I am struggling with the social side of law school. How do I make friends with my law school peers? – Struggling, 19

 

I’m sorry to hear you are struggling, Struggling. University, for all its social clubs and events, can be an isolating place and social stuff can definitely get hard. Law school in particular has an earned reputation for being clique-y and difficult to navigate if you don’t go into it with a set of friends also doing law. I say this so you know that even if it feels horrible sometimes, these feelings are real and probably felt by a lot of the other students too.

 

Unfortunately, without details of the challenges you are facing personally it is difficult to respond specifically, but I offer some general thoughts that you can take or leave as you need.

 

In my view, there are four parts to making good friends. These are: a sense of self and confidence, the opportunity to meet people, the opportunity to hang out with the people you meet, and the courage and skills to be vulnerable and connect with people as yourself.  Strengthening any one part of the matrix is likely to increase your chances of making friends, but it helps to know which bit of the puzzle is your biggest obstacle, and to see what you can do to change it. (Note that I do not adhere to the school of thought that says you have to love yourself before others can love you. That school is cruel and demonstrably false and I have no time for it.)

 

You have specifically asked about making friends with law school peers, but most of my answer concerns making friends in general. My hope is that you are not too fixated on making law school friends specifically. That is because making friends with law school peers is difficult without an indirect route in (for reasons I discuss below). Plus, the indirect routes I discuss below may well lead back to law school anyway, so in my view they are more effective than law school-specific modes. 

 

So. Friendship. Big stuff. 

 

Like all complex systems, you cannot control friendship, but you can make it more likely to come about.  If the issue is simply meeting people, the obvious answer is to take part in law school social events. Of course, this most obvious of answers did not occur to me until I had been thinking about this answer for several days, since those events felt so extremely Not For Me when I was at law school that I forget that a lot of people love them. 

 

If you haven’t been to one of these events, I suggest trying one out and seeing how it goes.  There are two good reasons to do this regardless of outcome: first, it takes courage to go to events like that alone, and courage is a muscle worth strengthening even if you do not meet anyone you’d like to know further; and second, there is trial and error in searching for new friends, and tolerance of roads that lead nowhere is an equally valuable tool to cultivate.

 

My best suggestion for making new friends though, which I have enacted myself several times, and which accounts for all four parts of the friend-making matrix, is this: do a thing that you enjoy with other people who also enjoy it. 

 

Throughout my life this method been a surefire route to new friends. For me, those activities were shows, or choir, or improv class, but I have to believe the same principle would apply to sport, or gaming, or a group course that interests you. It applies to school and work too, since those are activities where you usually have to interact quite a lot, even if you don’t enjoy what you are doing. 

 

The point is that we can usually be friends with a huge range of people, but the mechanism for getting to know people is best when it is indirect. You (mostly) can’t just make small talk with strangers in lecture halls, and trying to make friends by going to events specifically set up for that purpose (I’m looking at you, nightmarish networking mixers) can be too hard, especially if you are anxious or lack confidence. However, when all of you hang out in order to do the thing you are doing, there will be idle chat and jokes and getting to know one another.  That way friendship lies.

 

Law school may look like it falls into this category of collective pursuit of a thing, but it mostly doesn’t.  My personal experience of making friends in law school was via friends of friends from high school and via a week-long Model UN conference in third year, neither source being law school itself. In law school you’re not really doing anything together; you are a big group of individuals attending lectures (where you can’t talk to each other) and studying privately.  The only exception might be tutorial groups or group assignments, but when I was at law school there were very few of these and the people in them changed all the time. You could definitely try getting a study group together, but these can be difficult to muster if people already have their own study routines. 

 

These two suggestions, of attending existing social events or undertaking a thing you enjoy with others who also enjoy it, are practical. One slightly less practical but perhaps more important method for improving the chance of making friends is this: cultivating a sense that you know who you are, what you’re about, and that you are enough. This one is really a lifelong task, but any deepening of it serves you and all of your relationships. I write about it in more detail elsewhere, but if you want perhaps the best introduction to the question of enoughness (and shame or inadequacy at not feeling enough), I suggest reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.

 

So it makes sense that law school is a hard place to make friends, Struggling, and even though friendship itself is not within your control, there are things you can do to improve your chances of making friends in the future. I wish you all the best.

 

If you have a query, please email learnlawlife@symphonylaw.co.nz, with your first name (or a pen name) and your age – these details, as well as information provided as part of your query may be published. Submissions will go directly to Katie at Symphony Law, who will review and select queries for future posts. Please keep in mind that unfortunately, Katie cannot answer every question, correspond directly with readers, or give professional advice.

 

Katie Cowan is a former commercial litigator who now runs a legal consulting and coaching practice, as well as writing for the Law Society’s “Law Talk” magazine and presenting her own podcast, The New Lawyer, available at thenewlawyer.co.nz. Check out her website for more details at: symphonylaw.co.nz. Katie’s recommendations and opinions are her own, do not represent the views of LexisNexis or its affiliates and are of a general nature. None of Katie, Symphony Law Limited or LexisNexis are responsible for any loss or damage suffered by a party as the result of following this advice, so please seek independent professional advice before relying on it. Please click here for full website terms and conditions.

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