UB faculty member offers new voice in preparing law students


Published November 9, 2022

Tanya Monestier.

School of Law newcomer and rising force Tanya Monestier has two personas. In class, she goes straight down the middle. She’s not there, she says, to make classes fun, lively or provocative.

“There is nothing I say in class that steps outside the lines,” says Monestier, who teaches Contracts, Sales and Conflict of Laws.

Now meet Monestier’s literary side. She’s the author of “Sh*t No One Tells You About Law School,” published by Carolina Academic Press. The book — geared toward incoming law students, particularly first-generation and female students — aims to help them navigate the law school experience.

As expected, “Sh*t” reflects a different voice. In language that law students will likely recognize and with wisdom from her own experience on both sides of the lectern, Monestier lays out a litany of no-nonsense guidance on how to thrive in law school. Sample chapters: “Your Professor Is Not Your Mom,” “Almost Everyone Has Imposter Syndrome” and “Don’t Be a Tool.”

“I have these two personas deliberately,” says Monestier. “The classroom space is about learning the law. I’m not trying to be the cool professor or to be a source of entertainment.”

Cover of Tonya Monwstier's book, "Sh*t No One Tells You About Law School.".

Then there is the book.

“The book is basically a ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ guide to law school,” Monestier says. “It’s no-holds barred. I’m going to tell you what law school is about, challenges you will encounter, and how I think you should navigate those challenges. 

“If you want to follow my advice, follow my advice. If you don’t want to, don’t. But here it is — all the stuff I wish someone had told me about law school.”

Monestier’s teaching has drawn multiple awards and praise. Her latest scholarly publication appears in the prestigious Cornell Law Journal. And she brings real-world experience that includes a key (but unofficial) seat on the legal team that defended Chelsea Manning, convicted by the federal government of disclosing hundreds of thousands of classified military and diplomatic files and reports to WikiLeaks.

Now she brings those myriad talents and personas to UB.

You had what you describe as an unusual childhood for a future lawyer. Can you talk about that?

My parents were born and raised in small villages in northern Italy. They were poor by any standard: no running water, electricity, heat or indoor bathroom. They left school at the age of 11 or 12 and went to work. They came to Toronto in their early 20s, right after their wedding.

Is there a connection between your background and the approach you take in your book?

I think my background buys me a little street cred with my students. Many law school professors come from privileged backgrounds. I didn’t. And I succeeded despite that. My message is that students from whatever walk of life can do the same — if they are thoughtful and strategic. 

Also, I think that messages of resiliency and self-sufficiency are at the heart of my book. I grew up in a time where the words “good job” were never uttered. You did well in school because it was expected. You took responsibility for yourself and learning at a very young age. 

It’s not all “tough love.” I explore challenges many face: imposter syndrome, mental health, debt, self-criticism, ideological non-conformity and sexism.

Why the unusual title?

My working title contained the word “irreverent.” Ultimately, I decided I didn’t like it.

One day the title just came to me. I wrote it down, but thought, I can’t use this. Just for fun, I ran it by my students. “What if I called the book “Sh*t No One Tells You About Law School”? And all of them were, “That’s so great! We love it!”

So I published the book I wanted to publish. I wanted the book to be fun, edgy, cheeky and sarcastic. The market already has a million “how-to” guides for law students. I decided early on that if I’m going to write this book, I’m going to do it on my own terms.

What else makes this book different?

The “vibe” of the book is different than everything else out there. 

First, I have a unique take on core bread-and-butter advice about law school. I deemphasize case briefing and preparing for individual classes and highlight comprehensive notetaking and same-day outlining. 

Second, I talk about things no other author talks about. I advise students to use garamond font, to not wear a black suit to an interview (if they are male) and to leave their phone in a different room when they work. For the big picture, I confront serious topics: realizing you made a mistake going to law school, being realistic about career prospects and how to tune out law school “noise” you invariably encounter. 

Third, the book is personal. I tell stories about my family and my life. Students say my dad is their favorite “character” (to which I respond, “You know he’s not a ‘character,’ right?”). 

Fourth, the book is written by a doctrinal female law professor with female law students in mind. One whole chapter explores the subtle and not-so-subtle ways sexism presents itself and the challenges females face in the profession. That chapter was very personal to me and one that has the most impact. 

Is there anything of value to non-law students?

Absolutely, yes! I never intended to write a book providing good life advice, but I may have inadvertently done that. 

One of my first proofreaders was a former student, Melissa. Melissa read the book in a day and couldn’t put it down (she could just have been being nice). She described the book as not just a law school book, but a book full of life lessons That was the first time I thought the book could appeal outside its intended audience.