By: Jocelyn A. Lorenz
I think most everyone in law school goes through similar emotions. There are moments, likely more than one, where you find yourself overwhelmed and perhaps a little uncertain. I remember this moment after my first semester when I thought to myself, “What do I want from this? How do I want to help others and make an impact on my community?” In law school you will often feel like everyone around you has it all together and knows exactly what they are doing at all times. Many of my friends seemed to have already found what area of law they wanted to focus on. I had many interests in law, and started to feel pressure to “make a choice.” But for me I wanted to experience different areas of law before I put all of my eggs in one basket.
During a particular moment of uncertainty between semesters, I reached out to my mom and dad for support. If I can tell you one thing that is crucial to life as a law student it is this: find your support system and hold them tight. We all need to vent and have some one there for us, and I was fortunate enough to have made amazing friends in my classes, as well as having my friends and family outside of school to be there to lend an ear.
After discussing my worries about “Will I find the legal area that is right for me?” with my parents, they encouraged me to intern or shadow different types of attorneys. Fortunate for me, the University at Buffalo School of Law, has an amazing fellowship program that allowed us, as students, to do just that. A few weeks after my law student moment of uncertainty, I applied for a position as a law clerk with U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the Office of the Legal Principal Advisor (OPLA), which is the largest legal program in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and spoiler alert: I got it! Through UB Law’s amazing summer fellowship program, and with the generous funds from the Francis M. Letro ’79 & Cindy Abbott Letro Diversity Fellowship Award for my anticipated volunteer work, I was able to secure the position for the summer of 2020.
My experience with this office has exceeded my expectations and I can now say that I think I found my place in the field of law. At my summer position, COVID-19 has greatly impacted my experience by limiting the amount of opportunities for learning and observing. Luckily though, the immigration courts have been opening back up slowly but surely, and I have been able to attend numerous hearings and observe the government attorneys in the courtroom. I have also been fortunate to take part in legal research and writing, such as conducting Country Condition Reports and other memorandums of law. Despite COVID-19’s imposition, I have really been making the most of my experience as a law clerk and have learned so much in such a short amount of time.
I wanted to share some general tips for incoming law students, or students in general, that I have learned and continue to learn.
Imposter Syndrome: Imposter Syndrome is a feeling where you tend to doubt your accomplishments and achievements and essentially feel like a “fraud.” I mentioned earlier that I often felt like everyone around me had it all together, and knew exactly what they were doing at all times. My classmates were of all types of backgrounds, experiences and ages, and I occasionally felt like I wasn’t “supposed” to be there. I am here to tell you that if these feelings cross your mind, remind yourself that you do deserve to be there and you are exactly where you are meant to be. I worked hard in high school and in undergrad. I studied hard for my LSATs and worked hard again on my application to law school. All this so I could be here in this very moment. This was not by accident, but by my own volition. Take time to remind yourself of your journey and don’t compare yourself to others.
Take Chances and Get Outside of Your Comfort Zone: It is scary, frightening really, walking into orientation on the first day where you know no one. But I promise it will be okay, and quickly, if you take a chance and make some friends. I was lucky to have known a fellow classmate before law school started. Unlucky for me, we were in different sections of our 1L class and would not have classes together. So, I had to get outside my comfort zone and make some friends. And I did! I have made so many amazing friends in my class simply because I put myself out there. Now I text them often, more often than they probably like (LOL)! I found a support group that was going through the same things I was at the same time, and we trudged on through those first two semesters and come out the other side, mostly unscathed, together and even closer because of it. Like I said, it is very important to find a support system.
This is true too in regards to my internship. I was scared going in my first day not really knowing anything or anyone. But I was kind, attentive, and eager to learn, and the attorneys there were equally as kind and showed me the ropes. I have loved going back every day since.
Ask Questions, Listen, and Take a Deep Breath: A lot will be thrown at you during your first year of law school, and likewise the first day of your internship. Soak it all in, and when you go into information overload, just take a deep breath and count to ten. No one expects you to know everything the first day or even the first week. I ask a ton of questions at my internship because I am completely unfamiliar with immigration law. I have learned so much from these conversations with the attorneys, and I continue to ask questions and learn from them. Same goes with school: ask your classmates questions and of course ask your professors questions. The professors at UB School of Law are incredibly intelligent and friendly, whether it be a question about a specific matter in class, or about life and law school in general. Don’t forget they have been through the rigmarole too and can offer amazing insight. A lot is expected of you at this level of education and in this field, all I can say is take it day by day and class by class.
Where Else Would You Rather Be Than Right Here, Right Now? Now I don’t mean to say that law school isn’t fun, but I can almost guarantee there will be days you dread, classes that you may be less than enthusiastic about, along with late nights and weekends spent studying. You will have trying moments, as I certainly did. I remember a quote my dad used to say to me when I was younger, a quote that didn’t mean much to me then but means the world to me now. “Where else would you rather be than right here, right now?” This quote is from the late Marv Levy, Hall of Fame football coach for the Buffalo Bills. Perhaps this quote meant something different when Mr. Levy said it to his team before kickoff, but to me it meant that you have worked hard for this, you have prayed for this, you have sacrificed for this, and now you are here. The days that seem to last a lifetime in law school are the same days I dreamed about in high school when I knew I wanted to become an attorney. They are the same days that I hoped for in undergrad when I was working hard in every class and on every test to earn a high GPA to get into law school. The same days I couldn’t wait for when I studied for my LSAT and patiently waited for my text scores. And the same days I jumped for joy when I received my acceptance letter to the University at Buffalo School of Law. So, on those late nights of studying, and early mornings in class I remind myself that there truly is no where else I would rather be than right here, right now.
Name: Jocelyn A. Lorenz
Name of Fellowship: Francis M. Letro ’79 & Cindy Abbott Letro Diversity Fellowship Award
Placement: Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Location: Buffalo, New York
One important lesson I learned from this fellowship is: “Ask questions, listen, and enjoy every moment.”