Wednesday, September 11, 2019
I knew what I was getting into when I decided to get a puppy. Or so I thought.
It took two years from deciding I wanted a dog until I got my puppy. I had done my homework. I reread the classic works on raising, socializing, and training dogs, searched for updated information about my breed, carefully researched breeders in a three-state area, reviewed the genetic tests they conducted and the background of their dogs, asked dozens of questions and evaluated breeders by the questions they asked me, examined their reputations and their planned litters, and finally made a careful selection.
Moreover, I had appropriate experiential background. Having raised eight dogs of this rather headstrong breed over the past four decades, I was confident in my ability to excel in handling a puppy this time around. I budgeted for the expense of visiting the breeder several times, purchasing the puppy, and paying veterinary bills. I restructured my schedule so I could feed, walk, train, and socialize the pup. And I was lucky to have a partner willing to cover during the times I couldn't be there. I was as ready as ready could be.
And then the puppy came home. While I had lots of experience with willful dogs, it had been a dozen years since I'd had a puppy, and I wasn't as prepared as I thought. Sure, I anticipated housetraining accidents and chewed furniture and midnight whining, but there was more. Because she had been the alpha in her litter, my pup was far more dominant, aggressive, and demanding than any dog I'd previously had. She didn't respond to the gentle but firm corrections I had successfully used on four previous generations. At 12 weeks old, she developed a condition I'd never seen or heard of, urinating every minute for hours on end: the emergency visits to the vet hospital weren't in my budget, let alone my schedule. Feeding and walking her at lunchtime took more time than I'd planned. My vision of long bonding walks and romps in the dog park fell victim to the reality of a local threat of parvovirus. Bringing this puppy into my life disrupted everything. I fell behind at work, missed meals, and grew cranky because I couldn't go out for a movie or jump on the treadmill for a good workout. A dozen years ago, interrupted sleep didn't bother me much -- now it did. I'd thought of myself as a competent dog parent, but now I was just exhausted and teary. I wondered if I'd made the right choice in getting a puppy at this time in my life.
About this time of year, 1Ls who thought they'd done everything right start wondering if they made the right choice in coming to law school. For those facing this self-doubt, coming to law school wasn't a last-minute whim. Most put a year or more into the decision to pursue the study of law, researching and visiting schools, evaluating programs, comparing costs of tuition and fees and housing, enlisting the support of family and allies, and often working at law firms to get an idea of their future. They faithfully did the assigned summer reading and participated actively in orientation activities. They anticipated the disruption of the first few weeks and the stress of public speaking and the Socratic method. They knew what they were getting into.
And yet -- even given their careful preparation, the reality of even the most supportive law school throws a wrench into their lives. Persons who always considered themselves competent students are shocked to find how long it takes to read only a few pages and how difficult it can be to plumb the complexities of what seems to be a straightforward case. Students who as undergraduates reveled in reading Supreme Court decisions can be unnerved by the complexities of personal jurisdiction or the seemingly arbitrary nature of what is the offer and what is the acceptance in a contract. Minor writing or hearing or vision issues, heretofore largely ignored, suddenly become consequential. Heretofore strong relationships can be strained as students put long hours and most of their energy into a new way of perceiving the world. All this disruption can make 1Ls doubt the wisdom of choosing law school.
The good news for students who doubt the wisdom of their decision to attend law school is that they almost certainly made the right choice. In my experience, those for whom law school is wrong know it immediately. That's not to say that personal, financial, medical, and family circumstances don't sometimes require students to set new priorities and leave law school. But when students bring up existential doubt about their ability to do the work of a law student, it usually means they care deeply, that they are doing all they can to be good at something that is meaningful and precious to them. It can be a struggle, a time of huge disruption and occasional sleepless nights. The Honorable Michael Oths, president of our state bar commission, has said "Struggle should be embraced in recognition of the reality that navigating law school is difficult. The same is true for the practice of law." But it's worthwhile. Just like helping your puppy become a wonderful companion for years, after a few months of struggle.