First days are always memorable. You come in with a combination of excitement and nervousness bordering on terror. What do you remember about your first day of law school?
The first day of law school for the newly admitted students at the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta will be different from whatever we remember because this year, the first day will be online, and so will most classes. There is no in-person orientation or welcome barbecue. It is hard to know what this will feel like for the students, but in my discussions with both law schools, I know that they are trying very hard to make students feel welcome and that they are part of the Class of 2023. Students are not necessarily moving to Edmonton or Calgary, as the case may be, and they come from (and may be remaining) all across the country.
On behalf of Assist and our volunteers and followers, I would like to extend a personal welcome to the 1Ls at our two Alberta law schools.
Law school can be a great experience, as can practicing law. But to misquote the Beatles, you’ll get by with a little help from your friends. And when that isn’t enough, your school has student services support and there is always Assist, too.
Have you heard the old trope about the prof on the first day of law school telling the new students to look to their left and look to their right, and that one of the three of them would not be there by third year?
Here is my version: Look to your left and look to your right. One of the three of you will call Assist this year.
In 2019, one in three students at our two law schools accessed professional counselling through Assist. This was a bit higher than usual—but it is usually higher than one in four, so look at the person behind you as well.
The 2020-21 school year may be more stressful for some students—we are all different—so please know that Assist is here for you.
One in four articling students accessed professional counselling services in 2019, and one in ten lawyers. More than one in five lawyers have used our counselling program since 2008. If you call us, you are in good company.
You may have heard that articling can be fraught with challenges and that in a recent survey of articling students and junior lawyers, one in three self-reported experiencing discrimination or harassment during the recruitment process or the articling year. It’s good that about one in four were coming to Assist.
But we wanted to make sure that we were reaching everyone, so we set up drop in coffee times when articling students and junior lawyers could chat with a senior lawyer trained in peer support about career-related issues. We moved this group (called Red Mug Coffee Circles because our volunteers had red mugs to identify themselves) online in the spring. Law students are welcome to attend, and we are looking at hosting online coffee circles with law students and practicing lawyers.
If you are like I was, you may not know any lawyers or what actually happens in a law firm. There are a lot of myths and stories—some of which are true—that circulate in law school. Our coffee circles are a way that you can find out more about what practicing law is like. Sign up for our online newsletter to hear more!
I have had the privilege in past years of being part of Orientation Day at the U of A law school (one of our registered psychologists speaks to the students at the U of C about our Psychologist-in-Residence program.) I have heard the Dean talk about the incredible accomplishments and backgrounds of people in the new class and the incredible accomplishments of graduates of the law school. As someone who merely had good grades and a good LSAT score, I know it is easy to be overwhelmed.
Sometimes hearing all of these impressive things makes us wonder how we managed to get in to law school. This can be accompanied by what is called Imposter Syndrome and it is pervasive in law school and in legal practice. You look around you at all of the smart people and you think you must be there by mistake, and that when they figure out that you really aren’t smart enough to be there, they will kick you out or fire you.
I remember my first experience with Imposter Syndrome in law school. I got through the first day and the legal foundations course we did for the first two weeks, still harbouring the hope that I was brilliant and that law school would be a breeze for me.
Then actual classes started. In Real Property, we were to read the first case in our casebook, an arcane decision of the Supreme Court of Canada from 1951. Being a hyper-diligent student, I read it and made copious notes but I had no idea what the case was actually about, in spite of my careful reading and note-taking which had allowed me to sail through my undergrad courses.
Class started, and the prof called on a student to brief the case and the student delivered a two-line explanation of the key principle. The prof said it was an excellent explanation and I debated dropping out because clearly I didn’t have what it takes for law school.
Then as I got to know people and law school better, I learned that this student, although naturally brilliant, had a friend a year ahead and had what I learned was called a CAN (case and note summary) for the course. Friends and CANs can be your lifeline!
And I didn’t drop out and eventually it all started to come together, as it will for you.
You didn’t get into law school by mistake—you got here because you earned it and you belong. You can call me if you have self-doubts and I will happily connect you with a peer support volunteer who has been through this same experience but actually in the 21st century.
We know a lot more about Imposter Syndrome now. Research indicates that while Imposter Syndrome was originally believed to be something that professional women experienced in the 1970s, about 70% of all people experience it at some point in their lives.
We have a collection of resources about imposter syndrome in the legal community on our website. We also have a section of resources for law students.
If you have time for only reading one article, may I recommend “The Enemy of The Good: Perfectionism, Self-Doubt And Mental Health In The Legal Profession” by Vancouver lawyer (and Law Society of BC Bencher), Brook Greenberg.
Our website is new—just launched in late July—so the search function is still sorting itself out, but I hope you will enjoy exploring our resource collection and information about what we do.
One more thing for our new law students: if you are in the recovery community, you can connect with lawyer 12-step groups in Calgary and Edmonton. Call me to arrange an introduction!
Welcome to Fall, everyone! We will continue to run our signature weekly events: free yoga, guided mindfulness and Red Mug Coffee Circles.
And please walk with us, safely and apart, on Thursday, September 10th at noon, as part of our Annual Walk for Wellness. We are together in spirit and will enjoy sharing photos on social media. Watch our social media (or email us if social media isn’t your thing) for locations you can drop by in the downtown area of your community to pick up Buddy Up and Assist goodies.