Post authored by Andrew Hale
Last year, I earned my bachelor’s degree online while I was enlisted in the Army, completed my service contract, and moved to Chicago to attend law school at the Chicago-Kent College of Law. I was excited to attend classes, learn the law, and be in a live classroom with a professor and peers who shared my enthusiasm. I’ve been nothing but impressed with the caliber of students in my class. Chicago natives, immigrants, single mothers, other veterans, older students changing careers, and fresh-faced college graduates, all are brilliant and insightful people driven to learn with interesting stories and opinions, phenomenal answers in class I couldn’t have conceived, and a genuine interest in objectively tedious material.
In the past seven months, I’ve noticed that the culture of law school leaves something to be desired. I’m not whining about politics, cliques, relationships, or stove-piping career interests, but rather a general lack of trust and camaraderie, which has a tendency to turn the difficult into the insurmountable, and the challenging into downright depressing.
I learned in the preceding years that these traits are not built from shared positive experiences, but shared struggles and that a simple attitude adjustment can improve our existing relationships and mental state, without changing the existing and necessarily competitive dynamic of academia or the broader legal profession. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to “embrace the suck.”
Urban dictionary has an entry for the term; “[o]ften used by NCO’s (non-commissioned officers) in the military. The term would be used when an individual or a group must complete a task that is pointless, tiring, and/or lame.” It functions as the most elegant form of “screw it” (to keep it clean). Not to say, “why bother,” but to say, “why not?” It’s an unspoken mantra at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where I spent the majority of my service, save periodic training in other states and a few months in Iraq.
The 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg might as well be its own branch of the military. It’s the most highly trained Airborne infantry division in the world. It’s also filled with impulsive smartass, competitive Type A twenty-somethings who drink too much on weekends and jump out of airplanes. The Airborne culture is built on trust and sustained through camaraderie. The trust is necessary. If you’re going to jump out of a plane, you have to trust everyone, from the guy that packed the chute to the soldier jumping after you. If a single person out of dozens messes up, it could mean serious injury or death. Till the day I die, I would trust any Paratrooper with my life (but not always with my wallet).
In law school, I trust no one will walk off with my property (the law is pretty clear on that), but I miss the idea that everyone has a morbid, yet solemn duty to one another. Sure, I miss the structure and simplicity of the military, where instructions consist of showing up at the right time in the right place wearing the right uniform and doing what you’re told, but I miss that trust more than anything.
Law school also attracts highly motivated, intelligent, Type A individuals, but the atmosphere is much different. I cannot instill the “embrace the suck” mindset on thousands of students, or tens of thousands of lawyers, the way it was done to me. I can’t drag every attorney in Chicago into a month-long training exercise, have them go on a patrol through Mosul, or work out as a group every day at 0630. These tasks build camaraderie in soldiers not just because they are difficult, but because everyone around you is going through the same thing.
Law students face much different problems with a degree of self-imposed stress. The key to embracing the suck is realizing that everyone around you is in it together, their stress is your stress, your success is their success, and that professors and practicing attorneys have been through exactly what you’re going through. This shift in mindset allows you to be genuinely happy for your peers’ accomplishments, while not competing for who has it the worst and still maintaining the healthily competitive dynamic between the caliber of people who enters this field.
Law school is not easy, but it doesn’t have to be hard. Embracing the suck is not forcing yourself to enjoy adversity, it’s not allowing it to control your attitude, and respecting everyone around you for going through it together.
About the Author:
Andrew Hale is a 1L at the Chicago-Kent College of Law. He volunteers weekly at the Self-Help Web Center at the Daley Center assisting pro se litigants, and with the John Howard Association responding to inmate letters from Illinois prisons requesting case law and legal information. Andrew is also a member of Chicago-Kent’s National Lawyers Guild chapter and the Cannabis Law Society.
Before attending law school, Andrew was an Intelligence Analyst and a Sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC. While in the 82nd, Andrew spent three years supporting the Global Response Force, provided CONUS support for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in 2015, and deployed to Northern Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in 2017. Andrew earned his undergraduate degree with honors from the American Military University in Intelligence Studies in 2018.
After graduation, Andrew plans to stay in Chicago, and continue work in Public Interest Law. Or, maybe go to Washington, D.C. and work for the federal government. Or, move back to North Carolina and work for the state. He’s not sure, but cautiously optimistic as always.