5 Things I’ve Learned as an “Older” Law Student From My Younger Colleagues

What I've Learned as an "Older" Law Student from my Younger Colleagues.

Today we welcome back Jaclyn Wishnia, rising 2L at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and aspiring entertainment law attorney, to discuss the generation gap at law schools and how to work together at any age.

Like most law students, I felt both nervous and excited on my first day of law school orientation. I also shared many of the same thoughts my colleagues have mentioned as well, such as would I make friends easily? Or would everyone be as cold and competitive as the rumor mill suggests? They were the typical questions of doubt anyone entering a new social situation, would ask themselves. Unlike many of my colleagues though, one major concern was dominating my nerves that day: my age.

It took me six years to finally apply to law school after college; the bulk of my twenties. I had lived through almost a decade of failures and triumphs, worked for prominent firms and attorneys, networked with top CEOs of reputable companies, and best of all, was now certain that I belonged in law school. Why was a petty number destroying my confidence?

If I had to surmise, it might be related to the stigma that society has created against older students – during any stage of their academic careers. Aside from this assumption, I only knew that if I kept treating age as an obstacle, it would prevent me from having the successful first-year I wanted. Thus, I disregarded it for as long as I could and remained open to socializing with everyone. In my happy experience, it was the right decision because I learned a lot from my younger colleagues along the way.

For anyone in law school who is struggling with the “older” age factor, try viewing your first-year by focusing on it through any one of these five lessons I learned, or creating your own. The main point is to overcome this trivial insecurity and to eliminate any extraneous stress that will interfere with your education. In taking my own advice, they taught me…

1. How to Have Fun in Law School

The first year of law school is daunting. You are responsible for an infinite stream of reading material, preparation and review for each class, legal writing or research assignments, and learning how to analyze, rather than memorize, solutions to problems. Additionally, knowing from the start that your entire grade for a course is based on one final exam might make it feel as if you should strap yourself to a desk and never stop studying until finals are done.

As humans, however, we do need social contact and rest sometimes in order to reset ourselves. For older law students, taking frivolous breaks sounds like a waste of time, especially after you have already been in the real world working long hours for weeks on end. Break that mindset. Give in to your younger colleagues’ practices and allow yourself some downtime – whether it is with them or friends outside of law school.

On your first attempt to stop yourself from repeating those robotic habits, I do recommend socializing with your younger colleagues for both networking purposes and because you could learn a few things. Plus, you will have more bonding time with them outside of just class, which can lead to revamping your image from “older law student” to hopefully, “fun older law student,” or at the very least, you will feel like less of an outlier.

Those are all practical reasons though. What I truly learned from them is that not only is it possible to have fun in law school (a phrase that sounds like an oxymoron), but you can also still have fun in life, even if you are a full-fledged adult. So many adults are guilty of getting trapped in a mind-numbingly boring, routine that we lose the curiosity we exhibited as a child, dismiss the risk-taking abilities we possessed as teens, and abandon the crucial parts of our personalities – the parts that initially separated us into unique individuals – as we grow older. Having more responsibilities is not a good excuse for destroying portions of your identity. Also, those parts of your personality that begin to dull are what foster creativity, which is a useful tool for designing great arguments on both exam hypotheticals and for future clients’ real-world cases.

In short, I learned that sometimes it is absolutely necessary for an “older” adult to act like a 22-year old again, especially during stressful times, and if anyone can re-teach you how to master that, they can. One Caveat: Knock it down a notch from your college glory days. After all, you are still the “older” law student here.

2. To Rejuvenate My Mindset

Somewhere in my late 20s, I lost my invincibility cloak. My knees would sometimes hurt after doing intervals at the gym and if I partake in any imbibing at weekend events, I morph into a dead sloth for the next three days. Between physical ailments, being constantly surrounded by much older co-workers, and having long, draining work-hours, I began to lose my youthful energy. Actual aging also contributed to my energy loss, but it was much more about friends settling into relationships and situations I was placed into rather than the real number. When I combined all of these factors, I felt I had lost all of my “mojo.”

Then law school started, and I was surrounded by 22-year olds every single day. As a naturally competitive person, I wanted to keep up with everything they did. While I was not able to change some of my physical conditions i.e. shorten hangover effects, I was able to change my perspective and realized that some of my feeling “old” was a mindset I was unhappily clinging to due to the stereotypes and situations I was trapped in prior to school. It reminded me of how spontaneous and energetic I used to be, and helped me overcome what was my own “metaphysical rut.”

