"Law school changed me.”
Those words were stamped onto the picture of a student’s skeleton; the skeleton was still at the computer, fingers at the ready, as if the student had simply wasted away during the course of his studies.
I found this image while perusing imgur.com, a popular image-sharing website; it has stayed fresh in my mind ever since.
In 2011, as I prepared for my 1L year, the thought of my body taking the place of that skeleton was haunting.
I don’t deny that I was excited to begin a new pursuit that would build me into a more competent, independent and self-assured human being.
Nor do I deny that I looked forward to learning about the inner workings of the judicial process.
That seemed great, but it was not enough to counter what I was hearing from law students and lawyers alike: “You’re driving down the road to hell. Take the nearest exit and don’t look back.”
OK, so I’ve paraphrased a little, but this general message ran rampant throughout the legal community.
Before starting school, my dad arranged for me to shadow his lawyer friend for a day, thinking, quite reasonably, that following this guy around would squash my fears.
After all, this particular attorney was powerful, confident and unfailingly kind.
But if there was one message I took away from that day, it was that the only people strong enough to handle a demanding career in law are those people who are already self-assured in their decision to enter law school.
Suffice it to say, the experience did not have the effect my dad had expected.
I wasn’t self-assured.
And given that I knew more about “Law & Order” than I did about the actual practice of law, self-assurance wasn’t even a trustworthy measure.
But even if it was, there was nothing I could do about it: I was already admitted and locked into IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.
After shadowing the attorney, I felt like I was driving blind down a one-way street with the skeleton’s picture constantly flashing through my mind.
I didn’t want to end up that way.
Now, with graduation just around the corner, I can’t help but ask myself: Did law school change me?
Am I so different a person than the frightened rising 1L?
If I sat down with my former self, what kind of conversation would we have?
Would there even be a conversation? Or just a fight?
I may be the worst person to answer those questions.
I certainly feel more competent and capable.
More independent and analytical.
More prepared to maneuver around the walls impeding the paths toward success.
But I’m also not any happier, which is what I originally thought would be the end result.
Instead, I can see the strain that this career places on its practitioners.
On some young lawyers, I can even see small pieces of that skeleton protruding; on some older ones, I can barely see any skin at all.
This isn’t the whole picture, though.
I can also see the potential payoff: The unmatchable feeling of helping make a client whole again, of saving them from helplessness and of doing what lawyers are really trained to do — win.
And I see those students and attorneys who thrive on these victories that drew me into the legal profession.
I feel like that should be enough to make me happier. I feel like they should outweigh the various stresses associated with this profession.
But for some reason, they just don’t.
Perhaps the problem is that my focus is misaligned.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be looking back to whom I was and comparing it with whom I have become.
Perhaps, as Winston Churchill once said, “If you are going to go through hell, keep going.”
Perhaps if I keep looking ahead and chugging along, I’ll fly right over all of those crumbling skeletons.
In this case, the real question I’m left to ponder during the course of my 3L year is: Which path leads to the most desirable end?
Which career will be so worth the sacrifices that I come out with more than I took in?
Which one will be so worth looking forward to that I don’t even remember to look back?
The answers to these questions are no doubt elusive and ambiguous.
But I trust that over the course of this final year, I will find them scattered about and just waiting to be found.