Law School with a Fiancée Pt. 1: Studying and Applying

Some of the most valuable experience I’ve gained at BU Law so far has been learning from my talented peers. There is definitely no single type of person who comes to law school. Some were motivated to apply because of their work in a public defender’s office, some because of their desire to help flag and eliminate white collar crime, and others because of their passion for helping others through difficult situations.

Cait and I in Iceland, 2017

Cait and I in Iceland, 2017

Personally, I’m 28, engaged to be married in 2019 (yay!), and a 1L at BU Law. I mention the engaged part because, without my fiancée to support and challenge me, I probably wouldn’t be a 1L. Cait and I met in graduate school at the Bread Loaf School of English and she also works in education. After a few years of long distance, we moved in together in 2016 and got engaged in Oxford, England in 2017. Having decided to teach for several years after college, law school had never really crossed my mind until I started questioning whether I wanted to stay in education for the long haul. I don’t think I would have seriously considered changing careers if Cait had not encouraged me to look at my options.

I figure that those of you thinking about law school who are either engaged or married might find the experience of a similarly situated law student useful. In this first post I’ll share how my partner interacted with my decision to change careers and apply to schools. In a follow-up post I’ll share how having a committed domestic partner has affected my first semester of 1L. Preview: It’s been nothing but stabilizing and rewarding!

 

The Decision to Change Careers

“Don’t think about a profession,” I remember Cait telling me one morning as we thought about my choices, “Make a list of what you’re good at, and then let’s see what professions value those skills.” It’s easy, but ultimately unhelpful, to decide I want to work in finance! or I want to be a pet therapist! Why unhelpful? While you might find aspects of those jobs enticing, you may be ignoring the core skills and values that make a great securities trader or horse psychoanalyst.

It sounds like simple advice now, but it was just what I needed. Making a list of your skills (and areas in need of improvement) is a healthy exercise that I think we should practice more often. For those of your playing along at home: try it out! Perhaps unsurprisingly, my time as a graduate student and teacher of English at competitive independent schools in the Northeast had rendered me proficient at reading, writing, persuasion, client counseling, and the clear communication of complex ideas. Law school had never previously occurred to me as an option, but with my partner’s support it seemed like an experience my professional investments had prepared me for.

At first I worried that she might see my decision to leave teaching (for now, at least) as a weakness, like I was giving up on something I loved. To the contrary, she framed the decision as a courageous one, noting that it would probably be easier in the long run just to go through the paces of the career I was familiar with. Together we made certain that my foray from education into law was the logical next stage on a journey, not an escape or retreat from anything.

 

LSAT and Applying

I began taking a practice LSAT every week from about December 2016 through June 2017, when I took the test for real. Having someone to support me through this practice period was very helpful. It was challenging to force myself to block out 5-6 hours a week for taking and reviewing practice exams. My partner was integral to establishing the sense that all of this effort for purposeful. Some people succeed at self-motivation, and I’m generally in that category, but having an external source of encouragement was crucial. I had someone to keep me honest, to work out difficult practice questions with, and (most importantly) to report my progress to. Between my first “cold” practice and the time I took the LSAT, my scores on practice tests rose substantially. Every time I did better, it was nice to have to someone to tell who was genuinely invested in my success.

The application process was no different. Applying to law school takes time: waiting for your scores, researching schools, writing essays, visiting campuses, etc. My hunch is that many people experience it with far less support than they did the college application process. And it’s easy to get wrapped up in. Living with my partner was grounding. When you live alone (as I did for many years before popping the question) it’s easy to fall out of a routine. Having a partner around me every day made me get a full night’s sleep, eat dinner a regular time each night, and maintain a healthy perspective on the sometimes frustrating process of applying to law schools.

When it came time to choose between some Boston-area schools, I strongly felt that BU would afford me the best education and prospects, but knew that the commute to other schools from our present apartment would be far shorter. A shorter commute would mean less time away from home and more time with my partner. I had an honest conversation with Cait about this element of the decision process, and it was affirming when she told me that the longer commute was certainly tolerable if it meant doing my best and getting the most valuable education I could. “If you’re going to put yourself through this, you should do it at the place you think will prepare you the best,” she told me. And once my daily commutes began, she suggested I use that time to listen to audio study-aids in the car, which has made that time in traffic feel a lot more productive.

 

We live in a society that greatly values individualism and personal work ethic. Law school is certainly an environment that encourages adherence to those values. It would be a mistake, however, to ignore or downplay the crucial role that our partners, friends, and family play in helping us succeed academically and personally.

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