If 1L year is when you learn to be a better student, 2L year is when you get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a lawyer.
The perk of 1L year (though I didn’t appreciate it at the time) was that I always had the option of begging out of things because of schoolwork. In your second year, though, it’s assumed that you’re an old pro, and your new challenge is staying afloat academically while you delve into the world of actually doing the work you came to law school to do.
I took a wide range of classes during my 2L year, some of which I can’t stop raving about and others which were genuinely tough. I had almost total autonomy over my schedule, which proved more of a test of my abilities than I anticipated. I didn’t do a great job with my fall schedule – I took too few credits and still managed to be stretched to my limits- then again, that might be the effect of Kent’s Constitutional Law class, the most challenging but by far the most rewarding class I’ve taken here so far. My spring schedule was better, but balancing school and work was still a struggle. That said, it is a manageable feat, one I’ve often envied my peers for achieving more quickly than I did.
That’s not to say that the stress isn’t worth it. Part of the reason my 2L year was so busy was because I was doing two things outside of classes that I’m very passionate about – the first was interning for the duration of the academic year at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law; the second was taking on a larger role in the American Constitution Society’s Chicago-Kent chapter.
My work at the Shriver Center was very research intensive. I was learning real-world applications of law to the lives of people living in terrible circumstances, and it was a lot to take in. While my role at Shriver was small and narrowly tailored to my single year’s worth of legal skill, my research projects sought to answer key questions in real litigation, and helped the attorneys tailor their approach to improve their chances of making an impact. In other words, as minute and tedious as my work sometimes seemed, I knew that I was helping people.
My research allowed me to get a taste for a range of legal topics. I researched issues in landlord/tenant law, healthcare and Medicaid, racial discrimination, employment discrimination, wages and sick leave, local municipal laws, and class-action litigation. Sometimes the answers I sought were clear and readily available; most of the time I was left longing for the days of 1L legal writing, where the problems are crafted to set you up for research success. The most interesting occasions, though, were when a question hadn’t been addressed yet, and may have been overlooked – the idea that the law is a creature of perpetual change isn’t something that always comes across in our textbooks, but it can be a huge advantage or challenge in practice.
My other great 2L decision was serving on the executive board of the American Constitution Society (ACS). I worked with incredible people who share my belief in the potential of this country to achieve equality for all. My proudest achievement was organizing an event on Voter Suppression and Election Protection in October 2016. We worked with attorneys from local organizations who share a mission to ensure voting access for all, and who personally oversee polling places on Election Day to monitor what works, what doesn’t, and what improvements can be made. I’m so grateful that Chicago-Kent and ACS allowed us the opportunity to educate students on this vital issue and to recruit volunteers for organizations in need of dedicated young minds.
If I had to give advice to rising 2Ls it would be to be flexible. I realize this sounds crazy given the idea of packing your schedule with classes, work, and extracurriculars, but what I mean is: check in with yourself occasionally. Make sure that the work to which you’ve chosen to dedicate your time brings a sense of accomplishment and that you’re still learning new things. There are so many opportunities during your 2L year; take advantage of the ones that interest you and skip the ones that don’t. I spent my full year interning at the Shriver Center because every time I got a new assignment I found myself excited and intrigued; if that’s not the case for you it might be time to look for a new job. I dedicated time to ACS because the people involved made me feel valued, and students who attended our events expressed genuine appreciation. If you’re part of an organization that doesn’t make you want to jump on board with every project and spend more time with your co-members, it might not be the place for you, and that’s okay! The only way to survive balancing all of these obligations is by making sure they’re obligations you’re happy to have.
There were a few key things that made my crazy 2L year bearable, even enjoyable. The first is the work-life balance I’ve struck, which I cannot emphasize enough. Find time for your family and friends, especially the people who aren’t law students or lawyers. They’ll help you keep perspective on who you are and why you’re doing all this in the first place. Carve out some alone time for yourself too, where you can. You’ll need it for the reflecting you’ll be doing, trying to figure out if you’re on course to reach your goals.
And hey, when you’ve finished your fall semester finals and get a few weeks off to relax, take a minute to pat yourself on the back, because you’ll be halfway done with law school!