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  • maggiemac

It really was 1L of a year

Before I started law school, I was super ignorant of the school culture. I knew about how competitive it was (hello, I've seen Legally Blonde, so I'm basically an expert), I knew it was three long years, and I think I had heard somewhere that law review was basically the varsity team. But that was basically it. When I was sent a jokey sticker from a friend that said "It's going to be 1L of a year!", I had to Google what "1L" was. It turns out it's what they called your first year, that was infamously soul-crushing and difficult, and definitely not a tongue-in-cheek cute time.


I already had so many worries before law school that had nothing to do with the academics, or career opportunities, or even a fundamental understanding of what I was getting myself into. My Imposter's Syndrome was almost debilitating. At least it wasn't as strong as the previous year, in which I was supposed to start law school but instead I moved to Washington DC, to be young and broke and in love with a city that famously didn't love anyone back. But this time, this year, I decided that I needed to hear my Imposter's Syndrome out. I gave her room to speak, letting her spill out all of her frenzied her worries and concerns of being "found out", that my acceptance to law school was a clerical error, that I was too rusty, too stupid, too flighty to do well. And then I pressed them into the pages of a journal and promptly forced myself to forget them. I reasoned everyone has it ((or at least, every successful woman has it)), so if everyone else did, I'd be fine too.

It turns out, our 1L year was so hellish that Imposter's Syndrome was the least of our concerns.

Law school is famously competitive. To even get in takes a great deal of fortitude and ambition. And then law school takes that small population in its loving, revered hands, only to shake it up, dislodging the unmotivated, or distracted, or simply struggling. Instead of breaks, you work. Instead of rest, you read. Even its form of self-care is emails. And at the end of all that work, it strips you of your identity, takes away your name and context and personality, and sorts you into a rank that will determine any future opportunity you get, any salary you may make, any chance to prove yourself.

And that's just your run-of-the-mill law school, like mine. I can't even begin to fathom what the Ivy Leagues do.

And yet, that was weirdly the gift of COVID. It was the great leveler.

For 2020 and 2020 alone, every single 1L student across America, across the world, was the exact same. We didn't get a normal year. Most of us were online, or if we were in a hybrid classroom, we were half of our numbers and six feet apart. We were scared of each other, in the normal sense and in a physical sense. In addition to our week's work, we also had to find the time to spit into a vial to be tested, or risk being put on probation for non-compliance. We secluded ourselves to our rooms for ten days if we were exposed. We worked through school with COVID. We postponed funerals of loved ones who perished, and checked in with friends in countries whose borders were locked-down. We didn't travel, or work out of coffee shops, or have wild nights. We couldn't follow any of the advice we were given. There wasn't really clubs to join, or networking to do, or office hours to stay for. Everything was yet another impersonal Zoom call, with professionals who did not want to be on a call with a brown-nosing 1L when they had work fatigue and children stuck at home without daycare, and a Goldendoodle with separation anxiety. And we didn't want to be on that call either, especially after a two hour Zoom class with a professor who was angry about their sabbatical being cancelled and another student who for the life of him could not work a Mute button.

Remember to bring your law books, your ID card, your charger, your mask. Remember to contact trace and study the Rules Against Perpetuity. Did you schedule in your therapy? Can you afford it this month? Did you stretch your legs today? This week? Did you reply to that email about that program that you should definitely do because all the top students are doing it and you want to be a top student too, right? Are you networking? Did you even remember to practice your faith? Is everyone else studying with horn books? Do you think your professor noticed you flubbed that cold call on Statute of Frauds? What even is a Tort, and how do you not know that yet?! When is the last time I talked to my mom? Do I think the nursing home will let us ever hug my great-grandma again?

And then remember to exercise your right to vote, so preciously upheld by our Constitution, in a five-hour line snaking around the Whole Foods downtown, while trucks with MAGA flags circled the capital like sharks. And when you're studying in the library on the night of the elections, when anxious texts go out to remember to be safe in case of riots, remember to check your email or you won't notice that you're on lockdown because a gunman was seen on campus. It'll be a false alarm but it will be a tense thirty minutes that you're not sure what you're most scared about- a school shooting or another four years with the same president. And what are you even supposed to do on a lockdown? Call your parents in a hushed whisper and try to calm them down, or keep studying Civil Procedure?

And in the several days where we don't know who is president, remember to study your laws of a legal system that never seemed more precarious. Watch the guy in front of you refresh his news page every five minutes in class. Hold your breath each time, only to exhale and shake yourself out of your distraction for your cold call.

And after the Jan. 6 insurrection, when you watched your Twitter with tears in your eyes in a Lowes parking lot, thinking that you may witness lawmakers and politicians be gunned down on livestream while the former President hid in a bunker, try to pull together enough motivation to remember to buy your Constitutional Law book for next semester. And when people in your Criminal Law class make vague statements that make you concerned that one of your classmates may one day be prosecutor over a diverse population, look for the other students who look as pissed off as you are. At least, look for raised eyebrows; it's all you can see with the masks.

In any other year, law school is measured by how hard you worked, how many hours you clocked studying, your impersonal ranking based on your single class grade.

And yet for one year and one year alone, we all succeeded, no matter our grades, or our school, or our achievements. Even if we dropped out, or deferred, or decided our mental health was more important.

Because we survived.


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