It is common to experience feelings of inadequacy in law school, especially since everything about the system causes students to compare themselves to each other.
These feelings are often called Imposter Syndrome, which has been defined as:
… a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.Harvard Business Review
Another source describes Imposter Syndrome as:
Despite the objective success in education, experiences, or accomplishments, it is characterized by chronic feelings of fraudulence, incompetence, and inadequacy.SimplyPsychology
So does everyone in law school have some form of Imposter Syndrome? Maybe, to some extent. Again, students in law school are competing against each other for grades, jobs, positions on journals, etc. So it’s hard not to feel inadequate when the system is set up in a way that makes it impossible not to compare yourself to others.
Because one of the first steps to overcoming Imposter Syndrome–or at least keeping it at bay–is identifying it in the first place, here are some common ways law students feel inadequate and unfairly judge themselves.
Feelings of Inadequacy in Law School: Everyone is Smarter than Me
The best advice I received before entering law school was:
You are going to feel like everyone is smarter than you, but just wait for finals.
I distinctly remember having this feeling over and over again during my first semester of law school. Before I realized that many of the students were reading from outlines, I didn’t understand how every student knew the answers except for me.
I was certain I was destined to fail and that I didn’t belong.
This is textbook Imposter Syndrome, and many students–especially in their first year–feel this way.
But it isn’t uncommon to carry these feelings with you throughout law school. A lot of times I felt like I was faking it, and that I had only done well on exams because I got lucky.
It turns out this is a common feeling too and is part and parcel of Imposter Syndrome.
Feelings of Inadequacy in Law School: My Experience doesn’t Hold Up to that of My Peers
This hit me during On-Campus Interview Season, but it can hit students multiple times for different reasons.
Going into OCI, I felt like everyone had better experience than I. Even though we all only had one summer under our belt, I felt like I wasn’t given real assignments during my summer experience and that I had essentially wasted my 1L summer.
Students feel this at all stages of their law school careers and sometimes even after.
It might not manifest in the same way, but it is common to feel like you somehow missed something and your peers are more prepared than you.
Feelings of Inadequacy in Law School: I’m Not Working Hard Enough
Students really beat themselves up with this one. It feels impossible to take a break during law school–or while studying for the bar exam–without struggling with feelings of guilt.
I always felt like I could and should be doing more. More studying, more networking, more reading… the list goes on.
And I could never really enjoy breaks or time away because they were shrouded with anxiety and guilt.
Feelings of Inadequacy in Law School: Everyone has a Job Except for me
Whether 1L summer or post-grad employment, I’ve heard these exact words countless times from students.
Feeling like everyone has a job except for you is a form of confirmation bias, which is:
the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs or hypotheses.SimplyPsychology
Among many other things, law students often fear failing, and this manifests in the idea that they are the only one who hasn’t achieved X.
Confirmation bias happens when a person gives more weight to evidence that confirms their beliefs and undervalues evidence that could disprove it.SimplyPsychology
In addition to unintentionally distorting the number of students who have summer or post-grad positions, law students don’t usually run around telling anyone who will listen that they haven’t found work yet.
This compounds the idea that everyone has a job but you.
But the fact is many, and sometimes most, law students do not solidify post-grad employment until after graduating. In 2018, for example, only 62.9% of law students obtained their post-graduate positions before they graduated.
While that number is quite large, considering that from 2011 to 2015 the number hovered just above 50%, it is a far cry from “everybody.”
It’s also important to keep in mind that these are national averages and information isn’t available for every school. However, you can probably find your school’s information here.
Feelings of Inadequacy: I’m Not Qualified to be an Attorney
I’ve heard this from graduates frequently. It likely sounds a little silly to attorneys who’ve been practicing for a while because we all had these fears at one point. But this is a very real feeling that students and recent graduates experience.
I’ve even heard recent graduates go as far as to suggest they should do another internship before they begin applying and that they “don’t want to waste an employer’s time.”
This hurts my heart because these feelings put law students and recent graduates in a position of fear and cause them to feel like they owe their employer more than they do.
The truth is, as someone who has graduated from law school, you are highly educated and very competent. Law school doesn’t teach you to practice law, and you can only gain so much work experience during the three-year program. Trust me, your peers feel the same way and their experience is not better than yours.
You are ready to practice and you won’t be wasting an employer’s time!
Imposter Syndrome and feelings of inadequacy are rampant in law school. Part of the reason is that it is impossible not to compare yourself to others during law school.
If you are experiencing Imposter Syndrome, know that there is nothing wrong with you, and it is common to feel this way. That isn’t meant to diminish your feelings, but to let you know you are not alone.
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