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3Ls Reading their Personal Statements – Feature 2: Madeline Ritchie

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This is the second installment of the series “3Ls Reading their Personal Statements featuring The Class of 2017”. Feature #1 and the introduction to this series can be found here.

Academic/Career Goals at the Time the Personal Statement was Written:

I didn’t think to read my personal statement during my time at Queen’s Law. Now that I have – man, I was young. I was naïve. While my writing wasn’t focused, my career goals were. I was surprisingly particular about what I wanted from Queen’s. I think working for several years after my undergraduate degree gave me some focus coming into law school. I had time to think about what I wanted and I thought hard. My reasons for coming to law school had to be solid enough to justify leaving my incredible career and community.

Academic/Career Goals Right Now:

My broader career goals at the time I wrote my personal statement are essentially the same as they are now – but now I demand much more of my career. I still want to work in environmental and Aboriginal law (as I did when I applied to QL) but now that I’ve landed a fantastic job in the field, my goals are more nuanced. I aspire to a career that keeps me on my toes, focuses on the human element of law, provides daily intellectual stimulation, surrounds me with motivated and like-minded colleagues, and is full of worthwhile outcomes.

The Impact of OCIs on Academic/Career Goals:

I have gone through a lot of emotional ups and downs through law school, especially around the job hunt. During the summer after 1L I felt a lot of anxiety and cynicism and doubt – as did many others. Because of the regimented schedule, 1L didn’t provide me with many opportunities to explore my interests. I felt like an outlier in my interests and goals, and I was beginning to think my career goals weren’t valid.

I did apply for a couple of big firms, but mostly I applied to government and smaller, specialized firms outside of the OCI pool. I had many panicked moments. I sent out a handful of applications, while everyone seemed to have sent out 50+. I worried I had been too stubborn and idealistic in applying so narrowly. I started thinking I was not entitled to my dream job and that maybe I should just put in my dues. In the halls, people were comparing interview tips and information.

I kept hearing that I should work in a full-service firm for 5 years and get broad experience before pigeonholing myself. I hated that. I knew I had no desire to work in a full-service firm, I knew what I wanted to do and I wasn’t willing to re-think my dreams or wait until my mid-30s in the name of practicality. I disengaged from the community for awhile to tune out the anxious chatter that was trying to convince me what I should want and what I should have done differently. I tried to stay focused on my own goals. It may have been a risky path but I had more time for the interviews I really cared about, and in the end, I landed my dream job.

Changes in Law School:

The biggest change I’ve noticed in myself is the way my brain is wired. I take a more systematic and thoughtful approach to the challenges and questions in all avenues of my life. My family and friends have noticed this as well. They often comment that my political opinions are more toned-down and pragmatic, and that I’ve become (infuriatingly) precise with my language. Law school trains us to argue the fine details and sound convincing when we’re not ourselves convinced. My friends often joke that we should never play board games with anyone but other lawyers. We can kill fun in a heartbeat. Because of my more conservative approach now, I sometimes feel like a watered-down version of myself. The truth is this is me with a better brain. I can see myself slowly starting to fit that alienating lawyer stereotype, but I love what my new brain can do. I feel more competent and capable manoeuvring through life and I would never give up my community of stereotypical lawyers. The next challenge is to learn how to turn this new brain off and let things go.

Law school has also wreaked havoc on my personal habits. It’s been hard to maintain energy/time/focus for regular exercise, healthy eating, and sleep. There is a constant buzz of anxiety behind my temples. I probably drink alcohol more nights than not. I deeply, truly, desperately hope this is just temporarily related to being a student.

Pre-Law Expectations:

Academically, I didn’t know what to expect from law school. I knew what law was, but my undergraduate law classes were nothing like law school. Without any close friends or family members who went through law school I didn’t know much about the structure of exams and classes.

Socially and personally, law school was not at all what I expected. I had this completely unrealistic idea that I would get in and out in three years and resume the life I left in Toronto – just with a different job. I didn’t expect to make such deep friendships, to feel so shaken in who I am, or that I would break down and build up to be a more complete and confident human.

Self-Reflection in Law School:

I guess I accomplished the things I listed in my personal statement. I wanted to feel challenged and productive. I now know how to engage in legal theory and possess the skills to put it into action. I wanted to feel useful and make some positive change. After just one year in school, through Queen’s Legal Aid I was able to help many low-income Kingston residents keep their rights in the criminal system, stay in their apartments and off the streets, and receive social assistance from the government. Before coming to law school I wanted to work in environmental and Aboriginal justice. I summered and will article with the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, working on many ongoing and emblematic Aboriginal rights cases.

This was the opening paragraph of my personal statement:

“The legal profession offers an opportunity to form and be part of the fundamental fabric of our society. Idealistic, to be sure, but I am an idealist. I am drawn to the philosophical nature of the law, its application as a tool for productive dialogue and creative problem-solving, and what it says about us as individuals and as a society.”

I agree with what I wrote in this opening paragraph now, but perhaps I would not have in 1L or 2L. I was so go-go-go that I barely had time to reflect on my deeper motivations and growth. But now that I am in a reflective phase in school, I can piece together my three years to see the bigger picture. I’m a much better version of myself – right back where I started. Everything seems to have come full circle.

What I Would Tell My Pre-Law Self:

Always know why you’re in law school, but let yourself change.

Madeline Ritchie (3L) is a contributor to Juris Diction. Harshi Mann (3L) is Opinion Editor for Juris Diction.

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