An unfortunate truth about law school is that it can be a real downer.
It’s expensive, demanding, and remarkably difficult. As a second year law student, I have spent the past two years watching most of my friends go through profound personal changes, often observing people I love spiral into cynical patterns of thought. I think those of us in human rights law have a particular tendency to fall into such cycles, and I’ll admit I have gone through phases of severe negative emotions myself.
As a bleeding heart and eternal optimist, I’d like to offer some advice to those going through a similar experience. This post is blunt and riddled with smidges of sarcasm, but it is also a true capturing of my experiences, and comes from someone who has found sincere happiness and fulfillment on the legal path (yes, there are a few of us!).
1. Stay in denial
Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but I do think it’s important to remember the benefits of delusion. You can sit around all day thinking about the debt you’ll be in, the hard work your career in human rights law will entail, and the fact that you’ll likely feel overwhelmed and underappreciated for significant portions of your working life.
And why wouldn’t you? All of those points are true, right?
Yes, mostly they are. But there are other truths on the subject worth exploring as well.
Although learning to be rational and realistic is an important aspect of your legal career, sometimes the solution to stressful thoughts is simply not to dwell on them. Debt is scary, and examining world problems will inherently be an overwhelming experience. However, as a human rights advocate, it will be important to always remember the rewarding nature of your work and the satisfaction that comes with feeling good about what you do.
So don’t dwell on the negative. Focus on the positive realities of the field and ignore the rest as best you can.
2. Surround yourself with equally delusional people
The problem with law school is that it’s filled with lawyers—folks who spend their days reading and re-reading heart-wrenching cases as their debt radically accumulates (debt they’re incurring so they can afford to be hazed, broken, and scoffed at).
But here’s the good news. Law school is also filled with intelligent, passionate, and optimistic people. Sometimes they’re just hidden in the background of the day-to-day drudgery.
Law school gives you the profound privilege of connecting with bright, persevering individuals. Focus on those people—they’re the ones who will further your happiness and support you in your career goals, not serve as a daily reminder of the pitfalls of your future vocation.
It takes courage and skill to be happy during difficult phases of life. Don’t give up, and surround yourself with others who haven’t either.
3. Intern or volunteer at a human rights organization
Internships are an essential component of a legal education, and it can be terribly tempting to accept a position from the biggest law firm or most renowned judge who offers. Although people told me I was crazy and stupid for throwing away such opportunities, I knew that in order to make an educated professional decision, I had to experience human rights law as a student.
It’s a difficult fork in the road to encounter, and this choice is not for everyone. But I wouldn’t trade my internship experience for anything because it opened my eyes to the incredible things I could actually do with my degree. Furthermore, because it’s such a complicated division of the law, I now have experience in international law, United Nations protocol, immigration law, federal courts, business law, tax law, constitutional law, government law, legislation, policy work, political analysis, and many other fields that intertwine with the subject of human rights. I have met role models, made connections, and gained perspective on what I can do within the boundaries of my profession.
Currently, I work in a civil and human rights lobbying firm in Washington, DC, and I can’t imagine a better experience. Every day I am surrounded by optimistic people who radiate joy, passion, and hope. We have hard days, but our good days are so profoundly fulfilling, it makes it all worth it.
4. Remember what a treasure your education is
You might have heard the phrase “the world doesn’t need more lawyers,” but the truth is that the world does need more human rights advocates in all professional fields. Education creates many chances for personal improvement, but for me, it also opened doors to helping others.
My education is my most valued possession. It has been emotionally draining, financially difficult, and overall I expect it to be one of the most difficult things I will ever go through in my life. However, it has also equipped me with an unusual skill set and understanding, and has been the most important investment of my life.
Some days, I feel cynical, small, and overwhelmed. I want to declare my work a losing battle, throw my hands up, and walk away. However, that’s when I take a moment to step back and remember how lucky I am to have such an incredible opportunity. I have the chance to educate myself, understand the world, and use my talents to help others.
Who could have all that and stay cynical?
Victoria Slatton is a second year law student at Pepperdine University and a passionate advocate for human and civil rights. She believes in justice, equality, and the true value of mischievous behavior.