Law students are something of a different species. Though NYU Law students are a diverse bunch in many ways, there are traits and common understandings we come to share as we go through this journey together. As they say, above all, law school teaches students how to think like lawyers. It all develops very naturally, gradually, almost insidiously.
Then, the inevitable occurs: that moment when you realize that one of your loved ones on the outside just doesn’t get it.
You know the moment.
Maybe it was when your friend from college came into town for the weekend, clearly assuming you could go three days without doing a lick of work whatsoever.
Or when your significant other’s eyes glazed over when you discussed the fascinating world of the non-delegation doctrine.
Or when that family member *shudder* asked you for legal advice.
Recently, I wondered: if I could have given my loved ones a little pamphlet called “Knowing Your Law Student” before I began my 1L year, what would it have said?
The following aspires to be just such a primer, for anyone who has a law student in their life who they love enough to understand better. Students, feel free to send a link to this post to your loved ones (or print this page and mail it to those less tech-savvy loved ones).
1. Some things are going to be a lot different. You may not be able to watch “Law and Order” or “My Cousin Vinnie” again without your law student pointing out the inaccuracies, almost as a reflex. Legalese will find its way into your dinner conversations. You may gently mock your law student for this.
But if it's something this egregious, mock away.
2. Take an interest in your law student’s life. At some point, your law student will enthusiastically tell you about something interesting she’s learned. Do not panic – it’s okay if you don’t understand! Law school is remarkably good at putting a bubble around students that convinces them that everyone must understand what they’re talking about. If you aren’t clear on what she’s talking about, just ask – she won’t mind. If you really want to bone up on the subject, by all means – but it’s certainly not required.
There's no need to be the awkward penguin.
3. But don’t overdo talking shop. As much as they enjoy talking about all things legal, law students love talking about everything else, too. It reminds us that there’s still a whole other world outside law school, and that can be incredibly refreshing. Your law student has other law students to talk about that stuff with, anyway.
It's a whole new world out there.
4. When the law student in your life says she’s busy, over and over again…she probably is. Be understanding – law school is time-consuming. It’s just the nature of the beast. Voice your needs when appropriate – and, if possible, not during final exams time. Which leads us to…
5. During finals time, be understanding. There may be a drop in your law student’s ability to tend to the non-law school parts of his life. Be supportive. Should any conflict arise during this time, address it in a calm manner at an appropriate time. During final exams, your law student may feel he’s under a lot of pressure. Much more could be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
Well...kind of like that, I guess.
6. During final exam season, you may want to find yourself a hobby. You may hear from your law student less around this time of year. It isn’t that she doesn’t miss you or wouldn’t love to hear from you – she’s just really busy and probably stressed out. If she doesn’t return your calls/IMs/texts/carrier pigeons, don’t panic. Let her connect with you on her own time. (And if you do actually pick up a hobby, introduce it to your law student when finals are over!)
"I don't think we should continue the hike - this could be a legally sufficient warning."
7. But do not forget about your law student! Any little gesture, like making him cookies, sending an uplifting email, or even just giving a big hug will absolutely make his day. Guaranteed. I mean, your law student will have been sitting in the library for hours on end among casebooks – it’s a sure thing.
We're talking this level of satisfaction.
8. When finals are over, they’re over. Not all law students love to post-mortem exams. Probing beyond “how did it go?” may not be a good idea. Quite likely, your law student wants to leave that experience behind – what’s done is done, and it’s time to celebrate (and/or sleep).
Approximately how your law student feels by the end of final exams.
9. Law school can be stressful – but you can help. It may not be The Paper Chase, but it’s not Sesame Street, either. Your law student may feel disillusioned about something that sounds trivial to you. You may feel helpless to comfort them – but actually, it’s quite the opposite. You have the power to ground your law student in reality, and remind them of the bigger picture.
10. Don’t ask your law student for legal advice. Please don’t do this. Your law student can face very serious, even career-threatening consequences for giving legal advice, and she knows it. She may really want to help you, but please don’t pressure her into making that kind of choice.
Having a law student in your life can be a challenging experience, but a rewarding one. Hopefully this little post will promote more of the latter. Special thanks to the many law students who provided me with their words of wisdom!
This post was originally posted last August 16, 2011 here.