I left the Jesuit Volunteer Corps with an Orleans Public Defenders shirt, heavy emotional scarring, and a strong idea of justice. I was prepared to ride into law school on a wave of virtue and morality, certain I knew what needed to be done and how I was going to do it. That wave crashed me right into Civil Procedure and Pennoyer and Rule 12(b)(3) and Contracts and estoppel and intent, and it wasn’t long before I realized it was going to be a while before I was certain of anything again.
Pretty dramatic, but the spirit is true. Law school is a change. There is a transition from being a normal person to a person who thinks legal jokes are funny. Still, overall, most of my preconceived notions have been proved wrong. Cold calls are not that bad, my classmates are also not that bad (fine, they’re pretty great), and six weeks in I have yet to muster any dazzling legal wisdom for family or friends.
This is the second in a series of posts drawing attention to Law Student Mental Health Day. You can read our first post here. If you want to share your story with us about feeling out of place, send a few lines to email@example.com, or use the social media hashtag #fittingin.
It can be unbelievably daunting to ask for help. An environment where competition is paramount and the drive for success is all-encompassing makes help-seeking seem risky and shameful. Fear often paralyzes and dissuades so that many individuals don’t pursue help they need.
I was fearful my 1L year. I was fearful of imperfection and failure. I was fearful that admission of my difficulties would make them more real, would show that I was weak, and would indicate that I could not succeed in school or in my chosen career.
Today is the annual Law Student Mental Health Day. The Law Students Association (BC Law’s student government) is hosting several events throughout the day through their Student Wellness Committee. Also, in recognition of the tough times that most of us will experience over the course of our three years here, we asked some of our bloggers to share times when they felt out of place, and how they reacted. If you want to share your story about feeling out of place with us, send a few lines to firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the social media hashtag #fittingin.
Where to begin? Parties where the music is so loud that conversation is impossible and I end up standing awkwardly against a wall. Repping purple at the recent Holy Cross – BC football game as my alma mater lost to my new law school 62-14. The first four months of undergrad, going from a small public high school in a blue-collar town to a college where the Vineyard Vines whale was practically the mascot and the parking lot looked like an Audi dealership. My lack of a social life in those early days meant I had time to read USA Today and the New York Times cover-to-cover every day. I was quite well-informed.
I am pleased to host a guest blog today from Jason Giannetti, a 2003 graduate of Boston College Law School.
I have been an immigration attorney in Massachusetts for fifteen years and I’ve never been as proud to be one as I am now.
Let’s face it, in American popular opinion, lawyers are not exactly considered super heroes. In fact, in films such as The Incredibles, lawyers are the anti-superhero. It is due to them and their litigation and lobbying that the “supers” have to renounce their superpowers to be like all the rest of us. In the 1993 film Philadelphia, though attorney Joe Miller (played by Denzel Washington) turns out to be the hero of the film, Andy, his client (played by Tom Hanks), asks, “Joe, what do you call a thousand lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean?” The answer: “A good start.”
Be that as it may, America is one of the most litigious nations on the planet. Perhaps Americans have low regard for lawyers because they are such “a necessary evil” in the eyes of most. The only profession with lower regard is politician and, as we all know, many of those politicians are themselves lawyers.
However, I think that besides hemming in people’s exercise of strength (Incredibles) and creating bureaucratic and structural obstacles to swift justice (Philadelphia), the real source of America’s collective ire with attorneys is that they seem to disregard the truth: they are mercenary warriors, defending whatever position (right or wrong, truthful or not) that pays the bills. The most egregious example of this to date is Rudy Giuliani’s statement, “Truth is not truth.”
Contrary to popular belief, you can make a decent amount of time to pleasure read in law school. During 1L, a stereotypically time-crunched period, I saw my reading productivity sky rocket. It was a way to reclaim some sort of agency over the knowledge I was consuming. In the beginning of the first semester I read two of Woodward’s Nixon books (All the President’s Men, which left me yearning to know the ending, told in The Final Days), and over the course of winter I finished a trilogy of sorts that addresses the white, conservative discomfit with America’s direction (White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, which offers a macro, historical perspective, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, which takes a more personal look at Louisiana in particular, and, of course, Hillbilly Elegy, micro, personal perspective).
1-Take Advice with a Grain of Salt
First-year law students love looking for advice and seasoned law students love giving it. It reminds us that we are no longer the new kids on the block and it makes us feel better about our overzealous course loads, far too many extracurriculars, and that interview we did two weeks ago that we’re still obsessing over. You want some advice, we’ve got it! The catch; that advice may not always be right for you.
Now, before you decide to purchase a garlic necklace to repel your friendly 2L and 3L mentors, hear me out. I am not saying the advice you get will be bad. We’ve all gone through 1L, most of us have passed all of our subjects, a few select unicorns have gotten A’s on those subjects, and most of us really do know what we’re doing. You should hear us out and try some of the study tips we give you–just make sure not to double down on them if they aren’t working. When a 2L approaches you and says, “this is the best way to study,” what they are really saying is “this is how I studied, and I did well, so it must be the best way.” Insert biggest eye roll here!
When my family moved from Boston to Seoul, South Korea (my parents’ home country), I was 10 and knew only three Korean phrases: “How are you,” “Thank you” and “I’m sorry.”
My 1L year in law school was a lot like my first year in Korea. Like Korean, law was a language that I knew existed, but never thought I would have to speak. That is, until I had to speak it, immediately – as if my life (i.e., grades) depended on it.
Boston College Law School is sometimes referred to as the “Disneyland of law schools,” a kind nod to its supportive staff, upperclassmen and alumni. In reality, the 1L experience is closer to a journey through Wonderland – where you are chasing around an illusory white rabbit, not really knowing why, in a world filled with fascinating (and occasionally frightening) beings.
“There is a place, like no place on earth. A land full of wonder, mystery, and danger. Some say, to survive it, you need to be as mad as a hatter.”
–Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll
A couple weeks into my 1L year, on my drive into school, I heard a report on public radio about a recent Supreme Judicial Court (the Massachusetts state supreme court) decision. The court had found that black men might have a reason, even if they were not guilty of a crime, to run from the police. Even as a greenhorn law student, I could tell that this sort of decision was radical. When I got to school, I printed the opinion, pushed Torts, Contracts, and CivPro to the side, and raced through it.
Citing to a study conducted by the Boston Police Department, which found that black men are more likely to be stopped and questioned by police officers, and repeatedly so, the court noted that a black male, “when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity.” This was the outcome I hoped to (but did not often) see in judicial decisions. I looked at the opinion’s author, Justice Geraldine Hines. The first black woman to serve on the Massachusetts Appeals Court and Supreme Judicial Court, she had worked in civil rights and defense before joining the bench. It seemed like the coolest career possible, and controverted the typical image of a judge as a stuffy old white man. Maybe if I was lucky, I thought, one day I would get to meet her.
That day would come sooner than I thought.
Thank you to everyone who came out and thanked a mentor on our #BCLawImpact day!
As the second son of a poor rural family in South Korea, he moved to the city of Seoul alone to attend high school at the young age of 16. He continued his education at the nation’s most prestigious university and earned his PhD in the US (Boston) with full tuition and cost-of-living scholarships provided to him by the Korean government. While his accomplishments as a microbiologist themselves are admirable, it is his curiosity, patience and persistence that never fail to inspire me. “You will have good experiences and bad experiences, but none that are useless,” is one of the things that he said when I told him I was considering law school. Thanks, dad, and congratulations on your (upcoming) retirement!