And now: some rambling closing thoughts on the end of the 2L Year.
My second year of law school has been over for a few weeks now, and the Spring semester well and truly kicked my ass. Amidst the usual sturm und drang of preparation for Finals, I found myself having to deal with the added pressure of a job hunt. As I launched volley after volley of Cover Letter/Resume combos into the inboxes of potential employers, I grew more and more frantic every day. Fortunately, I received an offer from a firm here in San Francisco before the semester came to an end so I had plenty of time to sequester myself in a cold dark hole and read and reread all the cases that didn’t make sense the first time I tackled them.
It’s the funny thing about Finals. I’m not sure if it’s the added pressure of knowing that my entire grade comes down to my performance on a single test or the fact that I now have the benefit of seeing how all the disparate parts of the course fit together, but my understanding somehow gets much clearer during the mad dash to the finish. That’s not to say that I feel totally confident about the objective results. I’ve been compulsively checking my grade status twice a day since exams ended, and I get butterflies in the gut every time I log in to my law school’s student portal. But in some way, everything about the course seems much clearer when I try to cram it into a small outline. That’s to be expected, but even the thornier aspects of the law that left me scratching my head before seem to come into sharper focus. Even cases that I didn’t read or only half paid attention to are more likely to give up their secrets without serious deconstruction.
At the end of my 1L year, I had mentally checked out of a certain class. The Professor was perfectly genial, but I found myself ill-suited to their teaching style. Because I wasn’t engaged, I didn’t generally do the reading and when I did I was lost because I was intellectually adrift. When Final Exams came round, I had to basically teach myself the course from scratch. Somehow, that class ended being my highest grade of the year. I even won a Witkin Award for it. Although I was happy with the grade, I felt like that set a bad precedent so I made conscious effort to make my 2L year The Year of Paying Attention. As part of that quest I made a bold move of a self-imposed laptop ban. I knew from experience that the siren’s song of Tetris can turn even the most steadfast of hearts away from even the most fascinating discussion of internal corporate governance controls. Email and other internet delights are too heady a brew, so I went cold turkey. I took an analogue approach to taking notes and went old school Moleskine-style. On the one hand, this was beneficial because it actively engaged me in the notetaking process and I had to edit on the fly and try to determine the salient points of the lecture since I didn’t have time to write down everything the Prof said. I recommend this technique to everyone, and I’m sure most law school professors would agree. My mind still wandered occasionally, and I now have notebooks filled with equal parts Trade Secret doctrine and line-drawings of barbarians swinging battle-axes.
(I’m a doodler).
Outlining is the most important skill to surviving a legal education. I think of it as a mental martial art, and like any fighting style everyone has their own tweaks and variations. I prefer a chronological approach, heavy on the Black Letter Law and light on any in-class hypotheticals. I avoid commercial outlines, but will usually download a few from my actual Professor’s courses from years past. Some of these are more useful than others, although I do get a kick out of reading the notes taken by someone who was in my position. I also find that the very act of creating an outline helps me learn the material, even if I don’t use it that much. Something about taking a semester’s worth of knowledge and discussion and distilling it to a purer and more concentrated form drives the knowledge home for me in ways that mere studying doesn’t.
Looking back on the year feels kind of strange. My 2Lyear was atypical. My Australian adventures were great but they made the rest of the year a little lopsided because of certain timing issues between schools in different hemispheres. In the Spring I found myself working on a Journal with people who all knew each other from the Fall and I was alienated and clueless since I had no idea what to do. Everyone was nice and I stumbled through the editing process and wrote my note, but I still felt-wrong-footed. Missing OCI will probably not go down in history as the wisest decision of my legal career, either. Was Australia worth it? Probably, but I’m not sure I would do the study abroad thing again if I had the chance. Or if I did, I would have gone somewhere that shares the seasons with Hastings.
And the fact that I am now over two-thirds of the way through Law School is kind of scary. It seems like only yesterday I was buying my first insanely over-priced textbook and commercial outline to go with it. I’ve been thinking about the future, and the best way to accomplish my longer term goals while still kicking some ass in the short-term. I’m not entirely sure where to go when the law school ride ends…
Judicial clerkship? Big Law job? Hang a shingle? L.L.M?
The economy is rough and any direction is sure to involve serious competition. I have a whole year to go, but the bar exam is coming up faster than I would like. I hope to learn quite about being a trial lawyer this summer at my clerkship job and with any luck I will either love it enough to dedicate my life to waging war in the courtroom or hate it enough to vow never to litigate in my life. Either way, my academic life is likely coming to an end.
I’ll be blogging all summer about my work experience, and maybe some other things too. Stick around.