Prologue (or “Who is a First-Generation Student?”)
This is written as a guide for first-generation students who are entering or are currently attending law school. What does that mean? Typically that means someone who is the first in their immediate family to attend college. However, there are various ways to describe “first-generation”; some people use it to mean the first in your family to go to law school as well. There is not a perfect definition. However, this book is geared mostly toward those who are in law school and were the first in their family to attend any level of college. That being said, anyone who is a bit worried they might not belong in law school, or is concerned that everyone else will know more than they do before classes even start, should please read on!
As for me, my grandparents had to leave school at ages 12 and 13 to take care of siblings and work. My parents are both high school graduates, but neither of them went to college or any other type of higher education. I have no aunts or uncles that went to college. In fact, of my great grandmother’s 20 plus great-grandchildren, I am the first to attend college, and certainly the first to attend graduate school. Though, I do have a younger second cousin who is now a medical doctor. (Great-grandma talked about the two of us a lot!) There was no one in my family to ask about the “norms” of college, and certainly no one to ask about law school. That is why I’m writing this book—so that other students who may have been in my shoes feel like they have a guide, or the inside track, if you will.
Please keep in mind that this is largely written from my perspective—a white cis-gendered heterosexual woman who grew up in suburban Detroit. The thing with first-generation students is that, like with so many things, we are not a homogeneous group, and no two experiences are the same. To that end, I’ve also pulled on my 10-plus years of teaching and advising law students, as well as literally asked my students and colleagues who are first-generation, “What do you wish you had known?” I’ve also asked them to include stories and perspectives of their own—you’ll find these stories throughout the guide—so hopefully there is something that speaks to everyone.
The best advice I can give you is that you DO belong. If you were accepted to law school, the admissions team knows what they are doing, and you DO very much belong. It will be tempting, at times, to feel otherwise. It’s easier said than done, but please do what you can to shut that voice down, whether it’s an internal or external voice. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions. I mean this sincerely. You might feel alone, and you might feel like your question is stupid. Both are untrue. There are more of us out there than you think. I promise that some of your classmates, professors, administrators, and future bosses are or were first-generation students. And we are all happy to answer questions, and not judge.
Hopefully, reading this book will give you a better idea of what to ask, and where to start. Good luck!
“You are not alone! Don’t be hesitant to ask questions of your peers, your professors, and the student support offices at your school. Also, stay curious, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learning from your mistakes and imperfections and growing from them is part of the process.”
-Professor Tina Benigno, Saint Louis University, Class of 2017
A Note on How to Use This Book
Sometimes too much information can be overwhelming, and that is certainly not my goal. I merely want to provide you with information that I wish I had prior to entering law school, but I do realize it can all be a bit much.
If something doesn’t make sense right away, or it all feels a bit too daunting, take a step away and come back to the book later. You can also save certain parts of the book for further along in the semester—that is fine.
For example, if you are reading this in the summer before law school, it might be some time before you start reading and briefing cases, which means my chapter on reading and briefing might be too much too soon. If that’s the case, skim it a bit so you get an idea of what reading and briefing is, and then come back to it in your first couple of weeks of classes. Similarly, there are chapters on how to study that might not be useful until you are a few weeks in. This book is meant to be a useful tool and resource, so take what you need right now and come back for more later.