By: Professor Heather Gram (Wake Forest Law)
I recently heard a 1L say that she expected her first year of law school to be something akin to The Hunger Games, a brutal “fight to the death” contest depicted in the wildly popular book trilogy by Suzanne Collins. While law school is a competitive environment filled with diverse and talented people, it does not have to be such an overtly negative experience. In law school orientations across the country, incoming law students too often receive the message that they must “survive” law school. But I tell my students the opposite: that it is possible (and preferable) to thrive in law school, not merely survive. If you are going to devote three years of your life (and perhaps a significant amount of money) to law school, why not make it the most positive and productive experience possible? Here are some tips on how to make that happen:
- Team up. Just as Peeta and Katniss relied on each other to survive, seeking support and building relationships are vital to succeeding in law school. Whether it’s four people or just one other person, a productive study group can be a gift that keeps on giving throughout your first year. Even if you never needed one before, talking through a complicated concept from Torts with classmates or making sure you haven’t missed anything from International Shoe can be invaluable. Just having another person in your corner is essential. In this regard, study groups sometimes provide that kind of support and community. Like Peeta and Katniss, you could even forge lifelong bonds with study group members.
- Don’t get too hung up on class rank. While the Hunger Games specifically pits competitors against each other due to its “winner take all” structure, law school doesn’t have to be that cutthroat. Your class rank will likely fluctuate between first and second semester because of factors both in and out of school. You may work the hardest you have ever worked and still end up in the middle of the pack. That’s ok. Do not get discouraged. Most employers don’t hinge their employment decisions exclusively on class rank. Instead, they often look more holistically at what an applicant could bring to the table. You can enhance your application with strong recommendations from professors, an impeccable writing sample, interesting work experience, etc. Even if you are not at the top of the class, you will likely still get a summer job or externship, still pass the bar, and still become a lawyer. If you keep your eye on your long term goals, not just the short term, you will probably be happier in the end.
- Find your special skill. In the Hunger Games, contestants showcase talents such as archery, strength, or survival skills. Law students similarly bring individual talents with them, such as public speaking, organizational skills, or strong writing capabilities. All these diverse skills can be valuable. For example, Peeta’s unique experience decorating cakes at his parents’ bakery enabled him to artfully disguise himself, which ultimately saved him. Maybe you were on the debate team in high school or you excel at creating outlines. Figure out what you bring to the table and (circling back to #1 above), team up with people who complement your strengths and weaknesses. You can learn from them, and they can learn from you; you’ll both benefit.
In conclusion, while law school will most certainly be filled with lots of reading and lots of stress, it can also be filled with fun and friendship. Starting law school with a positive attitude instead of one focused on destroying the enemy is in everyone’s best interest. It will create an educational environment where students thrive, rather than merely survive. Good luck, and may the odds be ever in your favor.
For more information regarding how to use pop culture to discuss law school concepts inside and outside the classroom, see The Media Method: Teaching Law With Popular Culture (Carolina Academic Press 2019).