Vol 11, Issue 1
Welcome, First Year JD Students!
One of the many programs that the Melbourne Law School uses to help integrate you all into the very specific lifestyle of the JD is getting older students to advise you on things they wish they’d known before they entered the JD. Usually, students cover most of the main points well: stay on top of your pre-readings, the best coffee is not at the front of the law building.
But there is one thing that I personally really wish I’d been told. There is one question that not every First Year JD students asks, but can be a real cause of concern to those who face it. So I’d like to provide some advice for the students who find themselves asking, a few months into the JD:
‘Why do so many other JD students seem to make friends with each other more easily than I do?’
You might ask yourself this and then just dismiss it, wondering what kind of adult still has that kind of problem. But the question might hang around, making you feel frustrated and uncomfortable. It might pop into your head when some teacher or later-year student gushes that ‘The friends I made at Law School have been some of my closest friends’. When people from your LMR start talking about what great friends they’ve made only a couple of weeks into Semester 1. You want to stay positive, but you start to wonder if you have bad breath and nobody’s told you. You try to be friendly, but the polite chit chat doesn’t ever seem to last more than two minutes and focuses all too heavily on Melbourne’s awful weather.
Assuming you haven’t had trouble making friends your entire life, there is a big reason that some Melbourne Law School JD students, specifically, have a difficult time socially in First Year. Often times, it isn’t that there’s anything particular wrong with you. Instead, it’s that a lot of JD students were already friends with each other before the JD. For some, the JD is another three-plus years to primarily spend with people they’d already heard of or met. For others, you’re on the outside looking in, and you see a few hundred people who seem awfully chummy from the get-go, even though you assume that they’re strangers.
Plain and simple, a lot of students in the Law School went to a Melbourne University college, or one of the big Melbourne (or Sydney, Perth, etc.) private or selective public schools. Some moved here interstate or internationally to study the JD at Melbourne Law School, but did so together in groups of two and up.
In my opinion, the issue isn’t that there’s an unusually large cultural divide, or that most JD students are mean. Hopefully you don’t have to deal with the type of people who thinks things during the JD like ‘I’m not here to make friends,’ as though they’re the designated villain on some reality cooking show. I also don’t think it’s just because the type of people who study the JD tend to be perfectionists, who would rather study than take the time to let a friendship develop.
Instead I think a lot of the problem is just that high school, undergrad and college provided a lot of pre-existing friends and acquaintances for many JD students. The problem is that the high proportion of JD students that came from certain schools and colleges isn’t common knowledge to incoming JD students, so some students end up spending time and energy feeling socially anxious and inadequate without good reason. For those starting from scratch, socially speaking, friendship at Law School can start to feel like just another competition that the legal industry loves, one that certain students are naturally more prepared for than others. LMRs can’t shake up existing social groups much when you and your friends get to be in the same stream.
As I write this, recalling the time that a JD student at orientation talked about how easy it was for them to make friends, I think it’s worth reiterating a common message in De Minimis articles: there are a variety of JD student experiences, and it is important to investigate how and why JD student experiences can be different. If you are one of those people who started with a lot of acquaintances and friends in the JD and the legal industry, I’d love to hear about what things have been like for you.
To conclude with advice: it is a totally normal Melbourne Law School student experience to not have good friends for a while, especially if you’re coming into the Law School knowing nobody. When you’re sitting in class, with Messenger open and active on all the laptops in front of you, and you wonder whether you will someday deserve to waste time with JD friends, remember that many of your classmates have a pre-built support network. Try to make as many friends as you can, and please don’t assume from reading this that students who went to college will be standoffish.
But don’t be discouraged if you’ve finished Semester 1 or even Semester 2 and you’re surrounding by groups of friends that you aren’t a part of. Everyone I know found other JD students they enjoy spending time with, and who enjoy spending time with them. It just takes a little longer when you’re starting from the start.
The rest of this issue: