You can feel it crackling in the air in every class. It’s almost time for exams, and the student body is visibly stressed. There are still two weeks before the ordeals begin, but that is not as much time as it might seem. The pressure has already driven at least one Hastings student to the edge. As a lowly 1L, this will be the first time I’ve taken a law school exam. My testing up till now had been of a completely different order than what the professors look for on law school exam questions. I’ve been working feverishly to get myself ready, creating outlines and synthesizing the metric ton of information that they’ve thrown at me over the past four months into something that will help me get through. It will be new for me and I’ve chosen to take a Neitsche-ian view regarding the bolstering effects of non-lethal experiences.
The problem is that these will not be objective tests where merely knowing the pertinent information and explaining your answer is enough. No. These professors are thirsty for blood. Mere application of rules will not satiate their sadistic urges, they want to see their students embrace all the issues and argue from a number of different points. Their weapons are fact patterns and they mercilessly deny their students the surety and comfort of objective truth. I can picture them laughing with malicious glee as they design their exam questions for maximum trapping power. They probably high five each other as they lay out forks in the law and red herrings and picture their students flailing and glomming on to the wrong issues.
I find it a little hard to believe that the monthaversary of my law school career is here already. It seems like just yesterday I was first pissing my pants because I got called on the very first day. Thank you, Socratic method.
Everything feels like it’s starting to come together (at least a little). In those heady first couple weeks, I felt a little lost. I was doing the reading, briefing the cases, and not playing solitaire during class. But still I couldn’t quite grasp the concepts. Or more precisely, I couldn’t put my finger on which aspe3cts of the cases were important. Class discussions always surprised me, because other students would lock in on parts of the case that had escaped my notice. While I could follow the flow generally, I had no idea where things would go next.
Now, while I might not be the whiz-kid golden boy in every class, it feels like I have a better grip on the material and the way I’m supposed to be thinking about it. And from what I understand the whole point of law school is to train the mind to think like a lawyer, to be able to hold two contradictory sides of an argument and support both. I suppose that if you were to compare my situation with The Karate Kid (as I like to do with just about everything), I would be at the point where I just finished painting Mr. Miyagi’s fence. After I bitched about not learning anything, he showed me how the “wax on, wax off” motion could be used to totally block an attack. I’m still far away from tackling the Cobra Kai in the All-Valley Tournament, and I haven’t gotten anywhere near the legal equivalent of the Crane Kick but I feel like I turned an important corner.
After walking from one side of San Francisco to the other multiple times, pondering my future with every step, I have decided to take the plunge into the new and exciting world of law school. That’s right. I am now a law student at University of California, Hastings College of the Law. What made me decide to buckle down and fly right, forgoing the pleasures of pure academia for a more professional degree? Well, I still dither and plan to pursue a dual degree in English once I have completed the horrid first year of law school, but I decided that a legal education opened way more doors and there are just too many opportunities in the law. So for better or worse, I am at the lowest rung of the legal ladder.
As a lowly 1L , I’ve been cast into the deep end of the pool and am expected to learn to swim (in the metaphorical waters of legal reasoning). Law school was initially designed as a sort of intellectual boot camp, meant to separate the wheat of future litigators from the chaff of wannabes with six-figure salaries in their eyes who don’t have the gears to hack it.
Maybe it isn’t what it used to be in the old days of the Paper Chase, but the Socratic method is alive and well. I was called on during the first 10 minutes of my first class. I had done the reading, but I wasn’t %100 sure what I was being asked and so had to hem and haw my way through an answer. While I fared slightly better than Miss South Carolina, it was hardly my most shining moment. There were others who gave smoother replies to the law professor’s queries, and in a certain sense they are my new blood-enemies who must be crushed and driven before me so that I may hear the lamentation of their women. That’s another new aspect of life in law school: the pervasive spirit of competition. Hastings is not as cutthroat as some other law schools out there, but there is a very real sense in every class that I am competing against the other students in the room. It’s all part of the legal education.
The reading is intense, in degree if not in quantity. I am forced to wade through old cases written in a prose style designed more to display the author’s acumen with arcane legalistic jargon than for ease of reading. There are also some tortuous winding applications of logic that require concentration to follow. It’s not the kind of reading you can do while watching the Colbert Report. The reading is heavy, both in the subject matter and the physical weight of the books. But I’m getting a handle on it.
(photo by: Jessie Nix)
Missteps and heavy reading aside, I’m adapting fairly well to the new situation. The classrooms of higher learning are like a second home to me and I will always adapt to them. One week down, too many more to go…