Given my background and scholarly interests (and maybe my blogging here!), I’ve been asked by a couple of feminist 1Ls how to get through the first year of law school. So, I thought I’d compile a list of my advice. And maybe others who blog here can post their own, or add to mine in the comments.
1) Even though it’s possible that the last thing in the world you thought you went to law school to study was torts or contracts or property or civil procedure, etc., take all your first year classes seriously. Grades are certainly not everything, but they are important in some arenas that might wind up mattering to you. And you never know when these subjects are going to come up in practicing feminist law (if that’s what you wind up doing) or be foundational for something more interesting that you want to study or do.
2) Still on your classes, do not be afraid to bring a feminist perspective to class. Ask how the cases you’re reading in these classes or the issues that you’re discussing that seem to have nothing to do with feminism actually do relate to women’s or gender issues. Raise these questions in class. Most professors will welcome an interesting take on the cases.
3) Outside of class, start or join a feminist reading group. It may seem like a lot to take on as a 1L when you’re swamped with learning the new language of law, but reading a bit of feminist legal theory or doctrinal analysis of some foundational legal issues might help connect you with what matters to you in the law. If you’re not getting the material you want in your classes (which is very likely), do what you can to get it on your own.
4) Don’t be surprised if the women’s law group at your school is decidedly not feminist. It may be, and if so, great. But, if not, it’s pretty typical (as I understand it) as the group tends to shy away from being too political for fear of alienating some women.
5) In that vein, look for clearly feminist groups to join. For instance, if a feminist reading group exists, join it. Law Students for Reproductive Justice (formerly Law Students for Choice) is an obvious option as well. More general groups that include feminist ideals are the National Lawyers Guild and the American Constitution Society. If these two groups aren’t working on feminist projects, join them and convince them to do so.
6) Befriend feminist professors at your school. If you don’t feel comfortable befriending a professor, then at least familiarize yourself with her or him and introduce yourself. Target taking classes with her or him later in school when you get to choose what you take. Seek out that professor for possible independent studies, law review note-writing supervision, or a research assistant position.
7) Likewise, find other feminist students to work with in study groups or socialize with outside of school. Law school’s groupthink can be isolating to those who have outsider views, so it’s always beneficial to find others who share your ideals.
8) Investigate feminist resources outside of your law school. Whether it’s your law school’s university or the town/city where your law school is, there are likely to be some (hopefully many!) feminist organizations and resources for you. Familiarize yourself with them and spend some time volunteering. You will make a difference, meet wonderful people, and feel connected to the broader feminist and social justice movement around you. And you just might position yourself for that awesome feminist legal job you came to law school for!
Your first year of law school is an incredibly busy time with all the classwork you have. It’s probably impossible to do all of these things. But, trying to accomplish just a few will help keep you focused on one of the things dear to you – feminism and how it relates to your legal education.
– David S. Cohen