Why Law School is Better Than a Junior High Wrestling Match

Half full

This is the image printed on one of my favorite tee shirts. I’m not a connoisseur of clever shirts and clichés, but I do appreciate ones that fit me, and this one does. Especially lately, and not just because I’ve shed a few excess holiday pounds.

The reason for my optimism:  after completing three semesters of law school, I am officially halfway to a J.D.! My law school glass is now half full of all the knowledge, credits and lectures, papers and exams, and coffees and bagels of my law school career.

Nevertheless, reaching the halfway point of law school is not an excuse to sit back on laurels and overlook the upper part of the glass—unfilled but teeming with potential.

Rather, this is the time to reflect on the first half, regroup and recalibrate, and move forward more deliberately than before. One nice thing about law school, unlike some sports I attempted in my youth, is that we do have a halftime and other moments of pause to do this.

In junior high and high school, I was fairly competent at and enjoyed sports like tennis and soccer with frequent breaks where I could catch my breath, shoot the breeze with my teammates over a cup of gatorade, and munch on orange slices.

I did not fare so well in sports without breaks like cross-country and wrestling.

In cross-country, unlike soccer, I was grateful for the chance to participate with my friends senior year even though I didn’t make Varsity. And the practices and pasta dinners were co-ed, which was an added bonus. But the races were sickening:  once the starting pistol fired, you started running as fast as possible, for as long as possible, until you crossed the finish line. The worst part was that, as you became increasingly exhausted and nauseated, the hills became steeper, the competition passed you in growing numbers, and your parents and friends shouted at you and made those pinwheel arm motions with increasing ferocity.

CrosscountryBut at least, at the end, despite collapsing and/or throwing up, you also felt accomplished. So long as you weren’t one of the scoring members of the team, your unimpressive time didn’t matter and everyone congratulated you on your effort.

Wrestling had none of these benefits. Once the referee started a junior high wrestling match, you struggled with every adolescent muscle you possessed, for as long and hard as possible, against a similarly sized opponent until one of you pinned the other on his back, tapped out or passed out, or the clock ran out. Not only did you experience a sickening exhaustion worse than cross-country, if you lost individually, your whole team also lost points, and everyone—including your testosterone-enraged teammates and coach, the cheerleaders, and your friends/family—witnessed your humiliating defeat (in full-body spandex).

Luckily for me and, I suspect, some of my peers, law school is not exactly like a wrestling match or even a cross-country race. For starters, I think many of us prefer collared shirts and argyle sweaters to miniscule running shorts and full-body spandex.

Second, for better of for worse, very few people witness our academic defeats and triumphs. Outside of best friends, family, and significant others (except for one guy who posted his grades on Facebook), we don’t share our grades. No cheerleaders or pimply teammates are going to see you get choked out as your face turns purple and you consider tapping out on 1L Torts or Constitutional Law.

Most importantly, and the point of this extended trip through adolescent athletics:  in law school you have time (if you allow yourself) to catch your breath, assess your performance, have a little fun and relaxation, and move forward with your plan of action.

Right now I am finishing one of those periods, personally and academically.

SugarloafOn the personal side, I recently had an awesome weekend with friends at the Sugarloaf ski resort in Maine, a trip coordinated by BU Law’s Student Government. In addition to carving some slopes with my rusty ski legs, I appreciated the mountain setting away from Boston, enjoyed home-cooked meals with nine peers in a cozy cabin, and listened to live music at the Widowmaker ski lodge.

Before classes started, I also did some non-legal reading like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, caught up with my family and friends in Kansas, and saw some movies like The Black Swan.

On the academic side, I met with my clinical supervisor last week to reflect on my first semester’s classwork and fieldwork. We discussed my development in three core skills of first semester’s Pre-Trial Advocacy class—interviewing, counseling, and negotiation—and my use of those skills in my three real-world cases (two involving clients seeking unemployment benefits and one involving a client trying to recover of unpaid wages). Together, we also came up with some goals for my second semester clinic work.

Academically, the break also allowed me to do some independent research for a professor and prepare for my upcoming classes:  Trial Advocacy, Administrative Law, and Refugee and Asylum Law.

With the semester now underway, I do feel a bit like a runner beginning a difficult course or a wrestler staring down an intimidating opponent. But, as with each semester, I feel more confident with the increasing ground behind me and the decreasing ground ahead. I’m also propelled by my ability, as a 2L, to choose my law school terrain, be it the Civil Litigation Clinic or Administrative Law, to promote my academic and professional growth.

Moreover, as these law school experiences, including summer internships and jobs, approximate or involve the actual practice of law, I feel less hurried to cross the finish line or complete the match and more intent on filling my glass with as much knowledge and experience as I can before entering the legal workforce.

By that time, I hope to be victorious academically and professionally. But at the very minimum—unlike junior high wrestling—I am fairly certain about one thing:  I will not end up with my face smushed into a sweaty wrestling mat.

That is my idea of a half full glass.