Learn how real students navigate their way through the graduate school admissions process and grad school itself with our What is Graduate School Really Like? series.
Meet Rachel, a 3L blogger facing chronic health challenges…and thriving.
Rachel, thank you for sharing your story with us!
Congratulations on starting your final year of law school! Which law school do you attend? What attracted you to that particular program?
Rachel: Thank you! I am really looking forward to being done. I am a Day Division student at IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law. I am originally from Ohio, but my mom is a born and raised Hoosier, so it’s kind of a tribute to her. It also means that my partner and I are able to be close-ish to our families since he and I are from the same town. I was also fortunate to receive a scholarship to come here.
I understand that you were admitted with financial aid, despite a borderline LSAT. What steps did you take to create your strongest possible application?
Rachel: Truthfully, I think what saved me were my addenda and my letters of recommendation. My GPA had fallen after my migraine diagnosis and I pointed out in my addenda that my GPA had risen again since stabilizing my condition. That said, nothing is more valuable than excellent recommendations. To this day, I have no clue what my references said in their letters, but I’m convinced they got me in.
Some other, less specific factors may have been my participation in college. I was very involved in my residence hall’s activities council and worked at the front desk of that residence hall for 2.5 years. I participated in several programs my undergrad offered, including Diversity Certification and Suicide Prevention Certification programs. I was a member of the Visual and Performing Arts Living and Learning Community my senior year and got to explore and experience a lot of art and culture. I chose a handful of things I felt passionate about and engaged in them 100%.
Congratulations on celebrating your second wedding anniversary a few months ago! As a busy law student, how do you juggle school and important relationships?
Rachel: I did, thank you! I still forget I’m married all the time! I remember hearing before I came to law school that it ruins relationships, which made me very nervous since we took the plunge the summer before I started law school. It definitely hasn’t been easy for us. I tend to just get sucked into the work because I’m really passionate about it and my partner is just so supportive that he lets me get away with it sometimes.
We will categorize almost any activity where we can spend time together as a date. Sometimes it’s running to Costco and grabbing takeout; others it’s watching our favorite Twitch streamer while I read for class. I also try really hard to take a day off on the weekends so we can catch up on housework and just hang out together; that doesn’t always pan out though.
Any favorite tips for staying organized as a student?
Rachel: Get a planner! I have appointments and tasks written in multiple places because I’m very harebrained and I tend to bite off almost more than I can chew. Having one place where I know I can find any piece of information I might need that I can carry around and is unaffected by a lack of internet or a dead battery is how I survive. Find what works for you and hold on to it!
As a person who suffers from chronic migraines, how do you care for your body to ensure you can function at your best…all while keeping up with the demands of law school?
Rachel: The first step for me was accepting my new normal. I can’t do the whole “survive on no sleep and caffeine” thing that a lot of law students do. I decided before I started that I would prioritize my health and if my grades took a hit for that, then so be it. I do try to limit how much my illness affects my ability by staying hydrated, eating regularly, and getting enough sleep.
I plan my life around my illness so having a predictable schedule is really important for me. I try to ensure that I have downtime between scheduled items so I can have a snack and recharge before the next thing. I really thrive on structure. I wear Salonpas patches to class a lot because my migraines tend to start and linger around the back of my head. I also got blue light filtering lenses in my glasses to help with staring at screens all day.
If I’m at home and am struggling to do the work, I try to find a compromise. I try to stay about a week ahead on reading so if I have a bad pain day it doesn’t completely throw me off. Otherwise, I prioritize which readings can be skipped.
I try to be honest with myself about how I’m feeling and then set boundaries based on that. My partner helps a lot because he’ll take care of basic house tasks and making sure I’m eating frequently enough when I’m trying to struggle through readings.
What has been the most difficult aspect of law school for you so far? What have you enjoyed the most?
Rachel: These really play into each other for me. I love all of the opportunities to do things I’m interested in. There are clubs devoted to all types of law and so many fascinating classes in addition to clinics, internships, and pro bono opportunities. I love the law, so I’m in a kind of wonderland that I know won’t exist to the same extent once I graduate. That said, I’ve really struggled with limiting myself to a handful of things that jive with my “new normal” as an invisibly disabled person. It’s hard enough to choose when your energy seems boundless, but I’m even more restrained so I’ve had to really rein it in.
Can you tell us about the process of applying for internships? How early in the school year did you need to begin? What role did the school play in helping you find your internship?
Rachel: McKinney has a resume drop in December that I participated in to get my first internship. Basically, I just submitted my resume to a few places I was interested in, but I already knew I really wanted to intern at a prosecutor’s office.
My second internship I got through a professor. I knew he had connections to one of the legal aids I was interested in and I asked him if he could tell me who to reach out to. He put me in touch with the Managing Attorney and I interviewed that way. This process happened during Spring Finals (which I don’t advise by any means). I was dealing with family things Spring Term and kind of missed the boat on more traditional means of getting an internship. But don’t hesitate to ask anyway. I love my internship and wouldn’t have it if I hadn’t asked.
Can you share a bit about your past summer internship?
Rachel: Yes! I was a Certified Legal Intern at an LSC funded Legal Aid. Basically, a Certified Intern can do anything a lawyer can do, but supervised (kind of like Elle Woods in Legally Blonde). I mostly worked on expungements and helping people who’ve had their driver’s licenses suspended. The goal is basically to remove barriers to employment and financial stability for the client. It’s really rewarding work. My previous experience was in criminal law, so I wanted to try civil work to round out my resume. I actually decided to stay on through the year because I love it so much!
Have you participated in pro bono work as a student? In what capacity?
Rachel: I have! Both of my summer internships have been pro bono, so I’ve accumulated a wealth of hours that way. I also participated in a Re-entry event that one of my professors puts on every year during my 1L year. These are people who have been previously incarcerated and the event helps them apply for benefits, apply for jobs, give them information about expungements. I helped with job applications and resumes. It was really humbling. I’m hoping to do it again this year and help out with expungements.
Tell us about your blog, lawyerella.com! When and why did you start it? Who is your target audience?
Rachel: I started lawyerella.com in January of 2018, which was right in the middle of my first year of law school. Law school blogs really helped me through the transition from college into law school, which feels like a really abrupt change, but I felt like there was a lot missing, especially as it pertained to my chronic illness. I’ve always enjoyed writing and I wanted to write about my experience going through law school and the legal profession while prioritizing my health.
I think my blog is great for anyone going through law school, but it’s especially geared towards students who either have chronic conditions of their own or just want to prioritize self care and wellness through their law school journey.
Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years from now?
Rachel: I could see myself working in a prosecutor’s office or a legal aid firm somewhere. I really just want to do good for people, especially those who are often exploited by the system.
If you could share one message with law school applicants, what would it be?
Rachel: You don’t need a 165 on your LSAT to get a good education or have a good law school experience. My goal score was around 164 and I ended up in the upper 150s. I still got a really great scholarship and I have really solid grades. So don’t panic if you’re not hitting those high scores; it doesn’t say anything about your performance in law school and you will forget about it literally as soon as you start your classes.
Do you have questions for Rachel? Questions for us? Do you want to be featured in our next What is Graduate School Really Like? post? Know someone else who you’d love to see featured? Are there questions you’d like us to ask our students in this series? LET US KNOW!
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