It is an open secret that law as a profession has been a boys’ club for a very long time. As the field opens, it’s apparent that it’s a family affair too. I remember siting in Anheuser-Busch Hall as a job offer-less 2L overhearing my classmates mention that their lawyer dad helped them with their cover letter or that they snagged an internship at their mother’s firm. I love my mom, and she supported me however she could — but her help didn’t include tips on how to Bluebook. I had to find my guidance elsewhere.
First-generation law students who’ve given this some thought know this is coming. And for those who didn’t consider it, Merry Christmas! Fortunately, this gift comes with good tidings. As you send out applications and prepare for the hazing ritual known as the “Erie Doctrine,” you should know there are groups that aim to give first generations some guidance as you do the grunt work that a J.D. requires.
U.S. News has some great tips on how to make it through the application process here. The ABA for Law Students has an article you should check out as well. You should also make sure to see if your school has a First Generation Law Society dedicated to help you with outlines, strategies for taking exams, and maybe some folks to commiserate with during bar review. Don’t knock study groups, even if you’ve been a loner all this time. Try to find a faculty member who is well connected — they may know a former student looking to hire.
And please, try to find a mentor. As soon as you start law school, you’ll have a “They Live” glasses moment when you realize that there’s a damn lot of us out there. They may already be in your circle! My mentor was just some dude I knew from high school who taught me how to make steak fries and use a telescope. It was only after I mentioned that I was considering law that I found out he was a retired partner at a firm he worked at for decades. He gave me some advice and a couple warnings about law school that I quickly forgot — but knowing I knew someone who thought I could do it stuck with me.
I had a long history of things coming easy to me in school. A’s on papers I didn’t spell check. Standing ovations when I did my part for show and tell. I probably made the rhombus fit through the triangle slot in kindergarten. Why should getting a J.D. be any different? Unfortunately, law school was a humbling experience. After getting a low B back at a school, I definitely planned on transferring out of after the first semester; I felt crushed and out of place. The weight of knowing I was an imposter on my shoulders, I called my mentor to let him know his faith in me was misplaced. To my surprise, he responded with a heartfelt, “Congratulations! A B means you’re supposed to be there.” He may have been wrong, but I like to think he was right.
When those roadblocks inevitably come, you’re gonna want someone in your corner to say you belong there too. And if push comes to shove, shoot me an email. I did not make order of the coif, but if you’re going to school in St. Louis, I can at least tell you where to get a good order of fries.
Advice for First-Generation Law Applicants [U.S. News]
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by tweet at @WritesForRent.