generally, is the sheer amount of support available to you. As a 1L, for example, you’ll immediately be provided with a legal buddy, a peer tutor, a CBA mentor and section mentors who will be eager to give you tips and guide you through your first year. Add that to the advice you will receive from your amazing career advisors, your orientation week leaders, the Allard Ambassadors, your professors, upper year friends, lawyers that you will network with and fellow 1L classmates… and what you end up with is an overwhelming amount of advice and information of what other people are doing.
Now, don’t get me wrong: the wealth of resources available to students is phenomenal. But, it can also be dangerous. Indeed, as an impressionable 1L, it can be very easy to get caught up in the hype and do something just because “it’s what I’m supposed to do” or just because “everyone else is doing it.” And believe me, you will always know what “everyone else is doing” because law students often deal with stress by complaining, and talking and complaining and talking and, after that, just a little bit more talking.
It is for this reason that I wanted to pass along some of the best advice I got from a 3L student last October, upon me asking her for advice. “Don’t listen to anyone’s advice”, she told me. And while I don’t fully endorse this position because I believe in the merits of these resources, I do think it carries an important message: you got accepted into law school for a reason. The admissions office does not make mistakes; they wanted you and they believe in you. And given that they wanted you, you should have some confidence in your ability to succeed and that you belong here.
Another quote; this one from a provincial court judge: “Law school is like a puzzle. In 1L all the pieces are turned over and you have no idea what is going on. At this point, you’re just trying to figure out what your picture is going to look like”.
Everyone goes through 1L without a clue of what they are doing. Eventually, you figure out what works for you, develop a system and thrive. In other words, the picture starts to come together. But here’s the thing: there is no one way to complete the puzzle. Everyone has different methods, different interests, different goals, different philosophies and studying strategies. And the most common mistake that myself and some of my classmates made in 1L is to look at what someone else was doing and immediately feel as if we were deficient for not doing the same. For a long time, I was too afraid to deviate from what everyone else was doing to listen to myself. I eventually realized, this is a big mistake.
I can’t stress this enough: yes, your classmates are amazing individuals. Talk to any one of them for long enough, you are guaranteed to come away with at least a few things you admire about them. But even more importantly: you are not your classmates, you are you and you belong here. Be happy for what they are accomplishing but don’t make the mistake of thinking it somehow makes you less impressive unless you try to replicate what they are doing.
“Well, I’ve put in over 60 hours of library time this week.” – Your classmates are motivated and hard working. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t; even if you spend less time in the library. Only you know how hard you need to work and only you know if you are working hard enough. Stay in your own lane.
“Wait…you’re not doing LSLAP?” – Your classmates are competent and making a tangible and positive impact on the world. Good for them. This doesn’t make you a bad person if you don’t participate. It also doesn’t mean you aren’t competent and don’t make an impact on the real world. There are many ways to get involved. Stay in your own lane.
“I’ve already got over 400 Linkedin connections” – Your classmates are charismatic and excellent networkers. That’s awesome. Maybe you don’t have a LinkedIn page or haven’t made any law firm connections yet, that’s fine. I’m no doctor, but I’m pretty sure law firms don’t make hiring decisions based on your success on LinkedIn. Maybe you are naturally introverted, that’s also alright; lots of successful lawyers are too. Maybe you don’t really want to make these sorts of connections; that’s ok too. Diversity is the spice of life people! Just because your friends want to work in a big firm, doesn’t mean you should feel stupid for not wanting that lifestyle. Stay in your own lane.
“Have you finished CANing?” – Your classmates are organized and well prepared. I, personally, never finished a CAN (the package of notes you’ll take into your exams) until the morning of my exams. Other classmates had completed their CANs before exam period even began. Guess what? We all performed well. There are many ways to learn and many ways to prepare. Stay in your own lane.
By now, you probably understand my unbelievably repetitive point: everyone feels like an imposter in 1L, but you are not an imposter. You got here because you are intelligent and a good student. Why, after all this time, would you let yourself be influenced by what others are doing? Again: this doesn’t mean you should ignore the resources presented to you. Quite the opposite: I implore you to use the vast resources at your disposal, collect as much information as you can but do not forget the final and most crucial step: use your intelligence to decide what advice is right for you and don’t hesitate to disregard the advice you don’t want to follow.
Take everything with a grain of salt (even this post), remind yourself you belong here and, of course, stay in your own lane. And if you need positive reinforcement, come talk to me.