By Ameera Steward
The Birmingham Times
At the time, Neena Speer felt that going through law school was the worst hand she could have been dealt.
“I almost flunked out,” she said. “I went from honors student … to barely getting a 3.0 [grade point average]. … It just messed with my psyche. … Then I got out of law school, failed the bar, … [and] couldn’t find a job.
“All these experiences can happen, so I said, ‘Why not write and tell [people] about all these feelings they’re going to feel, all this stuff they’re going to go through? [Why not] tell somebody exactly how they may feel in that scenario and how to use it?’”
Those experiences led Speer to write “Dear Future Lawyer: An Intimate Survival Guide for the Minority Female Law Student,” a book that walks the reader through Speer’s experiences during each year of law school. She attended the University of Alabama School of Law from 2014 until 2017—and almost didn’t make it through her first year.
“I just had to have some way to cope with the fact that I thought, ‘If God was sending me here, why the heck would He have me almost fail out of law school?’” she said.
One of the problems Speer faced was that she had received advice from people who had experienced law school differently than she had, and they were telling her she wasn’t doing enough.
“I was in every office of every teacher every week, asking [questions], doing my outline, skipping football games, going out maybe every once in a while, and I didn’t do enough? It put me in a place or a mindset I didn’t know how to recover from,” she said.
To deal with it all, Speer decided to write a funny way of looking at what she was going through.
“I met so many different characters and went through so many different emotions. Had [someone] told me I was going to feel like this, I would have felt a little better knowing … beforehand that this [was] all the stuff I [would] go through,” she said. “So, I just literally wrote down [everything from] my first year of law school.”
It became therapeutic, and she sent it to a mentor.
“It was just a ‘Dear Future 1L, [first year of law school], Note to Myself.’ That’s how [the process of writing the book] started,” said Speer, 26.
The reception was so strong that she decided to write another chapter for her second (2L) and third (3L) years.
“By the time I finished law school and flunked the bar, I wrote a graduate chapter,” Speer said. “Then I wrote a bar-exam-prep diary at the end.”
Speer’s mindset was that somebody is going to deal with what she dealt with and ask what law school was like for her. So, instead of telling people, she decided to give them something to read and to go by.
“I give you real-life scenarios, real things you’re going to encounter,” she said. “I wanted this book to be a reality check for people like me—people who had never been to law school, people who never had anyone in their immediate family go to law school, … [people who] don’t know what to expect.”
“Dear Future Lawyer: An Intimate Survival Guide for the Minority Female Law Student” is an “expectations book” that prepares law school students “for some of the people they’ll meet; the different mindsets, emotional mindsets they’ll go through, especially in the first year,” said Speer, who added that she doesn’t sugarcoat her experiences and she wants people to have “the real.”
The end of each chapter asks readers to “gut check themselves.”
“Don’t just read this. Talk to me. Have a conversation with me.” Speer said. “The book is written as a conversation about expectations, so it’s meant for you to have a conversation. I want people to write in those pages. … This book gives you the information you need from me and gives me information I need from you to make you better.
“It’s a book in which you can actually express [yourself] and hear from somebody without being interrupted. … It’s like a safe space for you to actually be uninterrupted with whatever happened in your life, your law school experiences, or your … truth without having somebody say, ‘Oh, wait, let me tell you about mine.’ This is a place where you can put down your innermost thoughts, just like I put down my innermost thoughts.”
Speer’s book is written for female minority law students “sitting in a classroom, feeling, ‘I don’t know how to do any of this. Sometimes I feel like the people here think less of me. Sometimes I feel like the people in here don’t understand how much I can add to the conversation. Most times I don’t even feel like I deserve to sit in this seat.’ … It’s for that woman. It’s also for the same girl that got up there and finished anyway.”
Speer graduated from Homewood High School in 2010 and attended Howard University, where she double majored in psychology and French; she focused on the two subjects she was interested in during high school.
“I became fluent in French,” she said, “and psychology was just good to understand people’s minds.”
After graduating from Howard, she attended the UA School of Law.
Start Your Own Business
Before starting her own firm, Speer said she could not find a job. During her search, she recalled something a mentor said to her: “I don’t really see you working for anybody. I see you starting your own business.”
That’s exactly what Speer did. She opened Neena R. Speer Law Firm LLC in April 2018.
“By the time I got to January of this year, I was like, ‘I can do this!’ I felt so good that I could do it. … I just felt more confident,” said Speer, who also is a motivational speaker and a mentor through her mentoring program called Step 1-2-3.
“Dear Future Lawyer: An Intimate Survival Guide for the Minority Female Law Student” is available at Amazon.com (search for the book title) and Speer’s website, https://www.neenathelastbrand.com, where you can also find out more about her.
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