Friday, July 16, 2010

The countdown to the first day of my second first year

Today marks the “one month from the start of law school orientation” point. Eeek! I honestly probably should have been more freaked out about starting Darden last year than I am now about starting law school, but oddly I wasn’t. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Darden does a MUCH better job communicating with matriculating students and letting you know what you need to get done before school starts (I can say this objectively.  I've lived here in Charlottesville for almost a year now and have done all the "Charlottesville things" one needs to do when one gets here.  I've even done most of the "UVa things."  But I'm generally clueless about most of the "law things" I need to or should be doing.  I don't think I'm alone on this.  At Darden, we got a checklist in May, and even though it stressed me out, at least I knew what I needed to be doing.) Or maybe it had more to do with the fact that the incoming Darden students started moving to Charlottesville earlier and organized social events so that we’d know each other before classes start. Or maybe it was because even though Darden is the bootcamp of business schools, law school in general still has a much nastier reputation than b-school. Or maybe it’s because I haven’t played softball since the days of The College Firm’s lawyer-league play. Who really knows why, but I’m apprehensive in a way (a “nervous gym tummy” kind of way) that I wasn’t last year.

I suppose that it isn’t really the nature of the work or the workload that makes me nervous. I’ve worked in political and legal environments since I was 16, and frankly, the parts of my summer job that I’ve enjoyed the most this year have been the corporate governance and legal-ish parts (though I’ve been very clear with everyone that I CANNOT provide legal advice under any circumstances). So it’s not the work or the reading of legal cases that is making me apprehensive; I periodically still track down pleadings for random cases to read them for fun. Nor is the issue the workload. I’ll be taking fewer classes, spending less time in class, and taking fewer exams over a longer period of time. I’ll also be able to do my studying on my own time, rather than on Darden-dictated time (which means the return of AFTERNOON NAPS!!!! So exciting.). I know it will be challenging, but that’s exciting to me, not nerve-racking.

I frankly think that part of my apprehension has to do with - *gasp* - the people (I know, I know…. I am SURE that I will be lambasted or burnt in effigy or something for saying this, but I’m trying to be honest.). When I visited Darden when I was applying to schools (18 months ago at this point), I loved the Darden people I met. They were friendly, they were welcoming, and I just seemed to “click” with the people I met. That whole “fit” thing they talk about in admissions was completely on the mark for me. I just “fit” better at Darden than I did anywhere else I had applied or been accepted, and a huge part of that “fit” was the people (the other part was that Darden was - of all the b-schools to which I was accepted -  the place where I felt I could do my "best work" in the words of Dean Bruner).  Last year, as I was preparing to start at Darden, I wasn’t at all worried about the “people” component of the experience (the finance component, yes…the people component, no). Now, I am by no means the world’s most outgoing person, and there are certainly people at Darden with whom I don’t hang out regularly, but I can honestly say that by and large, I really like my Darden classmates. The vast majority of Darden students are intelligent, motivated, and fun to be around. I’ll bet this is true at UVa Law, too, but I frankly didn’t get the same vibe and perfect “fit” feel from the law school either when I visited several years ago or when I went to the Admitted Student Weekends this year. Oh, I liked it and the people well enough, and I definitely didn’t get any stronger “fit” vibes from any other law school, but it just doesn’t feel the same. And if I have to put my finger on it, I would say that part of the issue is really age.

Now, before somebody starts accusing me of being hypocritically ageist, hear me out. The average incoming age of Darden students is 27-28. I was on the very young side of my class at 23 (I turned 24 a month later, and I will reiterate again, I worked full-time every summer and winter through college at the same law firm, and I worked at The Consulting Firm That Shall Not Be Named for a full 30 months after graduating). But I’ve always been younger than my classmates (even in grade school – a September birthday will get you!), and because I graduated early and spent a lot of time at the office, most of my friends are at least a couple years older than me. Given my work experiences and the friends that I have, I often feel older than 24. The vast majority of Darden students have had careers of some sort prior to returning to school. This means that they have (usually) lived independently, travelled for business, bemoaned the lack of summer vacation in the “real world,” tracked their 401-K performance, and balanced the demands of work and the “rest of life.” There’s a perspective that comes from having been out in the working world for a while, and I think there’s also a perspective that comes from having survived the first year at Darden, frankly.

The average incoming age at UVa Law is 24 (at least for the class of 2012, the most recent class for which data is easily available). Yes, that’s the average and I’m right at it (though I’ll be 25 shortly after starting). That means that the average UVa Law student at graduation is still younger than the average incoming Darden student. It also means that 50% of my class is younger than me. This is a first for me. It means that the peer advisors assigned to my class – who are 2Ls and 3Ls – are younger than me. It means that many people (about 40% of the class of 2012) have gone straight through from undergrad and haven’t worked or lived on their own. It means that, amazing though I am sure these future classmates will be, right now I very much feel like we are different points in our lives. And I feel like a grandma. This grandma-like feelings started at the Admitted Student Days this spring, when I hosted several admitted students (I have a guest room that might as well get some use) and attended the standard barbecue and other scheduled programming and found myself talking to people who were barely 21 and still seniors in college.  I felt truly ancient. Fortunately, the second student I hosted is coming to UVa and will be joining me in the “grandma club.” Also, I suppose that many of the "older" people joining the class of 2013 may have been stuck at work and didn't make it to the Admitted Student weekends.  So I know I will have elderly brethren....but I haven't found many of them yet.

It’s also comforting to know, as I get more apprehensive as the start of school draws nearer, that all my Darden friends are just a (very) short walk away from the law school. And they have the added attraction of being in a building with free coffee. And of having no idea whatsoever what the Blue Book is. You all better be prepared to drag me out of the law library, ply me with grown-up cocktails, and make fun of me for being a young’un next year!

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