Maintaining Friendships in Law School

Full disclosure- law school pretty much screws with every single part of your life. Where you live, how you spend your time, sleep schedule, eating habits, hobbies..... relationships and friendships. I think this is one of the hardest things about law school; figuring out how to write a trial brief and reading 100 pages a night is something you get used to. Having limited time with friends, family, significant others and trying to get them to understand what you are going through and why your stress is through the roof.... that takes a lot of adaptation. Also, law school throws you into a population of driven, competitive people and makes you spend several hours, 5 days a week with them. You either make friends or make enemies real fast; either way, relationships with peers is just another thing to navigate during your three years at law school.

Maintaining healthy relationships and friendships during law school is very important to me. To some, law school comes before all and if they lose a boyfriend or friends in the process, they don't care because they consider it a means to a career end. I know many people like that and I commend them on their focus and determination. Personally, I could not and did not want to be like that. I have a new husband and that absolutely comes before law school in my mind. I also did not want to drive away friends and family during this challenging experience... I wanted to have them to lean on in the tough times. Lastly, I entered law school hoping to make friends. I made an active effort to befriend as many people as possible and not make any enemies right off the bat. It worked- I have an amazing group of law school friends but that does come with its own challenges to navigate.

Pre-Law School Friendships
As a rule, people who have not been to law school don't really understand it. They try but when it comes down to it, they just cannot fathom exactly what you are going through. It is better for friendships in the long run if you accept that and do not try to make them understand. Let them know how you are doing and maybe tell them about a funny case but leave it at that. Do not try to make them pity your life or understand how much harder law school is than whatever they are doing/did. Just keep being their friend, just like you always were before. You may have less time to dedicate to them than you used to but when you are with your friends or talking to them, try to just let the friendship be number 1 for a little bit, not law school. Don't try to give them a "legal education" or impress them with big words. Trust me, your friend who works at the hospital does not really care about medical malpractice and when you try to force that into the conversation and make it "legal" it will probably just annoy them. This may not be everyone- some friends may really like hearing about it and get into it. If that is the case, great! All I am saying is don't expect that with everyone. Also, after spending the whole week immersed in "law" sometimes it is SO refreshing to just go be the person you were before law school with the people who knew you then and talk about everything else. Embrace that!

Also, you do have to lay down some boundaries. You will not be as accessible to your friends as you used to be. Sometimes (most of the time), law school has to come first. The best way to get that message across is to just tell them up front. That goes over a lot better than just constantly ignoring them, canceling plans, etc. If you let them know you have a big paper due next week ahead of time, they won't probably text you begging to go out on Saturday night. If they know ahead of time, you won't feel guilty for not going or make plans out of that guilt that cause you to be up until 3am finishing the paper the night before it's due. There is a healthy balance between when law school has to come first and when you have to lay down the books and hang out with friends. The more you assert that balance and let everyone know that's how it is going to be, the happier everyone is. They don't feel ignored or pushed away and you don't feel (as) guilty when everyone is at the bar and you are at your desk, cranking out that trial brief.

My friends have (mostly) been great about understanding. Granted, most of my friends ended up moving away after college and live at the closest, an hour away. While it makes it easy to put law school first when all my friends are too far away to meet up for coffee, it also sucks when all I want is a girls night and no one lives close enough. However, whenever anyone is in town, I get the homework done and make a point to spend time with that person. However, some of my friends have gotten annoyed. I had a friend from Arizona visit my hometown (an hour away from where I go to law school) the day before my last final exam. She got really mad that I wouldn't come see her because I had to study; she just completely did not understand how important that exam was and the level of studying I had to do to be ready. Even though it pissed her off, I had to put law school first in that instance. Eventually, she got over it and we're fine now but it can happen and sometimes you have to stand your ground not matter how much they guilt trip you about it. Facetime, snapchat and group messages help to fill the void when friends aren't around and are easy to do on study breaks. It's not the same as being surrounded by your best girlfriends but it helps me get by until I see them next.

Friends in Law School
As I said earlier, I made some wonderful friends at orientation that have just gotten closer and closer throughout our time in law school thus far. I count myself pretty lucky to have found such a great group of friends that can commiserate in the experience with me. I have people to sit with at school, go out with on Fridays and text with all my whining and complaining about school that understand 110%. It's pretty darn great. My group of friends is pretty varied: there's some older non-traditional, a few single guys, an engaged couple and us crazy girls. This is great because there are enough people to keep conversations going and we don't get too annoyed with each other. We go to breakfast before exams and a few times a semester, we eat lunch in the forum and make a crazy dance mosh-pit at the bar. They are the best and I could not get through law school without them.

I have had one super close friend from day one of orientation. It has been wonderful to have someone to lean on throughout this experience. We bonded immediately over a shared love of Harry Potter, all things Disney and color coding out notes- I don't know what I would do without her!

Interestingly enough, this is not my study group. If we try to study together, we end up talking about makeup and music so it doesn't work. My study group is usually one or two people. Sometimes when you try to study with all of your friends, it ends up going very badly and I have seen friendships in law school break down as a result. Having a larger friend group is great because if you start to chafe with one person and they are rubbing you the wrong way, you just hang with someone else for a bit. This saves the first friendship from the small friction turning into destructive flames. I think it is very important to have a group of friends- for that exact reason. It also gives you a bigger base to fall back on. Friends are really integral to law school being manageable in my opinion and experience.

As great as law school friends can be, approach with some caution. These are going to be your professional peers. Someday the girl who sits in front of you in contracts may be the judge on the bench for your trial- it is best to be remembered favorably from law school. My advice for this is to be friendly to everyone, if possible. There is always going to be someone you don't like so try to just quietly avoid and not make a big deal about it. Don't make a huge spectacle of yourself: you don't want to be remembered as the person who got shitfaced drunk the first week of school or the person who argued with the property 1 professor. Don't go around asking everyone their grades or asking their political affiliations. Do not start unnecessary arguments- it's law school and everyone is argumentative and thinks they are right. It will not end well nor do you any good- it will piss someone off. Try to be friendly, be social and make a good impression of yourself at all times. Like I said, these are your future professional peers. It is best to treat them as such from the get-go. You can make great, lasting friendships without all of the negative.

What works for me is not what works for everyone. Some people are more loners and that's how they do law school. If that is you, then great- you do you! Whatever gets you through the day and through your legal education is what you should do. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. However, try to at least be minimally social and nice to people because, as we already discussed, they are the professional peers of your future and it is best to have a positive memory for everyone and to be comfortable enough walking up and shaking their hand in 15 years.

Law school puts all friendships through some ups and downs, whether they were your friends before law school or you met them in law school. Personally, I think friends make the whole experience easier and it is pretty simple to maintain lasting, healthy relationships amidst the trials of legal education. It just takes a little bit of work but, lord knows us law students know how to do work.

What have your law school friendships been like?


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