Before starting my first semester of law school, some of the most repeated advice I heard from those who had taken this journey before me was “don’t make law school your personality.” This sentiment was echoed in personal conversations with current students and in sessions hosted by student reps during orientation, and each time I heard it, I laughed it off.
It felt like such a strange thing to be saying over and over! It was too specific to be coincidentally repeated, but I didn’t really get what it meant. I understood the more general advice to take time off from school every once in a while, but what did that have to do with law school becoming your personality? I started to think this was some weird joke I wasn’t in on.
But then, classes started. It turns out what I wasn’t “in on” was law school, because once I was in on that, I saw what all those 2Ls and 3Ls were talking about.
For the month of September, all I ever did was school work. When I wasn’t doing school work, I was thinking about all the school work I should be doing. I was earning Lexis points and watching Barbri videos in my free time, and when I was sitting down for dinner or hanging out with friends, all I had to offer was anecdotes about class and interesting cases I had read.
It was bleak, for sure, but I didn’t quite see the problem yet. Law school is a deeply engrossing experience that’s hard to understand unless you’re in it. I had spent some time after college out in the working world where I had more free time for hobbies, weekends away, movies, and everything else I enjoyed. By becoming a full-time student again, I had less time for those interests. I chalked up my newfound lack of, well, a personality, to this change in environment rather than a deeper issue.
And then I got a wakeup call.
The first weekend in October was my first visit home since moving to Boston in late August. If I’m being honest, I was finding it difficult to justify the time away from my desk and laptop. But, I had started getting through my readings faster and could theoretically afford to lose a day of work, so I got in my car and sat in New York traffic for a few hours. I stopped for a snack, listened to music, and was nearly home when I was hit by a truck.
No, this isn’t some metaphor about a stunning realization popping into my head after an inspiring trip home. I was very literally hit by a commercial truck on the highway while sitting in standstill traffic.
Miraculously, I was completely unharmed, but as I stood on the side of the road next to the crumpled metal that was my car, my mind was racing with thought after thought. How would I get home? How would I get back to Boston? Was I really okay? Would I still have time to finish the reading for Civil Procedure tonight?
I wish I was kidding. Had I thought about an assignment for Torts after living through my very own negligence hypothetical, I might have given myself a pass. But to think about Civil Procedure mere minutes after a near-death experience was…bad. I was in way deeper than I thought.
The next week was a blur, and then it was my first long weekend since being back in school. With the unofficial deadline to start outlining slowly looming, I had ambitiously planned to get a head start on that daunting task during my day off from lectures. But when the weekend came, I just couldn’t do it.
If you can’t tell, I’m a pretty Type A person, and I can find it hard to take it easy when there’s something to do. In law school, there’s always something to do, and this weekend was no different. And yet, even with that extra day begging to be used to get ahead on some work, I spent the weekend watching all nine episodes of Squid Game.
I chose this show for nothing more than its wild popularity and intriguing preview on Netflix, and it didn’t disappoint from an entertainment standpoint. But as I kept watching, I realized its best feature of all was that it was in a different language.
Watching a show in Korean with English subtitles meant that when I was hitting the play button, I was committing to doing nothing more than watching that show for the next hour. I couldn’t multitask by checking my email or making lunch or tidying up. I was just watching television, and that was okay. It gave my brain some time to relax, and it gave me something to talk about that people outside of law school might actually be interested in. More importantly, it reminded me that even when there’s no time to spare, it’s still important to make time for things I enjoy.
The advice to not make law school your personality is more than just a reminder to put down the books every once in a while. After all, even when I had put the books down, I was usually still thinking about them. When something is as engrossing as law school, it takes a concerted effort to truly remove yourself from it every once in a while.
I don’t always win that battle (looking at you, finals week), but I look forward to continuing to fight the good fight next semester and beyond.
Tess Halpern is a first-year student at BC Law. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.