From Surviving to Thriving

Surviving Personal Hardships and Tragedies in Law School

Olivia Almirudis Schneider, 3L, and her daughter.

When I came to law school, I expected to have typical stressors: unexpected cold calls, late nights of studying and long final exams. However, I did not expect the significant personal hardships that befell me each year: 1L year, losing my Tata (my grandfather) and my Tio unexpectedly during midterms and finals season; 2L year, enduring severe physical pain due to an invisible illness; and 3L year, delivering my daughter six weeks early and surviving a life-threatening childbirth.

During each of these difficult seasons, quitting would have been an easy decision, but quitting was never an option for me. Becoming a lawyer was my life-long dream, and I was not going to let tragedy, pain or setbacks stop me. Through each of these situations, I shifted my mindset to see KU Law as a training ground that was strengthening my resilience, compassion, and determination and equipping me to step into the legal career I dreamed of having. From each year of law school, I’m taking these three life lessons with me into my legal career: (1) do the next right thing, 2) invest in your health and 3) lean on your community.

Do the Next Right Thing

Schneider and her sister, Maria, who is attending KU Law this coming fall.

As an anxious 1L, I was obsessed with figuring out the perfect way to navigate law school: from having the best highlighting system to outlining the most efficiently, to finding the best study carrel on the 4th floor of Green Hall. When unexpected family tragedies struck, my perfect study timeline and system were thrown out the window. Rather than being crippled by a seemingly endless list of to-dos, my husband encouraged me to make my new plan and just do the next right thing. This mindset shift helped me realize how important it is to be flexible and willing to change plans. There’s so much unpredictability in life and the legal profession, and it’s invaluable to learn how to reassess, adjust and move forward by simply doing the next right thing.

Invest in Your Health

Schneider and Lauren Page, L’23

As a 2L, I was taking the most difficult classes I’d taken yet, was working as a Staff Editor on the Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy, and was President of Women in Law. The stress of law school was compounding but paled in comparison to the excruciating physical pain I was dealing with from my invisible illness. With five law school finals, the first thing I neglected was my health, and I kept telling myself that I would find time to take care of myself later. My condition worsened, and I was faced with a difficult decision: to use my spring break by going to a life-changing specialty medical clinic or studying and preparing for finals. One of my professors gave me some powerful advice: to take time for myself especially when I don’t feel like I can because that’s when I need it most. Because I took his advice, I found so much physical healing. Through that experience, I learned that the cycle of pushing myself to burnout led to crashing and less—not more—productivity. Instead, I incorporated a new system of mitigating burnout and started slowing down to rest and recharge. Through this new cadence, I’ve found myself so much healthier and even more productive and it will be a system that I’ll be working on implementing my whole career.

Lean on Your Community

In the homestretch of law school, I looked forward to one relaxing final semester and expected my first child to make her debut over spring break. Due to a life-threatening condition, my daughter came six weeks early and spent several weeks in the NICU. As I was laboring in the hospital, in a dangerous medical situation and hooked up to countless monitors and IVs, I pulled out my laptop to work on school. My instinctual reaction was: “I’ve got this. I don’t need help.” But as my condition worsened, it became clear that I would need help to get across the finish line. Although I was afraid of being seen as less than for asking for help, I was met with overwhelming compassion, kindness and understanding. The only person, who expected me to figure out how to do things on my own, was me. When I couldn’t help myself, I found so much power and strength in having my community support me.

When I look back on the past three years of law school, I’m thankful for the professors, mentors and classmates, who helped me grow in resilience, compassion and determination. For future and current law students, I hope my journey encourages you to never give up on the pursuit of your dream, no matter what challenges get thrown your way. Through the terrors of 1L cold calls, the exceptionally late nights of 2L and the exhaustion of 3L, I hope that you never stop doing the next right thing, that you take care of your mental and physical health and that you learn to lean on your community. RCJH!!

– Olivia Almirudis Schneider is a 3L KU Law Student Ambassador from San Antonio, Texas