Time flies when you’re having fun! It seems just like yesterday I was attending 1L Orientation at Richmond Law. I honestly do not remember much about that day except being in awe about the Moot Courtroom and intently trying to capture the advice everyone—from students to practicing lawyers—shared about how to “master” law school. If only I knew then what I know now: success is predicated on simply being the best version of yourself.
While some of the advice was not so good (e.g., don’t worry about attending class), some of the advice was pretty great. However, rarely spoken was the advice to not forget who you are. To not discount the fact that if I had what it took to get into law school, I had what it took to succeed in law school. The good grades and professional and civic experience that got me to law school, those were the things that would actually help me get through law school.
To that end, if I could go back and give my law school self advice about how to successfully navigate the arduous years of law school, I would tell myself to remember the importance of mental health; be mindful of impostor syndrome; and be the best version of myself.
Self-care. Being mindful of my mental health, or what I like to think of as self-care, is undoubtedly the most important piece of advice no one ever gave me. According to the American Bar Association’s Student Law Division, law students and lawyers experience much higher rates of depression, anxiety, and stress than the general public. Fortunately, law schools and the legal profession are now placing much needed emphasis on mental health. In hindsight, I realize that I should have dedicated more time for self-care during law school. Whether that was in the form of working out, pampering myself (on my limited law school budget), or seeking counseling or therapy to simply vent about the haze of law school, I should have done more. As a practicing lawyer, the haze hasn’t stopped. And now I have clients to answer to. Nonetheless, I have mastered the art of self-care and that helps tremendously. Whether it is a kick boxing boot camp, a bubble bath on Sunday, or a “therapy session” over mimosas with close friends, I now understand the importance of self-care to my mental, and subsequently physical, health.
Impostor Syndrome. Doubting your accomplishments and feeling like an impostor may be what stresses law students the most. It’s so easy to forget that the purpose of law school is to learn. I remember before a contracts exam, my professor said, “You have all the tools you need to do well in your toolbox, you just have to use them.” Said differently, I belonged and was worthy of being in law school. Even if I didn’t grasp a concept right away, I had the mental aptitude to eventually master the concept. It might take reading a treatise or doing extra practice problems in a study aid, but I was capable. Even now as a practicing attorney, impostor syndrome is a real thing. It is easy to question your competence when you are in court or at your firm with so many brilliant legal minds, but in my post-law school wisdom I know I have the tools to be a great lawyer in my toolbox; I just have to use them.
Be the best version of Yourself. There is no shortage of advice from others about what you should do to succeed in law school (not even in this article!). So much, in fact, that you may not even realize when you are doing everything everyone says you should do instead of whatever it is you actually want to do. Maybe you didn’t want to write on to law review, but everyone said you should. Or you were told to take a certain class, and you absolutely hate it. It’s important to not forget to be yourself—the person attending all the classes and staying up late to study. The person who actually got you into law school. That person is not perfect and doesn’t know everything, but it’s okay—no one knows everything.
Being cognizant of self-care, aware of impostor syndrome, and conscious about being the best version of myself is in no uncertain terms the best advice I could have given my law school self.
About the Author
Latosha M. Ellis is a 2014 graduate of the University of Richmond School of Law. She is currently an Associate at Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP in the Insurance Coverage Litigation Group. She also serves as Committee Chair of the YLC Bench-Bar Relations Committee.