Law School Discussion

Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong (Part 1b)

[This is the second post of three for "Setting the Stage"]

Aloha, All –

I’m going to do something that will likely cause trouble, and perhaps flames or worse. But it seems to me sufficiently important to counter misperceptions.

In other (heated) discussions, we seem to talk past each other.  I do not recommend what I think most responders assume I recommend, and so it occurred to me to lay out these truths from my perspective, as a long-ago (and rather successful) law student and as someone who, by odd coincidence, has over the past decade and a half been part of a network of practitioners and professors who deal with these issues directly, every day (well, as to the latter, when class is in). 

These are the first (and likely last) original posts I will make. These three posts combined are here (and will be duplicated in two other forums, concurrently), for a simple reason: to alert soon-to-be 1Ls that there is a different way, and--agree or disagree--to consider, deeply, their own path.  This is not in “argument” with others, necessarily, but instead to walk through these issues in a way that is unlikely to happen in any other way, for a group desperately in need of a heads-up.

If there’s interest and not too much vitriol, I’ll see if I can post a foreword for a new book, Law School Fast Track: Essential Habits for Law School Success.   [The foreword is morphing into a discussion of just this issue.  Had you asked me years ago, by the way, whether there could possibly be room for any more advice on law school I would have thought you crazy . . . yet I continue to get manuscripts that share remarkably good advice.  This is one of them, a fast read and inexpensive--because I think law students are already forced to spend way too much.  It should be available fairly soon, I think.]

With respect,


PS:  Because of the character limit, I had to break this into not two but three posts.

From Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold):

[Yes, this is one very long paragraph, as is explained a bit later.]

Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong

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[Continued from Part 1a.]

This is a madhouse. It’s hard enough to keep up with the readings, much less deal with others and their peculiarities. Especially not those a--holes! Didn’t you see how so-and-so looked at some other so-and-so? Exams! They’ve always done well. Surely these won’t be that bad. The semester is drawing to a close, and panic hangs in the air. Students are wide-eyed with fear. In just about every class something is said that brings utter dread: what are they talking about?! Some are like the undead…they’ve never come close to failing before. But will they pull this off? The law still isn’t making sense. It seems mysterious, even bizarre. All these phrases they’re supposed to know. What do they mean? Well, cramming worked before, and it doesn’t seem like there’s much choice now anyway. Exams are right around the corner! So, just like in a scene in The Paper Chase, cramming it is! “I’ll show them!” says nearly everyone to themselves, silently. More silently, they’re praying just to make Bs. Maybe one A, just to keep some dignity. Students huddle together and separately (this might seem an oxymoron, but that’s what will happen…like an academic fetal cry for comfort, students will almost hug themselves). Some will seem as if they’ll burst into tears at any moment. Others have distant looks, as if they see something important far, far away. Anywhere but here, they seem to say. Just let this be over. Taut faces and even shorter tempers give their fears away. Panic is contagious. Even those who were doing a good job and who do know the law succumb to a foreboding dread. Like cattle to the slaughter, they file into the exam rooms. Even with polite chatter, they can sense their impending doom, and the certain knowledge that they’re just not ready. If only a meteor hit, destroying the exam rooms and giving them even just 24 hours more! Perhaps ancillary fires will engulf the neighboring buildings, buying a week! Sadly, no meteor hits, and three and a half hours later they leave the exams knowing they could have done better. If only, if only…. Their thoughts trail off, and they pray that they’re not one of the ones in the bottom half, as by now they’ve seen and heard what happens to students in that dreaded statistical pool. Now starts the bargaining. Just give me this, Oh Lord, and I promise I will be good. Even committed atheists begin negotiating with deities great and small for their future lives. Like a bad science fiction movie, they stagger the hallways, putting on a show but knowing all the same that their dreams for a high-paying job are dead--along with how they feel. Many start acting out, and many of those go to the dark side--secretly planning to cheat, lie, or otherwise do whatever it takes to reverse the fate that’s been so unjustly handed them. Or they profess never to have cared at all. But they know better. Before, they’d been the best. Everyone had said so. Now they were a whole heap of nothing. Not just fighting for a good job--fighting for any job. With anyone! Pleeese? It’s so humiliating. The winter holiday is hardly worth enjoying as the stress of the semester never quite leaves--how can it with exam scores still hanging in the balance? Somehow, they eat the turkey and smile weakly through the family accolades. The new semester starts, and one by one grades start to come in. The reactions are painful, and predictable. A few positive surprises, but mostly very, very long faces. With the curve’s uncaring median, nearly everyone is seeing grades far below what they would ever have expected--or have ever gotten. For those hoping for an “A,” it’s a long, long way down. From undergraduate classes where nearly everyone gets an “A” or a “B,” in law school even a “B” seems shockingly rare. It’s as if hundreds of students are hearing the worst news they’ve ever heard--and for many, that’s exactly right. Classes are already a few weeks underway, and in a sort of post-traumatic shock, the whole process starts up again. Cases. Briefs. Notes. Panic. Frenetic worry. More notes. Panic. Cramming. More panic. Another, final set of exams. This time, however, the exams count. Spring fills with even more intense dread, if that’s possible, and for most, very little that’s remotely positive or productive. In less than a year, hundreds of the most intelligent, most decent individuals who’ve excelled in college have been reduced to a quivering mass of despondency--a surprising percentage of whom have suicidal thoughts. (But who won’t confide in a counselor for fear of an impact on bar examiners’ committees for fitness to practice law, which can investigate even intensely personal counseling.) Even the lucky few who actually did well--if you asked them privately--would find it hard to explain just how they did it. I would have, then. So the next year somehow starts with the undead wandering the halls, putting on their brave faces, and watching as an eager new crop of law students bounces off the walls with excited, expectant faces to class.

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[See Part 1c.]

Copyright Thane Messinger, Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold. All rights reserved.