Monday, February 05, 2007

The 1L Diaries: Kurt

This entry in The 1L Diaries is the only entry written by me. All others are written by fellow summer starter classmates.

The first year of law school is a thing of myth. It's the subject of books, movies, and a hundred or so slice-of-life blogs that fluctuate endlessly between bravado and panic.

Of course, there's a reality behind the myth that often seems intentionally obscured. That's not surprising. Law school is, in many ways, about secrecy. We don't talk about grades (but we do). We don't talk about jobs (but we do). We don't talk about money (but we do). Everything is behind half-closed doors, present but not quite acknowledged.

Law students often go on and on about the number of pages we read and the number of hours we study, acting like we've martyred ourselves to the Socratic Method and the once-a-semester exam process. We've even invented our own 1L-2L-3L code to emphasize how different law school is from any other kind of education.

But the biggest secret of law school is that it's not as different as we'd like to pretend it is. You do the reading, you go to class, you take notes, you do some studying, maybe you join a study group or make an outline. It's just school.

I've become convinced that the intimidating image of law school as a time-sucking, back-stabbing place is a way to haze the newcomers. We were all scared of law school, at least a little, and because of that few students want to tell other people that many law school stories, and the fear that accompanies them, are overblown to make us look cool.

So here's the straightest I can be about my experience as a 1L student at the University of Michigan.

Law school is surprisingly fun. You learn some interesting, smart things and get to interact with interesting, smart people. You develop a strange, law student sense of humor, but when you get into an argument about whether a bump in a restaurant's rug could be grounds for a tort, you're being secretly productive (and less secretly obnoxious). Plus, you meet people. Law students develop relationships like soldiers in a foxhole.

Law school is also awful. The "oh my God we read so much" whining is not always exaggeration, and there are days when reading piles on class piles on research piles on memos and it's impossible not to think that life as an impoverished bartender has got to be better than putting up with this shit. On those days (and during pretty much the entire exam stretch), you will probably hate law school.

Preparing yourself for those moments, and understanding that they will pass, is probably the most important thing to remember in order to stay sane.

I hit a point in my first semester, probably a month in, where I felt like I couldn't do it anymore. I had stared at some inconsequential case in Contracts for half an hour and never started reading it, and I began to panic. Did I screw up by coming to law school? Is this what I want to do with my life? For crying out loud, I have a telecommunications and film degree, and now I'm reading contracts cases from the 19th century? I don't want to read contracts cases from the 19th century for the next 50 years! But the debt has me trapped!! I'm all out of beer!!! Oh my god I'm going to die!!!!

It sounds terrible, but that's the beauty of it. All the bad stuff was in my head. My little anxiety attack passed (with the help of an understanding wife, who deserves a thousand words of praise on her own, and sage advice from a 3L to just relax). I remembered that this is what I want to do, that I won't be reading contracts cases from the 19th century for the rest of my life, and that I did have one bottle of beer lurking in the back of the fridge like some kind of frothy savior.

Of course, there's no use lying about it: sometimes law school is just useless. Learning about property rights pertaining to fox hunting in Pierson v. Post, for instance, or getting a 2 day summary of the history of the English monarchy in Property class, or, well, I guess pretty much all of Property class.

So to recap: (1) sometimes fun, (2) sometimes awful, (3) Property is useless. See, in law school you learn to itemize everything with nicely parenthesized numbers.

For all my desire to be honest, it's difficult to communicate exactly what it's like to be a law student. I spend more time studying now than I ever have. In fact, I can honestly say that law school is, in many ways, the most difficult thing I've ever done. But it's not more than I can handle, and not so much that I can't enjoy myself while working through it. I watch movies, I watch TV, I blog, I spend time with my wife. Law school doesn't prevent me from living my life as I want to live it, and it's opening opportunities I never expected to have.

Starting law school is like starting anything new. It's different, and scary, and overwhelming, and hard. At first. Then you hit your groove, and before you know it the whole thing is old news.

The hardest part of law school is just getting used to it.

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