Letter to brand new BU Law 1Ls

If you’ve been accepted to BU Law, take it as a vote of confidence that you are a good fit for what BU Law has to offer. There is no question as to whether you have what it takes to build an effective career with the legal training you are about receive. Whatever happens, I’m sure you’ll handle it well or otherwise figure it out with a short learning curve. I could stop there, but for better or worse, letters of this type tend to contain advice. If what I say going forward resonates, I’m glad to have shared something helpful; if not, stick with the first three sentences of this letter!

I’ve heard it said that we have to be careful, upon entering law school, not to lose touch with who we were before entering law school. To me, that has been half right. On the side of not losing myself, I think about my personal statement from my application often. I’m working toward specific goals that are larger than whatever these three years might hold for me, and I bet you are too. I do my best to seat law school within the spectrum of my life—along with, in my case, being a husband and father, being part of a faith community, writing and recording songs, logging miles on my road bike (well, less of that these days).

On the side of losing myself, though, I don’t feel the same about law, or life, as I did before law school. Again, I think about my personal statement from my application often. I’ve tweaked my focus as I’ve encountered various areas of the law during my 1L year, with an eye on what can be addressed and accomplished through each specialty. I’ve been surprised to see how legal thought reframes the social problems that often lie in the background of disputes. Professor Hylton once mentioned, in a panel on judicial nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court, that reform must be pursued soberly—one needs to understand the function of the current regime, such that the new regime doesn’t drop something important-but-taken-for-granted in pursuit of something missing. Since I’m quick to disregard in full things I only disagree with in part, that comment hit home. I count this type of challenge to my sense of self as fundamentally healthy. Law school is an opportunity to reinvent yourself as you integrate what you learn with what your life experience has been. Such opportunities become rare with age and routine and growing commitments.

Law professors, practicing lawyers, and people in positions to be legal role models for us have power over us. This power is largely rooted in the simple fact that they are lawyers already and we are not. They show us what being a lawyer looks like—how to think and write and argue, what the great controversies have been, how those controversies have been settled and unsettled, how to conduct ourselves in interviews and at socials, appropriate professional attire, hours we should expect to work, assignments we should bear with stoicism and sometimes enthusiasm, career options with our degree and roles we can play in society. For this type of power, experience is king. BU Law Professors are long on experience, reflection and accessibility, and we would be cheating ourselves to not receive as much individual direction as we can get. Yet we are each unique in perspective, each with our personal reasons for coming to the law, with potential to drive the law in a new direction or apply it in a novel way. When we step into the power dynamic of student and teacher, we can make like a lawyer and negotiate—that is, take direction and maintain self-direction at the same time.

All of this is to say: communicate what you care about and get feedback, sit with that feedback whether it affirms or challenges, build safe relationships to have people who can speak into your life, learn about the “culture of law” (as Professor Frankel would say) with a nontraditional course like American Legal History, think about your personal statement from your application often and keep updating it, develop a “personal narrative” (as BU Law alum Brendan Doherty would say) about law school in the context of your personal life trajectory. Then law school will be for you, on your terms, which might help you work harder and stay in touch with why you’re at BU Law and not, say, Berklee College of Music down the street.


Brigitte Kahnert posted on April 14, 2011 at 3:15 pm

Another classic David Linhart–terrific. I do think the highlighted sentence is key! Hope many entering students get to read your letter. And you clearly do know why you’re not at Berklee down the street…
Have a wonderful summer work experience!

Yaminette posted on April 15, 2011 at 11:31 am

This was a good reminder for ANY student of “life” on staying the course and also being open to deviate from it.
And I bet incoming 1L’s will not be the only ones to benefit from your insights!

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