Managing Expectations of Loved Ones as a Nontraditional Law Student

Managing Expectations of Loved Ones as a Nontraditional Law StudentThis week we welcome back guest writer and law student Stephanie Gregoire to talk about expectations of family and friends as a nontraditional law student.

If I’ve learned anything in law school, it’s that everyone, and I mean everyone, has an opinion. With movies like “Legally Blonde” and “The Paper Chase,” people wonder what law school is actually like and what to expect from their friends or relatives who are in law school. So how do you manage the expectations of those relatives who expect one extreme or the other from you? Here are some tips I either used myself or heard about from classmates and friends to manage the opinions and expectations of loved ones.

Actually Communicate

This may seem obvious, but if you don’t tell people around you what’s going on, they don’t know. And when you get irked because everyone is calling you to chat around finals but you didn’t tell them when your exams are or how important they are to your grades, you can’t really blame them since they didn’t know. So communicate with the people around you so they have an idea of what to expect. Again, it seems obvious, yet when you get in the bubble of the law school experience, you quickly forget that people outside of that bubble have no clue what’s going on unless you tell them.

Understand they don’t understand what you’re Experiencing

This assumes your friends and family have not experienced law school and its unique features. If they have, then this won’t really apply to them because they do, in fact, understand what you’re going through. If you haven’t gone through something in life, no matter how much you know about it, you still cannot fully understand what it is. So, despite their best intentions, your friends and family members just don’t get it. That doesn’t mean they don’t care or want to understand, it’s just a basic reality that we all experience. Coming from this place of understanding can help you manage the expectations of your friends and family by allowing you to give some grace while talking about what you’re going through and are met by blank stares.

Explain Things in Relatable Ways

Remember when you walked into calculus and were completely lost? Or maybe it was algebra? But, by the end of the year, you (hopefully) understood what those formerly strange symbols or letters represent and what to do with them. How? Because you had someone who explained the concepts in a way that you could relate to. The same principle applies here. You may know that you have 72 pages of reading tonight, and you may know that means you’ll be reading cases for 4 hours minimum. And on top of that you have to do research for your memo that will take a few more hours. Say that to anyone in law school, they’ll understand and commiserate. Say that to someone who isn’t, their reactions will vary. So rather than saying what you have to do, say how long you’ll be studying for. And apply this across what you’re going through – exams, essays, mock trial competitions, networking events, whatever. It works for everything!

Know when to be firm in your Boundaries

Sometimes I’ll want to spend an inordinate amount of time in the shower thinking about anything but the dissent in the last case I read (why are some of these dissents longer than the decision?!). Other times I’ll say I don’t want to do anything this weekend but sit on the couch and watch Netflix comedy specials then end up going out with friends because they twisted my arm. It’s definitely a balancing act, but knowing when to give a little versus not giving at all is critical to helping manage expectations of others because it gives them a sense of what to expect. For example, if I tell someone there’s no earthly way I’ll be leaving my home for any reason other than school and basic living necessities like getting groceries in the two weeks before finals, that’s a firm boundary (with exceptions for emergency situations and needing to get out for a little bit of sanity!) that my friends and family now know based on the fact that I actually didn’t leave my home except for classes, studying, and necessary errands like getting food to fuel my brain during that time. But if I say I’m not doing anything but my readings over a particular weekend, a friend might be able to persuade me to watch a football game or something since that did in fact happen during the fall. Because sometimes you need to watch something totally unrelated to the law to keep some semblance of sanity!

Follow through with what you say you will or won’t do

Things come up in life all the time, and people understand that. But nobody likes it when a person never follows through with what they say they’re going to do. If you say you’re going to isolate yourself until after finals, you should probably actually do that – within reason of course – get some sun and fresh air while studying and interact with people, it’ll do a world of good. And the reverse is true too; if you say you’re going to attend a birthday celebration, you should do it barring a compelling reason not to attend. And, no, a mountain of readings that you knew about when you committed to attending does not count as a compelling reason. Okay, maybe it is because you thought it would be a quick read but didn’t realize there’d be 12 cases with multiple lengthy dissents, but this goes back to the point above of explaining this in terms people who haven’t had the distinct pleasure of experiencing law school can understand.

I hope these help you navigate the sometimes murky waters of managing, or at least setting, the expectations of others. The key thing to remember is this law school experience isn’t forever and while your friends and family may think you’ve shunned them forever, it’s only 3 years…plus studying for the bar.


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About Stephanie Gregoire

Stephanie is a 2L at the University of Houston Law Center in Houston, Texas. She graduated from the University of Florida in 2017, where she majored in History. In the years since completing her B.A., she has worked in Human Resources across the country, working in South Carolina, Louisiana, and Washington before moving to Texas. Outside of school, her hobbies include baking, working out, and travelling.

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