Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The First Year, Law School Tutorial IV

Welcome to installment IV of Law School Tutorial!

This particular installment concerns the (dreaded) First Year.

Here's what will happen:

a) Once you know you are going to law school, you will become anxious. You may think, "Can I handle it?" "What if I just don't get it?" and "Should I start studying now?." Short Answers: Yes. You will. No.

Any relatively smart person can get into law school and will be able to "get it." Law school isn't taught in a way that is most conducive to "getting it" and you won't feel like you are getting it during your first semester. But, they're just trying to scare you: both so you don't question the legal framework you are studying and so you don't question the relevance of spending 3 years briefing appellate cases when something like 1% of potential legal matters go to court and 1% of those cases reach the appellate level.

And really, don't start studying the summer prior to law school. You won't know what you are doing and it won't help you. Enjoy the remaining bits of freedom you'll have in 3 years.

b) So, you're in class now. You still don't know what a tort is, or why you've just read cases in Ye Olde English for the first day of Torts and you are just hoping you aren't the one who gets called on in the first day of class. You will be scared of something called the Socratic Method. A method of questionable learning value that seems to serve the purpose of showing off how much more your egotistical and Napoleonic Civil Procedure professor knows than you. Well, obviously he (or she, but probably he) knows more than you about Civil Procedure, he's the professor. And this is your very first semester in law school. And, really, if you aren't getting it, isn't it partly his fault for being a lousy teacher? Just sayin'. Oh, and don't think about how you're paying for him to embarrass you.

Not all of your professors will use the Socratic Method. The ones that don't will probably be boring. But Boring still kicks Mean's ass, in my book.

c) You will quickly learn how to outline cases using the IRAC method. When you start outlining, you won't really know if you're doing it right or if you're on the right track. Your legal writing professor will try to help you, but she's not a real professor. Despite the important that writing holds to lawyers, legal writing isn't considered a "real" class and your legal writing "instructor" likely lives in the pink ghetto.

Anyway, you probably won't receive feedback in your real law courses the entire course of your first semester.

It is during the first month of law school that you are beginning to lose sight of why you decided to go to law school. Or, at least you can't see how your career goals are relevant to spending a semester of Constitutional Law on something called the Commerce Clause. You may begin to be sucked into the Top Ten mentality. That is, you must be in the Top Ten Percent of your class so you can get a summer associate position at a Big Law Firm and make Law Review and make Big Money when you graduate. It will cross your mind, even if you went to law school to "save the world."

d) Your social and personal life will suffer while you are in law school. You will go to happy hours and law school events with your tight-knit 1L click and talk nonstop about your classes, your professors, and classmates you like/dislike. That's fine. Just don't invite your non-law school friends/partners/boyfriends/girlfriends to such events. They will be bored and won't care about your law school in-jokes and the fact that you call each other "Mr. _____ and Ms.______" and "counselor" like your professors do.

Your non-law school people also won't understand why you have to study and read so much. And, more importantly, they will get to do fun things and you won't. Or you will dp fun things and you will feel guilty for neglecting your books.

Because you feel like you have little control in your life, you may develop addictions, because at least you can control those, right?

e) When you take your first round of final exams (likely the only exams you will take that semester), you still won't know if you are quite "getting it." You probably are. But disregarding all the work you've put into this first semester, most of your grade will be comprised of the final exam you take at the end of the semester. This set-up recognizes that such high pressure, memorization situations happen in real life all the time- see, when you are a lawyer, your clients never want you to look up the law to make sure what you are writing or saying in court is correct. Why rely on statute books in the library when the human memory is just as infallible?

On your Torts exam, your professor will come up with a fact scenario like this:

Madonna was driving a car. Alf walked by and spit on the car. Being huge fans of Madonna, Lindsay Lohan and Cher each shot a gun in the direction of Alf. Alf was hit in the chest by a bullet and fell to the ground. No ambulance came. Michael Jackson, who was walking his pet monkey Bubbles, tripped over Alf then slipped on a banana peel and broke his leg. Identify all possible torts and liabilities in this scenario.

You will think this is scenario is cute, funny, and not distracting at all. Har har har.

A couple of your exams may be take-home written exams. These, at least, are more realistic as you can use sources and apply them to the factual situation your professor comes up with. You will be confident that no one will cheat and/or collaborate on these exams, for you are all on the honor code.

At the end of the day, when the limited number of A's and B's are handed out, you will be confident that they will go to the deserving parties.

Speaking of parties, you and your classmates will probably binge-drink to celebrate the end of finals. Some people will want to talk about exams and discuss their answers. That always makes for a fun and interesting party!

e) You will go into your second semester of law school not knowing how you did the first semester. You see, law school professors aren't used to having homework of their own. It may take them a couple months to read and grade all of their exams. Students will obsessively check their online accounts every hour to see if they have grades yet. When those first few grades start to trickle in, the news will spread like wildfire. People will start hub-bub-bubbing about who got what grades and "ohmigod, can you believe Ms. Clark got an A?!" and "Mr. Johnson is going to drop out." You will also notice that some of those who spoke in class with such confidence pre-Grades, will shut up. Others will take their place.

In other words, the pecking order will have been officially established.

So, to summarize, the first year of law school is this: anxiety, fear, confusion, obsession, addiction, fantasy, and uncertainty. All traits we want to breed into our next generation of lawyers!

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