Rachel Wam is a final year student in the Double Degree Programme in Law and Liberal Arts at NUS Law and Yale-NUS College with a minor in literature. In her free time, she enjoys scuba diving and making pottery.
Dear first-year Rachel,
I’m not sure what you’re looking for here, because I actually don’t have much advice for you. You’ll learn to figure things out anyway. But in any case, here’s what I can provide: reassurance. The crux of it is that the moments when you feel the weariest this year will be the same reasons why you find fulfilment in law school. Everything that you experience is but a part of a process!
I know what you’re thinking. How can future me be so cliché? But take a look at yourself – you are cliché. On the first day of law school (spoiler alert), you will borrow a skirt from your suitemate so that you can show up to school in black and white, just because those are the same colors that lawyers wear. Dressing up according to your self-declared theme will be fun and will make you feel as if you’re in Legally Blonde. But only for a short while, until you start feeling exactly like Elle Woods – out of place.
And more spoilers – you will feel out of place over and over again. In a tort lecture, you will sit in astonishment at how institutions can get away with things that they should take responsibility for. And you will feel greater astonishment when you realize that in the entire lecture hall, only you are visibly shocked. Everyone else continues taking down notes diligently.
In a mentions court, your heart will ache when you watch accused persons get called up one by one to have their capital punishment charges read out. The judge reads court date after court date, as if lives were mere administrative entities to be processed. You begin to wonder whether a justice system that functions like clockwork has any place for your emotions.
And in the more mundane parts of law school, when you share with your peers your excitement to do volunteer work, or to enroll in an environmental law module, you will hear things like, “No one would do pro bono if it wasn’t compulsory,” and “Who cares about environmental law anyway?” These comments appall and anger you. Deep down, you feel crushed. You will begin to think that you are too emotional, too weak and too easily swayed by feelings of justice to even begin dealing with the rigour of law school. But that’s okay.
It’s okay, not because these problems will magically go away. There will still be moments when you feel alone, weary, and small. But it’s okay because you will realize that it is these moments of intense emotion that will power you through law school. Reading judgments alone in your room would be boring if not for the injustice that you feel! Your anger will make you ask hard but important questions about why things are the way they are, and how things can be changed for the better. Your insatiable curiosity will lead you down the path of continuous learning. At some point, when you find yourself processing applications at the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme and then analyzing criminal law policy, planting corals in Sabah and then writing about biodiversity conservation laws, debating law and development in class and then interning at the World Bank… everything will start to make sense. And then you will find yourself falling in love with the law.
Also, don’t worry about finding a community. You will make great friends who care about similar things as you do, or at least, understand when you share with them your intense emotions and strong opinions. And don’t forget that at the end of every long day at law school, you will find warmth on the bus back to Yale-NUS with your DDP friends. Waiting for you back at Yale-NUS is a community that will constantly challenge you but also make you feel safe like no place ever has before. Keep this community close because it is very precious! Take heart in the knowledge that your old friends will keep you rooted, and your new friends will provide you with moral support (and a good game of mahjong) whenever you need it.
I can’t promise that everything will always be rainbows and butterflies, because honestly, I don’t have everything figured out too. But again, that’s okay! Things might get rough, but remember that you’ve got everything within you, and support all around – be it in the form of a black skirt or muggers or a warm, safe hug – to survive in law school.
Lots of love,