You read that title correctly. Today you’re going to get some relationship advice from the gray-haired, middle-aged (divorced!) president and founder of Law Preview.
Stop and let that soak in for a moment.
Now, you may ask: “Is this guy at all qualified to give relationship advice?” The answer is a resounding “No.” I practice radical honesty and have a horrible bedside manner. So, most normal people would never ask me to help fix their marriages, explain why ‘he’s just not that into you,’ or ask me how to start a conversation on Tinder. However, entering law students are not normal people and it is in this tiny sliver of the population in which I am an expert. Really.
Twenty years ago, I left a successful BigLaw antitrust practice to found a law school prep course. Every year since then I’ve had the privilege of reliving the horrors of the 1L year vicariously through my students. During my tenure, I’ve had the opportunity to observe how some of the most successful law students in the country have managed the expectations of their family, friends and significant others — before they began law school — in order to ensure they had a rock-solid support system in place throughout the first year.
The end goal for any entering law student such as yourself is to remove all non-academic distractions from the fall semester so you can focus like a laser on the only thing that matters: scoring in the top 10% of your 1L class. Here are three ways to make that happen:
Explain a 1L Student’s ‘Love Language’ to Your Family
They’ve had your back throughout the entire admissions process. They’ve reviewed your personal statements, filled out the FASFA and are maybe even helping out with tuition. There’s no doubt your family loves you. They are rooting for you to succeed and will want to offer support. However, unless they are also lawyers, don’t expect them to know what form YOU need that support to take.
Like explaining your “love language” to a prospective spouse, sit your family down now and explain the impact your 1L grades will have on your entire professional career; then spell out exactly how they can support you. Can they cook you dinner one night a week or maybe volunteer to do your laundry? Spell out what you need.
Explain that you probably won’t be around for every family function over the next nine months, but that’s only because a law student’s workload is so incredibly demanding — and it’s not just an excuse to avoid Aunt Trudy’s 73rd birthday in October.
If you’re planning to live at home and commute to school in order to save money, set some clear boundaries and explain how your class and study schedule will have to take precedence over family time for the foreseeable future.
And, if you’re an older non-traditional student, when your mom keeps telling you how she can’t wait for you to get married and/or have grandchildren, tell her that’s probably going to be on hold too (for a little while) — and it’ll be a lot less stressful if she stops reminding you how your ‘biological clock’ is ticking.
In short, tell your family in no uncertain terms the specific ways they can support you to make this journey easier for YOU, and not how THEY think they should help.
Sit Your Friends Down For A Straight-Talk Session, Now
If you were the kid in undergrad that would go out drinking Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights — and then hung out and watched your favorite NFL teams all-day Sunday — life is going to change dramatically. Tell your friends that while you may still want to engage in those activities with them next fall, you simply won’t have the time because you need to devote 110% of yourself to your legal studies.
Personally, I love what Mike Patrone, a Law Preview Alum who finished in the top 2% of his class 1L class at University of Florida (and transferred to Harvard Law School), did to hammer this point home to his friends. He sent his friends a link to the Supreme Court’s opinion in Sindell v. Abbott Laboratories (one of the harder Torts cases) and had them read it. Then, he explained that Sindell represents just one of about ten such cases he’d be reading each night. Friends were practically tripping over themselves to stay out of his way to give him all the grief-free study time he needed.
If you need to sweeten the pot, perhaps explain that after you get that 2L Summer Associate position that pays $3800/week, you’ll promise to buy drinks for everyone during 2L and 3L year when you have more free time to go out.
Don’t Fall In or Out of Love During the 1L Year
If, while describing the latest fight with your boyfriend or girlfriend, you confided in your best friend: “I’m thinking that the time we’re apart next year while I’m at law school will actually do our relationship some good,” perhaps you should think about starting off law school single. That’s some tough love, I know. But, again, your biggest concern for the fall semester is removing any potential personal distractions.
A break up now (before law school begins), while certainly painful, will be a lot easier for you to handle come the fall. You must understand that because there is such intense pressure to earn top 1L grades, everything in law school gets magnified. So if you’re already in a rocky relationship and are committed to devoting the time and energy you need to law school (as well as your own personal health and fitness) next fall, you’re going to appear pretty selfish. What you should try to avoid now is a talking-tears conversation or full-blown crazy breakup — which always seem to have a way of happening at the end of the semester around Thanksgiving break (just before your first set of exams).
Oh, and if you’re in a rocky marriage, now’s definitely NOT the time to file for divorce. Take the next few months to reconnect with your partner, work on your marriage, and (using point 1 above) explain the importance of your academic performance during your 1L year and its impact on your lives together. A strong supportive partner is exactly what you need during the 1L year.