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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Full disclosure: I pick my column topics based on how easy they are to write. A piece about my academic struggles? I can crank that out in an hour. Topics about the law school culture at UF, a more in-depth think piece on some political topic or (heaven forbid) a nuanced look at the student organization funding “crisis”? We’ll save those for a week when I’m not already procrastinating on my class assignments.

As 1Ls (first-year law students) are finishing their first week of classes, I thought I’d write something law school specific.

So, here’s my wholly unsolicited advice for surviving the first year of law school: don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough and here’s my moderately cheesy story to go with it. 

As a law student, you’re gonna be constantly surrounded by examples of good legal writing. Most of the first year is learning from appellate cases in the case book, and much of that is written by preeminent jurists such as Justice Cardozo, Justice Holmes and Judge Posner. 

But when I sat down with my first assignment for legal writing, I couldn’t turn the thoughts in my head into something that looked good on the page. I knew what I wanted to convey; I just couldn’t do it in a way that sounded anywhere near as good as the cases I had been reading for class. I spent way too much time poring over every word until I realized I was being foolish and arrogant. Of course my writing wouldn’t sound as good as the cases I was reading in class, the whole point of law school is to take the first steps along the path of learning how to, hopefully, someday, maybe if I get lucky, craft good legal writing. I was holding myself to a standard that was far above anything I could reach and I was worse off because of it. I realized that I was failing to allow myself room to grow by expecting myself to be good at this the first time I tried. I took a step back and realized that my writing was as good as it was going to get and submitted the assignment. 

Law school is highly competitive and the grading curve is evidence of humanity’s sadistic nature. But I’ve found that I’m a lot more content when I’m focused on competing with my past self instead of the other students around me. That certainly doesn’t mean that I’ve figured out everything, or really much of anything about how to be a successful law school student. But I have figured out that pushing myself to be my best instead of competing against perfection makes me a lot less stressed and anxious.

Preston Jones is a second year UF law student

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