On Being an Imposter in Law School

It would be improper if I did not begin this post with the confession that making me feel horrible about myself is not the hardest thing to do. There are a million insecurities that gnaw at me with the same single-minded ferocity that I use to gnaw on my nails, and I suspect that this is true of most people. I do think, however, that the intensity with which law school has stripped me to nothingness is probably unparalleled by any other negative experience in my life. [1]

Yesterday, for instance, we were learning some procedural law, and the teaching assistant began an explanation of the three parts of a particular section. Spaced-out and pre-caffeinated as I was, I couldn’t understand a word of what he was saying: the meaning seemed to slide off me, just like it always did when the men and one woman who sat right behind me launched into a discussion on the implications of the placement of a comma on the reading of the law. [2] I looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to pause for doubts. But someone always have their hand up first, and my arrogance prevents me from being the One Person who wanted to go back to the basics of the law when everyone is combing through the million hypothetical scenarios.

If I said any of this to anyone in law school, they will smile politely and not believe me – ours has been a mixed humanities-law course, and thanks to the arts, I have done pretty well for myself in terms of grades. If they are slightly better known to me, they will point to my enthusiasm for Family Law and how I just seemed to get things that the entire class struggled with. But the arts are over, and I have to come to terms with the fact that I still struggle to decide what the ratio of a case is. I do not remember judgments I studied a year ago – not their names, not the facts, not the law they laid down – not even for something like Family Law. It says something about how stupid I feel (am?) that I consider making a vaguely coherent point in an informal, student discussion group to be an achievement.

And yet, I am officially tasked with helping out juniors in some areas of the law and in writing their projects. I’m one of those people everyone automatically assumes will land a corporate job with a decent salary. And I freaking decide whether certain articles are fit or unfit for publication in one of our reviews. [3] Never mind that I have a miniature panic attack every time I fail to grasp something. Never mind that the reason I start studying as early as possible is not because I want to raise my CGPA, but out of a deep fear of flunking – because I know I will struggle with what other people breeze to, and that even when I do get things, my understanding will have deep flaws in it.

I never feel like more of a fraud, however, than when I am called upon to speak – when my voice begins to shake and I hug my arms a little tighter around myself. I’ve bought into the image that a lawyer cannot but be someone who is fierce and well-spoken, and I am neither. I am as helpless at bluffing my way out of a tricky situation as I am at understanding the nuances of Evidence law. Yet somehow the idea of being someone’s briefing lawyer or cranking out scholarship that is never going to be read couldn’t possibly be less appealing. I entered the field because – at the naive age of eighteen – I was a feminist and wanted to do something about it. And I still believe that somehow, when I emerge from this mess of a place, I will be in a position to do just that.

But though I may get a degree – and given how it’s just about sticking it out, I probably will get it – I would never, ever, deserve to be called a lawyer.

Notes

[1] This does not mean, however, that I haven’t experienced positive things here, just that the negative can often overwhelmingly outweigh the positive.

[2] I am exaggerating, naturally, but I think I have conveyed the intended effect.

[3] Although admittedly, that is much easier given that I have always been a literary person and I love parsing through texts.

[And for those who will inevitably encourage me to go see the counselor after reading this post, this is what I’m currently trying to live my life by.]

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2 thoughts on “On Being an Imposter in Law School

  1. I think everyone feels like an imposter at some point. I went to an American law school, which sounds like it has a different set-up. It’s really easy to feel insecure in that environment. I definitely felt that way. You might feel more confident once you get out and start practicing. Do they have clinics there where you get to work on real cases? That might help you feel like you’re actually helping people and getting back to the reason you wanted to be a lawyer in the first place.

    Like

    1. The insecurity we face in law schools is probably because there is a bunch of really smart people pitted against each other. We do have a clinic, which I work with as much as a non-member can, and that is very enjoyable work. I’ve also enjoyed my internship under a lawyer, so I guess it’s just the environment here. But writing about it really helps let it all out. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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