Two things I wish I knew before becoming a law student

By Alexandra Sumner

Any metaphor I could use to describe the tumultuousness of law school would pale in comparison to reality.

It’s arduous, straining and even exasperating. But it’s also a rigorous education program that not only whets — but satiates — even the largest academic appetite.

That being said, here are two things I wish had been drilled in my head beforehand.

You won’t know the answer most of the time: in school or in practice. For some reason, I was under the impression that lawyers knew everything intuitively —  and that a client’s question was answered with a definitive answer, immediately.

Turns out, that’s far from reality. Simply put: There is so much law that it is impossible to know every facet, every topic area, every case and every doctrine. As a result, the most common response you’ll ever utter will be, “I don’t know, but let me find out!”

It seems strange to admit your own ignorance, but in the legal profession that’s an asset, rather than a fault:

Not everyone gets a $100K job. Seems obvious, right? Somewhere between 1L and bar passage, a lot of people around you will start accepting offers at prestigious firm —salaries of around $100K, bar prep classes paid for, CE classes covered and a technology stipend.

Things look pretty good for them; but what isn’t as apparent is the struggle for the rest of us — the scramble to find a perfect (no—great; no—ok; no—passable) job to cover the bills we undoubtably amassed over the last three years.

For a while, I thought that the fact I hadn’t earned one of those highly sought-after positions meant I had failed, that I wasn’t smart or resilient enough to “make it big.” I thought of success as a finish line (an office with a big wooden desk and a locked file cabinet) rather than a journey I get to take for the rest of my life.

Sure, I may not be in my ideal town, ideal job or even ideal apartment, but I have the rest of my life to work towards that. If you find yourself struggling — just remember, you’re not alone. Indeed, the company might surprise you.

If anything, find comfort in this: Last summer while I was studying for the bar, I was also vigilantly (and frantically) job-searching. (Talk about an overwhelming summer.)

As I uploaded my resume to a local bar association database, I could also browse through a list of other candidates — and one really surprised me. She was at the top of our class, had a great work ethic and was always spoken well of by others. She was non-confrontational, well-connected and even came from a wealthy family — but even SHE was struggling to find a job.

If a woman who won an award from the American Bar Association’s law review contest was without a job, well damn maybe I wasn’t so off-base.

These are the secrets we keep to ourselves, for fear of being judged: You may not always know the right answer or wind up in the right job, but if you made it this far, you made the right decision.


Alexandra Sumner is a recent graduate of Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis.