By: Eleanor (“Nell”) Tebbetts (JD ’21) with a Preface and Afterword by Professor Abigail L. Perdue
Preface: Each spring during our final session, I invite my first-year Legal Writing students to complete an ungraded reflection exercise. I provide several prompts, one of which encourages each student to write a short letter to the person he or she was on the first day of law school. Nell’s funny and candid letter is reprinted below with her permission.
Dear August 2018 Nell,
So here are the two things that really matter:
- Yes, you can do this…
- but you’re not always going to be the best anymore.
Look, I still don’t know if this was the right move. You had a stable career in marketing. Admittedly, you hated marketing, but you may also hate being a lawyer. All I can tell you is that you don’t hate being a law student.
(Well, some days you do. You will definitely cry and spend time hiding in bed when you should be studying. You’ll get through it.)
Stop worrying so much. You have not turned into an idiot in the eleven years since you graduated from college. I know you had to take the LSAT three times, and that was embarrassing, but you got into Wake Forest . . .
Where you feel maddeningly average. Your GPA is right at the class average. Your LSAT score is right at the class average. Your performance here may end up being average. I know you’re used to floating along at the top with minimal effort, but guess who else is used to that? Everyone here.
Try to hold onto some sense of perspective, okay? I’m not going to check the latest U.S. News & World Report ranking sheet, but this is a top-30-something law school. This is a really good place to be average. You don’t have to have an identity crisis about no longer being a special snowflake. You’re doing fine.
Also, consider this: class is infinitely more enjoyable when everyone else is at your level. People actually talk in class! They volunteer answers! They think about what they’re learning! Seriously, have you ever been anywhere where your classmates inspired you to work harder? That is a thing that happens now, and it’s awesome.
Finally, please tell your social anxiety to shut up. People are nice here. No one hates you. A few people like you. Most people don’t think about you at all, which is exactly as it should be. Also, mega bonus—you are not nearly as bad at public speaking as you think you are.
Take a deep breath. You’re not always going to be great, but you’re in a great place.
March 2019 Nell
Afterword: For what it’s worth, as Nell’s professor, I can say without hesitation that Nell is indisputably great! Among other things, she’s a phenomenal writer, all-around amazing person, and an effective oral advocate. Her letter reflects the humility with which she has navigated her 1L year. If you or your students are experiencing anxiety or impostor syndrome about lawyering or oral advocacy, I strongly recommend Prof. Heidi Brown’s new book, Untangling Fear in Lawyering.