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The One Law School Problem No One Ever Talks About: "Imposter Syndrome"

January 1, 2019


Every professional school has a vast variety of students. Some of these students come straight from undergraduate programs, some are parents who have been working for years, some are international students, and some are those students who still attend class without a writing utensil. In the midst of so many different varieties of people it can be confusing to navigate both the academic and social scenes. One thing is for certain though: at some point, nearly every person in law school suffers from Imposter Syndrome. 


What is Imposter Syndrome? 

For me, imposter syndrome is a mental block created by an overwhelming belief that you are a "fraud" awaiting impending exposure to the world. This mental block is generally accompanied by severe anxiety, stress, and an intense fear of rejection.


How does it happen?

Unlike a cold, you can't catch it from someone sneezing on you. But you can catch it from not having a strong group of friends, losing sight of your purpose in law school, from worrying too much about what other people think of you, or any other untreated anxieties.


I realized I caught the "I.S. bug," one morning before a class. I briefed a case the night before, and continuously kept checking my notes to ensure I had every detail I would possibly need to brief it in class. I knew what the professor wanted, but I had to reassure myself that I covered all of the material. I went to class a bit early that day. I was about to volunteer to brief the case, when I heard my professor cold-call someone else to brief the case. My heart broke. I had put in so much effort into that one case, and I was not even going to be able to brief it. 


However, my disappointment over not having the opportunity to brief the case was quickly replaced with anxiety, as I realized the professor would only be cold-calling that day, and I worried I had not briefed my other cases for that class as thoroughly as I briefed that first one. What if she called on me and I did not know something? I worried I would look like a complete idiot. It was among those fears that I realized how severely I caught the "I.S. bug."


But Imposter Syndrome is not permanent. In fact, I believe it is truly an integral part of the law school experience. Experiencing and recognizing my experience not only made me aware of my own insecurities, but also the systematic problems with how we view a legal education. 


The truth is law school is just like any other educational institution. We are all there to learn. The subject matter may be particularly unique, foreign in many aspects, and generally difficult. There is a severe lack of people of color in the legal profession to view as mentors. Students may act like they know more or are just better than you. Despite all of this, it is important to remember that you have your own educational journey to worry about. It is your journey; it should not be exactly the same path as anyone else. 


Is it possible to stop experiencing Imposter Syndrome? 

I still have these feelings, and I’m not certain if there is a way to disappate these feelings entirely. I implore law schools to rethink their branding and the image of the legal profession at large, because I do believe Imposter Syndrome derives not only from insecurities, but also from the toxic culture and environments in which they arise. Maybe law school administrators could find a way to dissipate this severe feeling of isolation for good. I, on the other hand, can only share some methods I’ve used to help treat my “symptoms”. 


First, it is integral that you identify what is making you feel this way. 


If you find the subjects themselves or your course load are the particular causes of stress, there is no harm in going to professors, TAs, the learning resource center (if your institution provides one), and upperclass students for advice. 


If you find that you are having a hard time relating to people on campus, look for support groups (my school even has one for parents), join clubs (I'm in the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association), and just talk to people. I know it sounds silly. But taking the first step of putting yourself out there can help you create meaningful relationships, whether they be for studying or for just getting bubble tea together. 






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