Interview By: Alida Miranda-Wolff
Ryan Nicol is in his first year at the Florida State University College of Law. Before attending law school, Ryan majored in Legal Studies at Nova Southeastern. He took two years off to work at a law office and on a bread route.
UCULR: Hello Ryan, thanks so much for talking with UCULR! Now, you began at Nova Southeastern University as a Legal Studies major. Did you know before getting to college that you wanted to be a lawyer? Do you feel like your major, specifically its curriculum, prepared you for law school?
RN: When I started, I wasn’t sure at all that I wanted to be a lawyer. I tried Bio and Accounting my first year, but once I switched to Legal Studies I was hooked. The curriculum really makes you utilize your critical thinking skills and that was what drew me in. I was always more interested in the “why” of whatever I studied. Bio and Accounting were always more about the “how.”
UCULR: Were you involved in any law-related extracurricular activities in college, or did you pursue other interests? Which activities were the most valuable?
RN: I was president of Phi Alpha Delta, which was the law fraternity, and I participated in a few history- and legal-related panels and presentations. For me, the additional presentations were the most valuable because I was able to delve deeper into subjects I was already interested in, whereas running a club is really all about organization and time management (both of which I happen to be terrible at). It really just depends on your skill set and interests.
UCULR: Serving as president of a fraternity while going to school full-time seems challenging. Did you have time to work while in college? Did your job experience help prepare you for law school or life outside of law school?
RN: I worked my senior year running a bread delivery route with my dad. It obviously helped me financially but it didn’t really teach me anything about law school. Going to school and holding a job are two completely different animals.
UCULR: After graduating from Nova Southeastern, you went out into “the real world”. How many years did you take off? Do you think it was the right decision?
RN: I took two years off and it was a great decision. I worked at a law office and got some experience, and then went back to doing the bread route for a while. In the meantime, I got a place on the beach and just enjoyed my life. For better or worse, law school is the beginning of your “real life,” and you shouldn’t jump in unless you’re ready. I have several friends who went straight to law school because they were pressured by family or because they thought that’s just how they were supposed to do things and many regretted it. Nobody should “just go to law school.” It’s hard work, and until you have a drive to do it, I would definitely recommend holding off and doing something else productive. But again, a lot of people wanted to jump right in and I respect that path too, so long as that’s what they actually want.
UCULR: How difficult was the law school application process? Approximately how long did it take you to complete it? What would you say was the hardest part? Do you have any advice for students who are intimidated by the process?
RN: Again, I hate getting bogged down in minutiae so filling out applications isn’t exactly my favorite thing in the world. But all in all, it’s not that difficult. I’d recommend the same thing everyone always hears, which is that people should start early. Write your personal statement during the summer before your senior year. Start asking for recommendation letters your junior year or right at the beginning of your senior year. Why wait? I had one professor who took 3 months to write me a recommendation; they’re busy people and need time to do all this stuff. But you don’t want your application held up because of that so just get that out of the way. That way you can have everything ready and can fill out the applications right as they become available.
UCULR: What do you think is the most important thing for prospective law students to remember?
RN: Make sure this is what you want to do. If it is, all of the nightmare-ish scenarios you hear about will actually be worth it because you’ll be enjoying the material. If not… let’s just say the rates of alcoholism and depression for law school students aren’t pretty. On that note, happy applying!
UCULR: When you finally decided to attend law school, you chose to stay in Florida. What was the main reason for this decision? Had you visited schools in other states?
RN: For me, it was a financial decision. I visited a lot of schools up north, and even got accepted to Georgetown, which was my number-one school. But I felt like racking up over $100,000 in debt wasn’t worth it for me so I stayed in Florida. I like FSU though, the people are great and the weather is definitely better than D.C.
UCULR: So basically, it came down to cost for you. Do you recommend placing cost above reputation, location, or ranking?
RN: Everyone should take into account what’s important for them and make the decision that way. Remember: you are going to be in law school for 3 years. Taking the “obvious” offer even if a different one appeals to you more may mean you’re going to be miserable for 3 years of your life. Students should think about whether the trade-off is worth it just to go to a better, or cheaper, or closer school if they’d rather go elsewhere.
UCULR: Starting out at a professional school seems daunting. What is it like to be a 1L? What is the most challenging part of it? Do you think your experience would be different at another law school?
RN: The most challenging part is the workload. Law school is nothing like undergrad. You have to do your reading for every class, otherwise you risk falling behind, and that’s a huge mistake. Also, you’re graded by how you perform in class, so not being prepared can really hurt you. It’s a lot to do and it’s intensive. Just skimming the reading won’t do; you have to understand it. But again, if you’re ready to commit, it’s all manageable. Just make sure you’re ready or you will be cursing yourself for not taking that time off while you still had the chance!
UCULR: Which classes have you taken so far? Which class was your favorite?
RN: So far I’ve taken Civil Procedure, Torts, Property, and Legal Writing. Civil Procedure was my favorite because I had a great professor. The professor can really make or break the class in law school and you don’t get to pick your schedule your first year so it’s really just rolling the dice sometimes.
UCULR: Whenever I talk to law students, they call law school a “bubble” where everyone is obsessed with the law and law school and nothing else. Do you ever feel suffocated? Have you been able to maintain relationships outside of law school, or are most of your friends also your classmates?
RN: The vast majority of friends are classmates, and a bubble definitely develops. But I have a few friends outside law school and I’d recommend that to others. It’s not the end of the world to only have friends in law school though. For the most part I’ve met interesting, intelligent people here. But it is all we talk about sometimes, only because all we do from Monday through Friday is study!
UCULR: Is it possible to have a healthy social life and be a law student? What advice would you give to incoming students who are worried about feeling isolated?
RN: Absolutely, but you have to be dedicated to getting your work done on time. If you really sit through and set deadlines for yourself, you will absolutely have time to have a decent social life. If you can do that, feeling isolated shouldn’t be a problem because again, there are a lot of really smart, interesting people in law school.
UCULR: FSU is right in the center of Tallahassee, the main political hub in Florida. Has your proximity to the Capitol Building made networking easier? Will you be interning with the Florida State Legislature this summer or do you have other prospects?
RN: I haven’t picked out what I’ll be doing for the summer yet but being in the capital definitely helps and it was one of my main factors for choosing FSU. I definitely have a lot of options right at my fingertips that others just don’t have.
UCULR: Have you been active in extracurricular activities at FSU (such as Moot Court, Oral Argumentation, or Law Reviews)? How important do you think those activities are?
RN: We really don’t get into that stuff until our 2L year, but I plan on making a run at Law Review and Moot Court/Mock Trial. Everyone says it’s important to do something, and I think that’s true. Whether it’s a competition, a journal, or running a club/organization, there should be something that appeals to everyone.
UCULR: Ryan, thank you so much for talking to us. Good luck finishing your year!
Alida Miranda-Wolff is a second-year double-majoring in Law, Letters, and Society and English pursuing a path in law.