Thursday, September 17, 2015
5 First Impressions About Law School #1Lhell
I’ve endured a little over a month’s worth of 1L hell and have had the opportunity to form my first impressions of law school. And, let's be honest, what’s the point of having a blog if I’m not going to word-vomit my personal reflections into the world from time to time (or all the time…as it were *cough* *cough*). So on with the vomiting, er, I mean opining. Here are my 5 first impressions about law school:
1. Back to school - If you're like me and you are going back to school to study law after working for a few years the stupidity of school might be challenging. And when I say the stupidity of school let me be clear - universities and colleges can do stupid stuff. The people you encounter (likely students employed by various departments of the school) lack any professionalism and customer service skill (I'm talking about you, Bookstore Lady. You know who you are.) You pay money for the privilege of being treated like crap....it's school. That won’t change because it's 'grad' school or 'professional' or 'law' school. Try to take the stupidity with a grain of salt and roll with the punches.
2. The work – Law school is a boatload of brain-busting work. It's hard. I read cases in undergrad and it wasn't as hard as this. I've read SCOTUS opinions, in full, online, that weren’t as hard as this. The cases are dense, the legal scholarship is dense, and sometimes the stuff you learn flies in the face of what you spent a life time learning (two spaces after a period? WTF do you think this is, 1945? Come on now.) It's supposed to be hard. Expect it to be hard and you’ll be in the right mindset.
3. Classrooms Aren’t As Scary As You’ve Heard - you've probably heard law school teachers are different. You’ve probably heard people say the professors use the Socratic Method to teach, whatever that means, and they like to crush students into puddles of tears. Well, those people aren't wrong....but they aren't right either (who ever 'they' are. Stupid rumor mongers). Teachers, from what I can tell, don’t want to see you cry or freak out. The Socratic Method, for the most part, means the teachers ask questions of the class instead of lecturing. Here's an example:
Prof: "If you enter into an agreement with your friend to rob a bank is that a binding contract?"
Another student raises their hand: "Because there was no consideration or exchange."
Prof: "Okay, let's say you and your friend enter into an agreement where if you help him rob a bank he will pay you 50% of the take. Is that a binding contract?"
Student: "Yes. Because there is a promise of a consideration or an exchange."
Prof: "Is it?"
Different student: "Yes, it's a future promise so it's a binding executory contract."
Prof: "Are you sure?"
Different student: "No. It's not a binding contract."
Prof: "Good. Why?"
Student: "Because it's an agreement to do something illegal. The illegal nature of the activity voids the contract."
Or something like that.
Not so scary, is it?
The key to surviving this method is doing the homework. Shocker, I know~! You must do the homework. And if you mess up your reading (because you got the assignments confused, or a flying monkey ate your Torts book or otherwise converted your chattels, tell your professor before class. I’ve witnessed someone flounder through a cold call who didn’t do the reading and it was painful. After the Prof drilled them for questions (and helped them out a time or two) she asked if they did the reading. The student said he didn’t do the reading for this week because he read next week’s cases by mistake. The professor replied, “Next time tell me so I don’t call on you.”
She could have said this:
The lesson is that painful, embarrassing crap could have been avoided had the kid just let the professor know they had made a mistake (or done the reading).
4. Get comfortable being average – You are a high achiever, right? That’s why you got into law school in the first place. Maybe you were top of your class in undergrad. Maybe you have a Phd in some mind-blowingly complex STEM subject. Maybe you kick the LSAT’s butt until it begged for mercy. You are smart so give yourself a pat on the back. Now look around you. Everyone in your law school is smart too. Yep, that’s right. Out in the wilds of the world you may have been a special snowflake of brilliance but in here, in law school, you are average. You will not get straight A’s. You won’t. You can’t get straight A', actually, because the forced curve in the 1L courses basically prevents it (or makes it nearly impossible to get an A). Get comfortable being average (easier said than done for us high-achieving folks, amirite?). Chances are good you will not be top of your class. Chances are good you will not be top 10% of your class. That doesn’t mean you don’t try – try hard, do the work, etc. All I mean is you need to get snuggly with the idea that you may not be top of your class and that’s okay. I’m only a month in and have already witnessed a handful of freak-outs over this very issue. Being average is relative and being average in law school isn’t (or shouldn’t be) an insult.
5.1. The people - oh my lawd, the people of law school! I had to break this observation into two points because it seems that everyone in law school falls into one of two categories: A*holes and non-A*holes. Let’s talk about the former first. There is a dark, sinister minority of students in law school who can make life painful. Of course I’m talking about the A*hole student. In law school they are called gunners. The stereotypical gunner is someone who works to sabotage their classmates but that is actually not the most common gunner. Mostly, gunners in the part-time evening classes are just douchey. They argue for the sake of arguing. They get stuck on syntax instead of the theory. They essentially believe they know more about the law than the professor. When they get called out for their behavior they backtrack and swear that they weren't being a douche. They love to hear themselves talk so they constantly volunteer during class but not in meaningful ways (.....I think I dated a gunner once....*swallows back the vomit*).Even having two of these gunners in a class can make for painful discussions. So call them gunners or call them douchebags....they exist and you need to be ready.
5.2. The people, cont. – The good news is there will be no shortage of nice, non-A*hole people at law school. And, here again, I think I benefit from going to school as a part-time night student because my classes are mostly filled with working adults. My classmates, for the most part, are mature enough to not get swept up in the gossiping BS. These cool, non-A*hole students are helpful and encouraging and funny. They are the light in the darkness so-to-speak. These non-A*hole students will become your friends and together you will survive this. Gotta love the non-A*holes of the world. And aside from the occasional douche your classes will be filled with non-A*hole people who are smart. Some will be smarter than you (see getting comfortable with being average above). Some will get the material faster than you. Who cares? You'll get through it. Do the work. Talk to folks, make friends, and ask for help often (before it's too late). Its school and you've done it before. You'll survive this too. At least that's my plan.