So we’re entering yet another symbolic new leaf turning: Chinese New Year, 2012. The Year of the Water Dragon. Dragons, according to Chinese folklore and the interwebz, are an intense sign – the sign of the emperor, no less – and generally a good omen. However, as dear Dumbledore would say, it is also apparently a year of dark and difficult times. Expect turbulence, drama, upheaval and wild shifts of fortune. (Sounds like a gambler’s future to me).
I’m four years out of law school. Four years ago, the original Survive Law was nothing more than a wild idea on a scrap of my Equity notes, shared with a friend over coffee. Survive Law then was one final year law student at a turning point: continue with this promising yet unlikely venture, or start getting my life together and applying for any grad program who would take my first class honours and humility. (The previous year, I’d declined to apply for any clerkships. I felt it wasn’t the right path for me. Five months later, with many friends in paralegal positions with a grad role assured at year’s end, I was feeling anything might be right for me that paid my HECS fees and you know, didn’t bring shame upon my Asian family).
My friend listened with interest to my latest crazy venture, and at the conclusion of my pitch, he said:
“This has a lot of merit. It sounds great, actually. But you and I, we don’t have any credibility. We’re just students.”
Naturally, all I heard was ‘challenge accepted’. I pitched the idea to my university, who expressed interest but needed a proposal and first chapter. No problem, I said, despite being in my fifth week of thesis semester, totally sleep deprived, with no proposal and only half a first chapter. (But hey, it did feature Kirby J.) In due time, the Dean’s Management Group were impressed, I secured the seed funds I needed for a 2009 launch, took a detour year off after graduation, and four years later, here we are.
My point is not to self-aggrandise. In this oh so volatile Dragon year, it would be foolish to challenge one’s auspicious meeting of luck and opportunity. Rather, as you read this, as you prepare to enter perhaps first year law school and all the uncertainties that come with it, or finish law school and deal with that most slippery and portentous proposition, ‘the real world’, or if you simply need to keep finding the will to toil on in the years between, I urge you to consider living dangerously. Embrace risk. Follow your instinct. You’re clever and talented and driven – that’s why you’re in law school. Now go further, and do whatever you really want to do, whatever that means to you.
And, as this is Survive Law, this particular advisory will be framed as a four-point checklist:
Then do whatever is right for you. No one else. Whether it’s year on AYAD or a year in a top-tier grad program, the course of your life in the coming years really does not matter. What does is how you feel about it. Whether you love or loathe it.
(Especially if you’re heading into clerkship or grad season). Most law students I’ve known suffer from either an absence or excess of self-assurance. Either is unhealthy. Honestly assess your strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and talents. Perhaps ask trusted friends or family who you know will be eviscerating and frank with you. Sweat the small stuff: find interview tips, dress up and dress well, prepare. Detail does make a difference when it comes to initial impressions.
This shouldn’t be hard. You’re almost-lawyers, after all. So what if you do fail first year? So what if you don’t land a grad job for a while? (Now there’s a best kept secret: at least anecdotally, many law grads take about a year to land the legal job they really want. Not because they’re unqualified or unable – it simply takes about a year of stretching and flexing your legal muscles to figure out what exactly you like in law).
Now that you’ve imagined, with some horror, your worst-case scenario, ask yourself: How would you respond if it did happen? Can you deal with it? The answer is almost always yes. It’s the impossible standards in our own minds that threaten us most as high achieving young lawyers and students. Allow some breathing room to fail, find your feet and make a killing in Round 2. Your sanity will thank you for it.
Where do you really want to be? Do you even want to be in law? Ideally? What do you love doing? You may not know yet. You may take years to figure it out. But the point is to ask that first question. Many don’t. And…if you don’t ever ask, no matter how high you climb or what’s written on your business card, how will you ever know if you are living the life you intended, strived and sacrificed for…or just someone else’s idea of the perfect life?
Sure, success is never assured. But one of the best little bits of advice I’ve picked up along the way came from the commissioning editor of a major legal publisher in 2009. Survive Law v1 had caught their attention. She asked what my plans were. (Plan? What plans? To…not fail?) Sensing my uncertainty, she then observed:
“You have passion. You’re clever. You’re talented. Even if you don’t know what you’ll do yet, people with passion always make it. Don’t worry.”
Very dangerous advice. It doesn’t come with a detailed five-year life plan. But it was the right advice.
Happy Dragon New Year, Survive Law!