Things I Learned During My 1L Year – Part 2…

by Mike Bombace

With the academic year now in full swing, Mike Bombace shares a few thoughts on what he learned during his 1L year.

10. Iced coffee is a great study aid. I prefer hot coffee, but from a drinkability standpoint, iced coffee is easier. This is an example of the real point; in law school, the little details of daily life add up and little things can make a big difference.

9. Altering your study location works wonders. This is not a new idea. Where you study is important for several reasons (comfort, reducing boredom, etc). So, for example, your carrel may be your home away from home (mine certainly is), but few can study there all the time. Studying in a classroom late at night is a solid alternative, and at W&L Law, we have 24/7 access to the law school (classrooms, library, the whole building) and even the undergraduate library. Take advantage of this.

8. My most enjoyable educational experiences took place outside of the classroom. I bring this up because a lot of law school literature focuses solely on classes. Academics are obviously important, but it’s surprising just how much learning can take place outside of the classroom. I would encourage you to attend as many speakers and presentations as you possibly can. I’ve found these experiences to be a great supplement to my classroom experiences. For example, each year, the American Constitution Society hosts a Supreme Court preview where professors discuss upcoming cases of note before the Supreme Court. This is a popular event because it gives students a chance to interact with professors and hear their take (and occasionally a prediction or two) on a case before the Supreme Court in the upcoming term.

If you’re particularly interested in a topic, it’s also possible to work as a research assistant. Given how small our law school is (about 400 students) and how accessible our faculty are, there are many opportunities for students who are interested in these sorts of experiences. For example, a close friend of mine was able to work with a professor on an upcoming article about Honor Killings. This gave him an opportunity to research an issue in which he is really interested and work closely with a professor. My own work with as a research assistant has been, and continues to be, exceptional. I’ve worked on all sorts of things including virtual worlds, e-commerce, cyber security, online privacy, mobile phones and their applications and license agreements. The professor with whom I work is a great teacher, and he is extremely passionate about his work. Getting to work in close collaboration with him on cutting edge topics has been my most enjoyable experience in law school.

7. Nothing goes quite like you plan. I have mentioned this already, but you will undoubtedly change your focus in law school as you encounter new fields of interest. For example a classmate of mine was interested in pursuing a career in civil rights but is now focused on bankruptcy (which is basically 180 degrees from civil rights). Another example is a good friend who was determined to end up on Capitol Hill but is now entertaining the idea of working in wine law, which entails importation, licensing, and taxes (to name a few). This idea came to her from a professor who really understood her skills and interests. And, amongst my class, these two people are certainly not alone. So many of my friends have similar stories. Your interests will evolve and change over the course of your time in law school, and it’s important to be flexible and keep an open mind. If you do these things, anything’s possible. Why, you can even discover an appreciation for grits and the mountains of Virginia, even if you are from Colorado.

6. W&L has amazing people. I watched “The Paper Chase” before I left for school. Based on the movie, and One L by Scott Turow, I was prepared for a bruising experience upon entering W&L. I expected classmates
and professors to be—at best—distant. Fortunately this was far from the actual experience. As I write this, and catch up with professors, staff, classmates, and meet new students, I am pleasantly reminded that Washington and Lee’s best asset is its people. Sure, Lexington is a beautiful place to go to school, but the sense of community is what makes going to W&L such a positive experience. When I sit down to study at Lexington Coffee, I often run into professors or classmates, and we always take time to speak to one another and catch up. When a carrel neighbor asks for recommendations on the 1L experience I am eager to offer advice and point him to other resources. W&L is such a friendly place, and this friendliness extends to the town itself. In Lexington, even a routine trip to the grocery store will take a few more minutes than planned because you will invariably run into someone you know or end up in a conversation with a cashier (as most W&L students who use the U-Scan self-checkout at Kroger can attest).

5. You will experience a tech problem. In law school, it’s important to remember the following: Something can and will go wrong with your computer. Make sure you are nice to the tech staff and follow their advice.

4. Law school is what you make of it. Let me begin by saying this – Crazy as it sounds, it is possible to enjoy law school. It is even possible to do very well and still enjoy the process. At W&L, both these statements apply. My classmates and I actually like being in law school. Think about it: we get to share this really formative experience with a really interesting group of people with whom we will be friends for life. What’s not to like about that? At W&L, many students keep an open mind and end up working in an area of the law they never even knew of. Some learn or renew an interest in a language. Others assume leadership positions in an organization at the law school. Others still use these three years to try and do things they may never get to do again (hike House Mountain, tube down the James river, visit Foamhenge, “enjoy” grits, etc.). Law school is a rare opportunity. Make sure to plan your own adventure. A classmate of mine and I are going to run in a race with bricks in a backpack. Poor judgment? Probably. Again, plan your own adventure (even if it is running a race with a bunch of bricks in a backpack).

3. People actually read my posts. I had a hunch a few people read my posts, but people are busy, so I wasn’t sure anyone would actually read these things. This was dispelled after receiving feedback from fellow classmates after a few posts in the fall. Why do I bring this up? Because students at W&L care about each other. They support each other. They take an interest in what their classmates are doing (even if it’s just writing the occasional blog post). It’s just that kind of place.

2. Lexington grew on me. I visited in the spring for the admitted students weekend and fell in love. I talked with a graduate who went to W&L for both undergrad and law school and our discussions prior to my
Admitted Students Weekend spoke volumes. A particular point, her desire and willingness to stay in Lexington for seven years, made me feel more comfortable. Despite all of this I was still apprehensive moving to Lexington. Within a few weeks I was no longer apprehensive because of three factors. First, the close
friendships I made with my classmates helped to ease the adjustment to law school and a small town. These tight friendships are possible, and even common, in a setting such as Lexington. Second, the beautiful scenery and great trails for running and cycling were a great escape from school and a tremendous outlet for my two of my passions. Lastly, as detailed previously, the faculty made a significant difference with their open and obvious passions for their fields and teaching. All of these things made me not just a convert, but a lifelong advocate for the benefits of law school in Lexington.

1. Law school will change you (in a good way). For example, I love footnoting now. Incoming students will find this twisted, as will anyone who has gone to law school. I can’t really explain it. Perhaps it is the sheer
volume of footnoting I have engaged in over the last several months, or the fact that I can now make some sense out of the Blue Book. On a slightly more serious note, law school turned my brain from mush to something better. My first year of law school taught me numerous substantive legal concepts, but during this educational journey, I also made several incredible friends and experienced a community unlike anywhere else I have ever lived. I am now a fan of electronica, specifically Armin Van Buuren, courtesy of a friend from Miami, I am paying money to go run around a course for hours with bricks in a backpack at the urging of a friend from West Virginia. I am even the proud uncle of two furry kittens thanks to another friend from Spain. I love music, running, and animals but each of these passions has been enriched by my friendships here. I feel I have changed for the better by attending law school. But, perhaps more importantly, I feel I have changed for the better by attending W&L.

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