July 30, 2021
By Frank Garza
When he first started law school, third-year J.D. student Hal Clay remembered feeling overwhelmed.
On top of balancing his job and classwork, Clay hadn’t cracked open a textbook in more than two decades. He also spent his entire first year of law school struggling to hear his professors.
Clay had a hearing issue and would record most of his lectures. It wasn’t until he took a class with Professor of Law Geary Reamey, J.D., that he learned he needed an accommodation.
“We have so many people who are first-generation college graduates and law students, and they don’t know what they don’t know,” Clay said.
To better equip incoming J.D. students, like Clay, for their first year, the St. Mary’s University School of Law’s Office of Career Strategy (OCS) launched a new program called the July Jumpstart. In sessions throughout the month of July, OCS staff and current students talk about the law school experience, offer advice and answer common questions.
“The start of law school is like drinking out of a firehose. You’re jumping right into an overwhelming experience,” said Robin Thorner, J.D., Assistant Dean for Career Strategy. “Many studies show that depression and anxiety spike in the first six to eight weeks after starting law school, so we want to get them engaged as early as possible and help them understand broader topics.”
Each session tackles a central topic, hosted by an expert from the law school and three current students. Incoming students receive a teaser — such as an article, a TED talk, podcast or another related resource — before their session. To get students thinking about what they’ve learned, they also receive a follow-up assignment, Thorner said.
The program allows incoming students an opportunity to learn more about topics not always addressed during orientation, said third-year J.D. student Jasleen Shokar.
“I think it gives them a better understanding of the student process,” Shokar said. “They may just want to know the simple stuff, you know, like where do you sit between classes? How do you take your notes? What is an outline? It’s the kinds of things that are microscopic, or professors and administrators don’t always have time to address.”
For the July Jumpstart session she hosted, Shokar discussed imposter syndrome, or the belief that you may not be as competent as others think you are.
“There were a lot of good questions and a lot of engagement. The fact that many people logged on for this webinar is evidence to me that it’s something very much on a lot of incoming students’ minds,” Shokar said.
Second-year J.D. student Daisy Ramirez, like Clay, also remembers feeling overwhelmed when law school started. As a first-generation college student, it took Ramirez a while to feel comfortable with law school. What helped her was having an upperclassman mentor with whom to talk, she said.
“The July Jumpstart Program connects incoming students who may know nothing about law school or don’t have any friends who are upperclassmen to other students,” Ramirez said. “I think it’s a really great program.”