Monday, November 18, 2013
From “No Longer a Student” to a “Law Student”
I started this fall in Loyola Law School’s Evening program which will take me from anywhere between 3.5 and 4 years to complete. This program is for people who work full time or, like me, run a business. Before I started, I attended the six week “Summer Institute” (SI) preparatory course the school offers, taught by Professors Archer, Bakhshian, and Craig. This preparation proved invaluable to me because I learned the basics of what it takes to survive in law school. Before SI, I admit to not knowing what IRAC meant, nor did I know what it meant to “brief a case,” never mind how to brief one. Never mind knowing how to read one with the eye of a lawyer. The list went on, but I truly felt like I was ahead of the game when the first day of class came. Not only did it help to know how to handle the first slew of reading assigned and to prepare for the first active class, but I felt more familiar with the purpose of law school in general. This helped my confidence, and I was able to shake off the normal disorientation most feel at the start of any program. Although SI helped me academically, my biggest challenge was yet to come: adjusting to how much time I would no longer have to do as I pleased.
I was 39 years old when law school started for me this fall and it had been 17 years since I had earned my Bachelor’s Degree from the Air Force Academy. I had been through 9 years of military service, and then another 8 more as an entrepreneur in the entertainment world. Now I run a start-up company and direct the activities of about ten other employees of the company. Although I can’t say that managing those careers and the one I have now weren’t/aren’t a challenge in time management, I had no idea of the discipline I’d actually need manage my time through this semester of law school.
As I write this, I have two weeks of classes left before the final reading period and exams begin, and I know that without a doubt my toughest challenge this semester was adjusting to honestly never having another truly “free” moment. In general, I’m a guy who is very used to planning my own schedule and making time for whatever I want to do and with whomever I want. I hang with a considerably motivated and successful group of friends but even they had trouble understanding how I could turn down their offers to hang out 3 times in a row on a given week. I like hanging with my friends, but I couldn’t any more if I wanted to keep up with the demands of work and school. There are other things I like to do also: cook meals, have 2-hour workouts at the gym, have a drink with someone after work... I quickly learned that I had to give up what I like to call those “luxuries for people with time.” Since I started law school, there is always something I could be doing. There is always another assignment to read and brief, and if I’ve moved far enough ahead on the syllabus, I should be working on my outline before midterms or final exams suddenly appear before me, as I now realize they do.
When I started SI, one of the professors mentioned that there are two degrees that take pretty much everything you have to complete. One is a medical degree and one is a law degree. I can vouch for what they say by personal experience. My advice to anyone starting law school is to be prepared to give it your all and to explain to those loved ones, co-workers, and acquaintances around you that you need their help in understanding that you’re about to take on something that will require a huge piece of your life. Let them know that for these four-month chunks, called semesters, you’re not going to appear to be yourself, and that although you’ll miss the good times, you simply can’t be there like you used to be. But also let them know that if they understand, they’re most likely going to find on the other end of graduation day a much happier and grateful you for all they did to support you.
This isn’t to say that it’s all just tough and miserable. You’ll know you’re in the right place when, like I do, you actually enjoy reading the cases and thinking critically about them, and you feel better when the professor calls on you in class and you know your stuff. You’ll meet great friends who are in the same boat as you, too. But the best part of all is that if you really focus and work hard, it all FLIES BY.
Like I said, I have two more weeks of class left and I can honestly say I don’t know where this semester went. Kind of nice, no? Yeah.