My first year of law school was hard for a number of reasons. I commuted from the North Shore everyday to avoid the debacle of finding an apartment, but this meant a ninety minute trip to school and back every day. To make my 9 am Torts class in the Fall, I would take the commuter rail into the city, and then an hourlong Green Line train ride to Cleveland Circle, where I would either pick up the shuttle or bum a ride from a fellow student heading to campus (thank you Colleen, and thank you Karla, you two saved me).
Imposter syndrome compounded my anxiety and I went from being someone who was hard on herself to someone who was impossible with herself. I was convinced that I wasn’t good enough, that I would fail my finals, and that graduating (or even making it to 2L year) wasn’t a given. I spent most of the year walking the ever-thinning tightrope of telling myself I deserved to be at BC, while not getting so confident that I would slip up and lose focus.
Then my dog died.
I was devastated. He was my pup for 13 years, and now, with the stresses of 1L weighing heavily on my shoulders, I was saying goodbye to one of the most comforting presences in my life.
I was also very sick. During the spring semester I was diagnosed with endometriosis, a chronic reproductive health condition that affects roughly 1 in 10 people with uteruses. It causes symptoms like severe cramps, pelvic pain, nausea, stomach upset, and fatigue. While I wasn’t diagnosed until February, the signs were there all year. I remember sitting in Professor Bilder’s Property class in excruciating pain. I had just taken 1000mg of Extra Strength Tylenol, but the pain bore through that like it was nothing. I was woozy, barely able to sit upright, sweating one minute and shivering with chills the next. When I finally excused myself to go to the bathroom, I hid in the stall near tears at the thought of not being able to take more Tylenol for four hours.
By March I couldn’t go without a heavy dose of painkiller for more than 30 minutes. I missed more classes than I care to admit, and I ended up having to delay my finals, because I was in too much pain to take them in May.
But I made it. I had surgery in June to treat my endometriosis, and while it’s not curable, I am starting to feel better. I survived finals and did surprisingly well. I spent my summer doing research work I feel passionately about, and I made great connections that make me excited for what the next two years and beyond have in store for me. I had the support of my family, my classmates, and my professors along the way.
So many of the things I’m most grateful for — the reasons I was able to survive 1L — are what make BC Law so great. Law school has a reputation of being an intense, abrasive, and cruel place. And when I got sick smack in the middle of my first year, I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to keep up, that law school would swallow my fatigued, aching body and convince me that I wasn’t good enough or strong enough for it in the first place.
But the opposite happened. My peers were understanding. They lauded how hard I was working despite being unable to make classes, or to concentrate when I did. I had professors who seemed to not only empathize, but be proud of my efforts to stick it out, even when they didn’t see me in class as much as I so desperately wanted to be.
I will be forever grateful for all of that: for being able to postpone my finals until I was healthy enough to take them; for every professor who sent me an email with good wishes, or who went out of their way to assure me everything would be ok; and for every student who sent me class notes without me even asking for them.
I came out of the worst of it knowing that I chose the right academic home for the next two years, but more importantly, I came out of it knowing more about myself and my own strength than I did coming in.
For you incoming 1Ls, I hope your first-year experience is easier than mine. I hope you are healthy and your commute is quick. I hope your dog doesn’t die. But one thing I know for sure: should something come up to complicate it all (as so often happens in life), your professors and your peers will be there for you.
Just in case, here are a few tips and tricks I picked up along the way:
- Check Your Imposter Syndrome. Seriously. You deserve to be here: You are as smart and capable as your peers, even the ones who seem to understand Contracts and the Rule Against Perpetuities. Everyone learns differently, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, but you are at BC Law for a reason. You worked hard to get here—all of you, in your own way. Stop comparing yourself to your peers, and stop wondering if you’re good enough.
- Be Unabashedly Kind to Yourself: Law school is very hard. There is a lot of pressure to do well. 1L is a learning process. You’ve never been in law school before. The exams are hard! The classes are hard! If you don’t understand Collateral Estoppel the first (or second, or third) time around, don’t get discouraged. Take time as often as you can to reflect on the accomplishments that brought you to BC, and remind yourself of your worth. Be content in your successes. If you’re constantly moving the goalposts, you’ll never be able to take time to enjoy what you’ve earned.
- You Will Pass Your Exams: Sometimes you will listen to a lecture and it will sound like it’s in another language. And when you go to review the material for exams, it will still sound this way. But you’re smarter than you realize, and you’re absorbing more than you realize. Find a study method that works for you. If you’re best in a group, grab a tight pack of friends and some snacks, and don’t leave the room until you understand Easements. If you’re a solitary person (like me) find a study spot that works for you, and bring snacks.
- Bring snacks: I don’t know why, but law school made me hungrier than I’ve ever been in my life, and I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. Keep snacks in your bag— whatever floats your boat, but when you hit that “2:30 feeling” in your afternoon class, you’ll want a little something to keep you going.
- You’ll Get a Job. Chill: Everyone gets a job. Period. Full Stop. So don’t even go there in your head.
- Find Your Crew: I’m a “wolf-pack of one” kind of gal, but three years is too long to go it alone. Find people you can be whole-heartedly uncensored with, people you can lament over grades with, people you can open up about your insecurities and fears with, and people you can belly laugh with. I’m the last person you’ll see at bar review, but I have lifetime members in my circle of trust, and I don’t know what I’d do without them. As someone with an incredibly strong support system outside of law school, it felt too easy to retreat into them, and forego forging bonds with my law school peers. But no one knows what law school feels like more than other law students. They’re your sanity’s best defense against the stresses unique to this experience.
- But at The Same Time… Have a Life Outside of Law School: Don’t lose touch with the friends you made before law school. They keep you grounded, because they are wholly untainted by the law school experience. Lament to a law student about a totally acceptable, but lower than A range grade, and they might add fuel to your self loathing fire — but someone who has never set foot in law school will remind you that a B is, in fact, a good grade. They will help you keep things in perspective. They remind you that although law school is important, it is not your whole life, and that you are more than what you do in the confines of BC Law.
- This is YOUR J.D.: As a public interest student focused on reproductive justice, I sometimes felt like a black sheep in my section. I didn’t even know if I wanted to practice after graduation — I still don’t. I came to law school to advocate for things like abortion access for teens and for the humane treatment of pregnant women in prison in whatever way I can. It took me a long time to realize that the paths my peers were taking didn’t have to be mine. It sounds obvious — that if your end goal is different, so should your path be — but when you’re new to this world, it’s easy to feel like the way of the pack is the best way, and the only way to go. By all means, take advice from your professors, and your career counselors, and even your peers. But listen to yourself, find your passion, and follow it wherever it takes you—even if it’s not the norm.
Caroline Reilly is a 2L here at BC. She is the co-president of the Lawyering for Reproductive Justice: If/When/How chapter, and a research assistant for Professor Francine Sherman. She is also the outreach coordinator for NLG, the secretary for PILF, and an Executive Producer for the forthcoming Eagle Eye podcast. Feel free to contact her with questions about life here at BC, applying, or law school in general. Comment below or send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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