Perhaps you’re a K-JD who is heading to law school without having ever held down a “real” job. Or, maybe you’re the first in your family to attend college or law school and you don’t know any lawyers or have any connections to the legal field.
Regardless of your background, an acceptance into law school (especially one that comes with some scholarship money) can definitely provide a short-term huge ego boost; however, it can also sow the seeds of doubt in the minds of even the most accomplished undergraduate students.
Facing Impostor Syndrome as an Incoming Law Student
Impostor syndrome in law school is real. Don’t fall prey to it.
Over the years, I’ve worked with thousands of entering 1Ls from all walks of life. I’ve also worked with some of the best law professors in the country — many of whom also came from very humble beginnings.
While it’s natural to step into 1L with some hesitation regarding the challenges that lie ahead, the most successful students – the ones who really excel during the first year – never doubt their own abilities. Instead, they walk into 1L having prepared for the challenges and with a strong desire to become great lawyers. Preparation and desire are the only real multipliers in life.
You see, law schools are run by lawyers — people who, by training, are “risk-averse.”
If you’ve been accepted to law school, the school is acknowledging two things:
- You likely know little about the experience you are about to encounter; and
- Notwithstanding #1, they still feel that you deserve a spot in the 1L class.
By accepting you, the dean of admissions is saying that your past accomplishments have demonstrated your ability to complete the law school curriculum and become a lawyer.
Now, the burden is on you to walk into 1L with the mindset that “you belong” – and trust me, you do.
I Speak From Experience Here
I grew up in New York and attended a public high school. My high school class’ valedictorian was the niece of a very popular state governor in the northeast. She was accepted to Harvard (early decision) and, later, Penn Law where she excelled and was invited on the Penn Law Review. She was well-connected, made all the right moves early on, and had a strong work ethic.
By contrast, I came from a squarely middle-class family and enjoyed a pretty unremarkable high school career – one that got me into a decent college, but not a place that was nationally ranked. My only employment prior to law school was a blue-collar job working for my (rural) town’s Water Department during the summers.
After college, I applied to 11 law schools and because of a completely unimpressive undergraduate transcript/LSAT score, I only got into one law school: Albany Law School – a regional law school with a solid reputation, but definitely not one that ranks among the coveted T14.
While I could have bathed in imposter syndrome, I decided instead to attack the experience like I truly belonged there – like they were lucky to have me. Mindset matters.
After 1L, I was ranked #4 in my class, was invited onto Law Review, and landed an NYC BigLaw job at one of the world’s most respected law firms.
When I showed up at my firm for Summer Associate orientation after my 2L year with 45 other Summer Associates, guess who was sitting across the conference room table from me — my high school class’ valedictorian.
The look of shock on her face was priceless when she recognized me; even more shocking to her was my ability to score great work because of a natural ability to relate to partners, associates (and support staff) equally, having grown up perfecting people skills by relating to “real” people.
I share this (entirely true) story not as a brag, but to encourage those who doubt their abilities to embrace the law school experience and never forget your roots and the grit you exerted to get here.
Let others underestimate you, but never doubt yourself. You belong. Now, GO GET ‘EM