I was on academic probation after my first semester of law school. I don’t tell many people that, and I certainly have never shared it publicly, but after my first semester of law school I was almost told to go home.
This month at Liner Legal we are celebrating our ten year anniversary, and it is impossible not to reflect on all of the twists and turns that got me here. I recall feeling deflated looking at my first semester grades, and thinking to myself that I had really tried to learn the material but just could not grasp it well enough to earn higher marks on my exams. I thought about dropping out. Some of my classmates did, in fact, drop out after their first semesters did not turn out as they had hoped.
When I tell my story to people, including being kicked out of my elementary school and my mom having to quit her job as a college professor because she kept having to leave the classes she was teaching due to my frequent behavior-related suspensions, I am often (understandably) met with the question “when did you turn it around?” A logical conclusion would be that it was perhaps in high school or college, where my path led me to admission at prestigious schools like the University of Michigan and Case Western Reserve University. But looking back, I don’t think it came that early. My maturity level and even my drive to succeed did not really form until I was looking at my grades after that first semester of my 1L year. I was not going to drop out. I decided right then that I was going to make a comeback.
Last fall, I was honored to be invited by the Disability Law Society at Case Western to come back to the school (my first time on campus since graduating) and share my story. I told the auditorium of students about my time on the wrong Dean’s List. More importantly, I told the attendees how I dug myself out of the hole I had created. I reminded the students that only one person gets to finish at the top of the class, but that doesn’t mean everyone else won’t be able to enjoy successful and rewarding careers. After that first semester, with the realization that I probably could not compete with some of my classmates who had sold their souls to the law library, I started focusing on the areas where I knew I could succeed. For most of law school, I was a networking machine–having breakfast, lunch, coffee or a drink with a local attorney several days per week. I also created opportunities for myself, instead of waiting for them to come to me. At most law schools, it is considered prestigious to be on a law journal and moot court team. With my grades, however, I knew I had a slim chance of being invited to join existing journals or moot court teams. Fear not, I just started my own. I was a founding member of Case Western’s Journal of Law, Technology & the Internet (JOLTI), which has since had at least one article quoted by the United States Supreme Court. With the permission of the Dean, I also started a moot court team which competed in a national tournament in New York City. What is the message here? I believe it is that opportunities are rarely just dropped in your lap; instead, to accomplish great things you need to get out of your chair and create better circumstances for yourself.
At the end of my talk at the law school last fall, a line of students formed to speak with me. At the very back of the line was a young woman who was bawling, crying. When she finally made her way to the front of the line, instead of the typical handshake I get when meeting new people, she gave me a gigantic hug. She proceeded to tell me that she was a first year law student, and suffers from severe anxiety. The pressure of law school was so heavy on her that the previous night she had multiple panic attacks and called her family to tell them she was going to drop out. In fact, she was only in the building that morning because she had driven to the school to visit the bursar’s office, to begin the process of withdrawing as a student. The free lunch offered during my talk enticed her into the room. She told me that after hearing my story, she was not going to drop out — the same decision I had made 15 years earlier when faced with similar adversity.
I make a good living as a lawyer, I am very lucky in that regard. But ten years after I opened our doors in 2013 it isn’t the fees that make me excited for another ten years. If I can use Liner Legal and my story as a platform to help a scared law student stay in school, a diabetic woman drop her glucose numbers (like we did during the Liner Legal Largest Loser program), and a client get out of a domestic violence situation and into a shelter–just a few of many cool accomplishments from our first decade–then my vision for this law firm is being realized.
Thank you for your support,