Monday, October 24, 2016

Soldier On: Boot Camp to Law School – Do You Have What It Takes to Survive?

Julie Cummings graduated this May from GGU and is one of Ms. JD's 2016 Writers in Residence. The following article originally ran October 16 on the blog of Ms. JD, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the success of women in law school and the legal profession

It’s October. If you’re in law school, you’re already half-way through your first term. Undoubtedly you want to thrive, not just survive – or so the adage goes. Yet I argue that sometimes you just need to survive!

A graduate of the US Army’s SERE school (Survival Evasion Resistance Escape), I’ve learned that resilience comes from surviving that which at the time seems impossible. Here are a few pointers I’d like to share so that when needed, you too can survive.

Be decisive.

Sometimes you’ll feel so overwhelmed with assignments and other school pressures that you just don’t know how to respond to something. When that happens, quickly assess the situation. Then ask yourself, “Is anyone’s life or liberty at stake?” If the answer is “No,” then make a decision, execute it, and proceed to the next project. Expending mental energy pondering too many possibilities is wasted effort. Don’t do it. Be decisive, and move on.

Don’t let them get in your head. 

Some students, and even some professors, make themselves feel better at the expense of others. These people will drive you mad if you let them. They constantly drop hints about how much they’ve read, done, learned. My colleague, Lauren, pokes humorously at some of those folks. No matter how successful some make themselves out to be, if you are a dedicated student, you are probably also doing just fine. So press on. Tune out the chatter. And don’t let them get in your head.

Embrace the suck.

Yep. Some days, and even some weeks, will just plain hurt. Too much will be due in too short a time span. You’ll eat poorly, lose sleep, and not find time to exercise. But the only way through it is to move through it. So get started. Keep moving forward. And embrace the suck. You’ll be on the other side soon enough.

Kill the rabbit. 

OK. This one might need a bit of an introduction. In order to survive in the wild alone, you must learn to kill and safely prepare your own food. In SERE school, even townies must kill rabbits by hand, properly dress them, and cook them over an open fire. For some this comes easy. For others, not so much. But the task is required to prepare for the worst.

You too may find yourself forced to do something you don’t want to do. I’m not referring to you doing anything illegal or immoral. But, for instance, you may find yourself in an internship at odds with your worldview. It sounded great when you heard about it, but the actual job was not what you expected. If completing the job doesn’t violate ethics or the law, just finish triumphantly. You don’t have to love every opportunity, but you do have to persevere with professionalism.

Shut up, and drive on. 

Finally, know when to speak up, and know when to keep your mouth shut. Not every situation requires your input. As hard as this can be sometimes, pick your battles wisely. Raise your concerns for the important stuff. And for all the unimportant matters, just shut up, and drive on. You will boost your credibility when speaking up truly matters.

To learn about what you can do if you burnout, see Courtney Brown’s blog Burnout: What Is It and What Can You Do About It.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Soldier On: Boot Camp to Law School - Amazing Mentors

Julie Cummings graduated this May from GGU and is one of Ms. JD's 2016 writers in Residence. The following article originally ran September 5 on the blog of Ms. JD, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the success of women in law school and legal profession

“I’ve been through half a dozen other lieutenants just like you.” “You guys all come and go.” “Meanwhile, we stay here and keep things running.” “So you stay out of my way, and I’ll stay out of yours, and we’ll get along just fine.” Then he went outside to smoke a cigarette – one of many he would light up throughout the day. Tim was gruff, outspoken, and not used to working with women. Most of his Army aviation career was spent working in special forces units, units comprised solely of males. But as a brand new lieutenant in a conventional Army aviation unit, I was his new platoon leader, and he now worked for me. I was but a blip in his radar, a lieutenant like all the others before me, full of idealism, and no real practical experience yet. He would tolerate me until my assignment ended, when yet another new lieutenant would take my place. Tim, meanwhile, would remain in the same position, an expert pilot, continuing to perfect his craft. Yet as time passed, things gradually changed between us. We began to fly regularly together. I listened to everything he said, striving to implement the new skills he taught. It was mostly a one-way street – him teaching, me learning. And just like that, quite by accident, Tim became one of the best mentors I have ever had, despite our first few strained months together.

Two years later, when my time at that aviation unit concluded, Tim and I held a mutual respect for one another. He had become the most unlikely of mentors, and I credit him with molding me into a better officer and pilot. As new law students and new lawyers, we all need mentors. We need someone with more experience who will shepherd us through the early phases of our newfound legal profession.

We all need a Tim. Sometimes finding a mentor comes more easily than it did for me. Other times, mentors emerge from the unlikeliest of people. The point is to be open to all possibilities. In law school you will encounter many sources for mentors. Professors, employers, and bar association contacts make up just a few possible places from which you may find a mentor. Though each source may contain a person who is the perfect fit for you, resist the urge to grasp at someone simply because you think you need to find a mentor fast. You don’t. Instead, engage in activities that expose you to top-notch people. Stop by to chat with professors with whom you click, or sit down for coffee with an employer and learn about their career. If nothing more than good conversation emerges, you are out nothing.

But, if over the course of time something special begins to happen, and you realize that someone is willing to help you navigate your new legal career, you may have found the perfect mentor. If so, nurture the relationship, and learn everything you can from that person. Put aside your own ego, the one that wants to show how competent you are, and instead just listen and learn. Your future self will thank you for the professional enrichment that an amazing mentor provides.