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The Future Lawyer’s Partner

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Living with a 1L 

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Our new dining room table place settings, the 'study session' series, complete with law school mug

Nothing could prepare me for last year: living with a 1L. For those not familiar with the term 1L, lucky you. You have never had the pleasure of being the partner of a first year law student. Yep, my partner is studying to be a partner. (That is definitely going to get confusing.)

When Mandi started at Northwestern Law last year, I was completely unprepared for how her return to school would impact my life. A life that once included spontaneous dates in the middle of the week, leisurely brunch and long walks on the weekends, and frequent rides to work since her social work job took her all over the city.

So I spent the entire first semester lying on the couch waiting for Mandi to be done studying for the night so we could hang out. I caught up on bad TV, ate cereal for dinner and got tired of waiting around. I finally got my ass off the couch and started making plans with friends for cocktails, shopping and craft projects. It took me a full semester to get used to it, but begrudgingly I did. To be fair, it also took Mandi awhile to get used to the endless reading, intense class schedule, more reading, writing, researching, volunteering and more reading.

She made new friends who I got to meet when they came over for study sessions. Eavesdropping on these sessions was like listening to some other language called Legalish. She became fluent in no time. I tried to contribute but ended up making up words like suesfontay. “What? Oh, (chuckling) you mean sua sponte.” Whoops.

Year two is underway and Mandi is back at school (2L!). Back to school for me means cooking for one, being solely responsible for my own entertainment, cleaning the apartment (or having a dirty apartment), grocery shopping, doing lots of yoga videos, watching too much TV and moping about the house. Back to school means going to sleep and waking up alone because Mandi is studying both later than I can keep my eyes open and much earlier than I can drag myself out of bed. Back to school means scheduling dates weeks in advance even though we live in the same house. Back to school means a return to solitary life.

Okay, so I’m being pretty dramatic. I actually have a busy schedule and the first year was not all bad. We had some fun times (on winter and spring breaks) and learned that we have what it takes to make it through another—a comparatively challenging--year together. The law school authorities say that the first year is the worst, until they tell you that the first semester of the second year is actually worse than the first. Externing for a judge, being on a journal and interviewing for next summer’s job are all added to the 2L’s class load. When I heard that being on a journal means writing a note I thought that didn’t sound so bad. Then I found out that this so called “note” is actually a 40-page research paper. Oy.

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The most expensive (and quickly multiplying) section of our home library

But at least I know what to expect this year, and so does she. As Mandi bought books this fall, I bought paint to transform our living room. As Mandi scheduled her classes, I scheduled band practice. As she interviewed for jobs next summer, I made dinner plans with friends for next week.

To help others whose loved ones are embarking down this legal path I’ve gathered bits of advice, some from my own experience and some from other partners of the future partners of America.

And as much as I don’t like to perpetuate stereotypes, let’s face it. Many of them are probably Jewish.

An important precursor to the following: these words are not all mine and do not all represent my personal experiences, even if they are stated in the first person. Thank you to all who contributed their hard-earned advice.

  - Remember that patience is a virtue.

  - Be prepared for speed talking, especially if there is more than one law student involved. You can either develop some mad speed listening skills or create an alternate day dreaming universe. (I prefer the latter.)

  - Never underestimate the importance of (insert boring subject). In your partner’s new world, this is more important than food. Really. (see next bullet)

  - You may find yourself buying new clothes for your partner after they have forgotten to eat lunch and/or dinner so many times that they shrink out of their old clothes.

  - Stay connected by having lots of sex.

  - Understand that meeting at Starbucks for 15 minutes before her class is a "date" and realize that your partner, if she's having a busy week, sees this as a massive sacrifice. Try not to bitch - I was never good at that.

  - Do not take the grumpiness personally. Good advice for both partners.

  - If you want your partner to impress your family over the holidays, or at least make a decent appearance, you may have to take it upon yourself to schedule things like haircuts and eyebrow threading as a "fun day out together before driving up north to see the fam." You may also have to do the packing and ironing for such trip so that matching outfits make it into the suitcase.

  - Make plans to have a weekend away together after finals.

  - Be sure to have planned evening activities for yourself. For me, because I am crazy, this meant getting a Master's degree -- this "get a new, time consuming hobby" plan works in less extreme measures as well. We had moved to a new city together so she could go to school and I thought I'd take a writing class or something to meet people and have something to do at night. That turned into grad school which turned into a whole new career. But make no mistake, grad school is not like college and meeting people is harder. Staying in a city where you have friends and a social life is preferable.

  - Be prepared for your partner, usually witty and hilarious, to spend a lot of time while walking down the street telling you what is illegal about what is going on around you.

  - Plan a date night for once a month.

  - Your partner, formally cool and stylish, may start looking like shit most of the time (and rocking a ____ Law t-shirt and/or sweatshirt) and rolling around one of those backpacks on wheels like a giant tool. You have to just let this go. And when you do get a real night out together and said partner offers up niceties like a clean shirt, remember to compliment him.

  - Have your own life outside of your partner and his/her law school friends.  First of all, if you sit around waiting for them to come back from the library, you will end up very lonely.  Also, they have an amazing ability to talk about law non-stop and honestly - how much can you really stand to hear about civil procedure.

  - When it comes to studying for the bar, just remember that you will get to spend time together at the end of the summer.

I’ve heard that there are relationships whose demise can be blamed on law school. I feel lucky to have an amazing partner who is committed to having a balanced lifestyle; and I’m proud of her for being a great student and still making time for me when there’s not enough time for everything. To all the partners of future partners, good luck out there.

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