When I started law school at the Stetson University College of Law, I thought (as many of you probably do or did) that I was going to be learning the law. Once I began to prepare for my first day of classes, and even more so when I underwent my first few lectures, I realized something that you will also realize. As a first-semester law student, you are not going to learn the law…yet. The reason why this distinction is important is because, like any tall structure, a proper foundation has to be laid. To that end, you’ll notice that if you commit yourself to the following truth, you will find your first semester at the law far more enjoyable and far less stressful than those who fail to take notice of the reality: as a first-semester law student, you are going to learn how to learn.
The truth is that law is unlike anything else. You won’t be able to compare your experiences to college, medical school, a PhD program, or anything else. In law, we have to re-learn how we learn. The job of a lawyer is not to know the law, but rather to be a master of how to learn the law, and a master of how to teach or persuade with or make use of the law. The term “doctor” means, at its root, “teacher,” and as a lawyer, our job is to teach; to teach the client, to teach the court of controlling law, to teach the jury of the facts, and to teach ourselves all of it before hand. So, focus on the important objective. Focus on what the first semester of law school is and always has really been about: learning how to learn.
There are going to be distractions. There will be on-campus activities, competitions for mock trial, first-year contests for writing and moot arguments, and tons of other events. There will be midterms (if your professor elects, for some classes) and there will late nights. But, at all times, you must understand that your only objective is to learn how to learn. If you allow the process to work, it will re-engineer the way you think. It will change the way you intake information and the way you analyze it: let the system work its magic.
So, when you become frustrated with the cases that you cannot understand, or arrive a conclusion after reading a court opinion only to find out at the lecture that you were completely off in your thought process…relax. Take a deep inhale, and understand that this whole process – the cold-calling, the case-briefing, the on-your-feet analyzing, and the frustration – is all necessary. If you are patient, you will begin to re-learn how to learn. You will begin to slowly learn no longer by reading a textbook and taking a quiz (long-gone are the days of college), but rather by extracting the information from judicial opinions case after case, and reinforcing that by discussing it with your class and professor. You will learn as a lawyer learns, so that you may soon teach as a lawyer teaches, and think as a lawyer thinks.
And when you think that you are being out-thought by your section-mates, or become frustrated with the process taking longer for you than it did for your roommate, remember this truth; you are all undoubtedly exactly where you ought to be, none of you truly miles ahead of the rest…for what is a few feet of gained or lost distance that continuously fluctuates between a herd of runners, when the finish line is actually a horizon, and the race is actually a marathon.
Cheers to the Stetson Law Class of 2020, and the incoming law students at every other institution.