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Fake it till you make it – everyone else is doing it too!

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Faking It

I remember entering law school thinking that I had so much experience in the world. After having run a nonprofit organization with professional staff representing 240,000 students statewide, creating and leading a mock trial program, all while finishing my undergraduate degree in three years, what was left to learn about work experience?

As most of us soon realize once we set foot into a law school classroom, we are not the only accomplished individuals at the school. Often we actually feel like what we were so proud of before is now small and insignificant when compared to those around us. It is that very feeling that makes us feel inadequate and when the on call system begins hearing the brilliance of our classmates only makes us feel smaller and smaller.

Now those of you reading closely have realized that if we all feel this way, how is it that our classmates are still able to accomplish brilliance while we shrivel up under the weight of our own text books? The answer is that they are faking it.

After beginning law school, I immediately tried out and was (by some miracle) selected to participate in a competition team. During practices my teammates and I would often stop mid questioning to ask about a procedural point to which my coach would often respond figure it out. This was infuriating to my team and I. Why? Why could he not tell us what we were supposed to do so we could fix it. The answer surprised us all. “You have to learn to fake it until you make it.” The words still ring in my ears. What did he mean we had to fake it? Did he think we weren’t good enough to learn and do it correctly!? Things only became worse when our team of first years was joined by a team of 3rd years fresh off of a national championship. They knew everything. They weren’t being asked to fake it…or so we thought.

Several month ago, now about 2 years removed from those first days of law school and mock trial, I had the pleasure of attending the American Bar Association’s Section Officer’s Conference. It was almost as if I was taken back to those first days of school in which I was proud of what I had accomplished but looked into a sea faces who had taken over their respective divisions in the ABA and had years of experience over me. I meagerly sat at a table for breakfast on the first day being terribly conscious that I was the most junior person in the room.

“May I sit here?” I asked a woman who seemed to know everything. She turned away from her conversation with the plethora of other attorneys and judges around me to respond with, “of course.” As she introduced herself we began speaking. As she asked me about how I came to be chairman of the law student division she seemed to fake enthusiasm… or so I thought. This woman had been with the ABA for 20 years, she obviously knew how everything worked right?

“Do you know what the difference between a section, division, and forum is?” She asked,

“I have a basic idea.” I responded reasoning out the differences in my head.

“Well you will need to explain it to me because I still do not get it. I just keep faking it!” She said through a laugh.

In that instant, I realized what had been going on around me even before I began law school. You see, I had often analogized my life as someone who trips forward and is stumbling simply trying not to fall flat on their face. While this person stumbles it appears that they are covering a lot of ground quickly and in a new innovative way (even though that is not the intent). In that moment I realized why my coach had pushed faking it until you make it, why this woman had been faking it, and why I felt like I was faking it in classes. It’s because the simple truth of the world is that no one truly understands everything that is going on around them. Some of us get a better grounding from which to fake it but nobody is completely confident and fully knows what they are doing at all times.

So what!? So we are all just a bunch of fakers? Well yes. We are all holding ourselves out to such a high standard that we have no choice but to fake it because we are not able to plan everything. What is the more important realization is that it is okay to fake it. It is OK to not be assured of yourself. It is okay to understand that everyone is faking it to some extent, but that is no reason you cannot continue to try. So then, if everyone is faking, what is holding us back from achieving the heights we only dare speak in our dreams? I guess the answer is simple…Fake barriers that we construct because we have decided we aren’t good enough. But once you realize that everyone is faking, you humanize the people around you and in doing so you remove the barriers that hold you back.

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Kareem Aref Kareem S. Aref is the Chair of American Bar Association Law Student Division for 2016-2017. He received his JD in May from the University of California Davis School of Law. He was also President of the Trial Practice Honors Board.