Suddenly, I did feel like I could conquer it all again, but in a controlled manner this time around. I could make it to the gym, go to class, finish homework, and see or call a friend for dinner all in one day. I did not have to be a drone to schoolwork 24/7 simply because it was “the right thing to do.” I discovered that it was actually the wrong way to go about doing homework, and you do burn out when you don’t incorporate some fun in your week. Most importantly, I know now that when I graduate it is possible to stop and recharge yourself. They taught me this lesson, and it is a reminder I intend on reusing for my entire life whenever I need a reset.

3. About Myself

It is definitely a struggle to go back to class after you have retired from school-mode for so long. It seems as if anyone who entered law school straight from college can do it effortlessly, but the one advantage you have as an “older” law student is experience in both work and life. Sometimes it will be you teaching the lesson or giving advice to your younger colleagues, but it is not until this happens that you realize you have something to offer them in return, and what seems effortless to you in the real world (i.e. job interviews) is not to them.

When you are asked advice about something such as a job interview or maybe even personal life experience, share your insight. It not only immensely helps your younger classmates out, but it also teaches you about yourself. It may allow you time to reflect on those moments and improve upon them in the future, or make you aware of abilities you did not know you possessed. If nothing else, helping someone else is a small confidence booster – and we all could use a bit of confidence when it comes to being in law school.

4. Current Trends

I confess I am a fad junkie (primarily for tech, entertainment, and fashion), so it truly shocked me when I learned I was falling behind the times when I did not know about some new iPhone apps or chat lingo. While that may seem like a superficial thing to keep abreast of, remember the famous saying, “children are the future.”

Trends are not just about staying cool in high school. Trends help shape the world in so many ways. They demonstrate important items such as predicting what new companies are going to soar so investors can make wise decisions in the stock market. They dictate what industries people graduating should get jobs in, so they have job security and hopefully become prosperous. Trends show us how the world is changing and what topics are most prevalent in shaping it.

Lastly, aside from the usual fashion or tech trend notions, I noticed how education was changing as well. From notebooks to laptops, textbooks to solely online texts, and even using platforms like YouTube as a learning tool – Whoever thought YouTube would be used for law school teaching tactics?!

By experiencing education in both the past and present, I witnessed the evolution of how tech tools are transforming the way students learn in classrooms. I am in awe at how much my younger colleagues have learned about the Internet and laptops in middle school compared to my high school typing class. I also have them to thank for teaching me about the dozens of useful websites to check out for cheaper law school textbooks and online study aids.

5. To Understand My Younger Sibling

The final lesson I learned from my younger colleagues is more of a personal one, but maybe one you can relate to as well: I learned to see my younger sibling in a more grown-up light. As the oldest child, I was so accustomed to viewing my younger sister as a “kid” that when I started hanging out with people her age, I finally recognized that she had gotten older too. It made me realize even though she is my younger sister, she is also a young adult now and is just as mature and worldly as my colleagues I encounter on a daily basis.

Though an “older” applicant pool is traditionally associated with its other scholarly counterparts, such as business school, the age of law school applicants is slowly starting to mature. Do not let thoughts like “I’m too old now” ruin your dreams. If you cannot relate or do not want to participate in any of the activities mentioned in the five lessons described above, and you truly cannot think of ones to follow on your own, there is one final technique to consider.

Try to overcome your fear of ageism by imagining yourself in this scenario: Find a quiet spot to sit and rid yourself of all technology. Pick an age in the future that is twenty or more years older than you are right now. Assuming you want to be a lawyer, or another role where fulfilling a juris doctor is a necessary requirement, concentrate on how you would feel at that age if you never went to law school and received your law degree. Do you feel content pursing another career path? Or would you look back in heavy regret? If you experience any lingering feelings of remorse, or other negative impressions, employ them as your driving force to enroll.

Regardless of age, your class year is what binds everyone together in law school. Shared hardships help strengthen relationships. At the end of the day, the only number that truly matters is your GPA…But that’s for a separate blog post.


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About Jaclyn Wishnia

Jaclyn Wishnia graduated from Fordham University with a double major in Journalism and the Classics. Upon graduation, she accepted a role as a paralegal. After several years of working for both criminal and entertainment law firms, she decided to pursue her passion, to become an attorney, and enrolled in law school. She is currently a 2L at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law located in New York, NY. Additionally, she serves as a staff editor for Cardozo's Arts & Entertainment Law Journal, Treasurer of Cardozo's Entertainment Law Society, and is a student liaison for the NYS Bar EASL committee.

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