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Author Topic: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong (Part 1a)  (Read 2842 times)

Thane Messinger

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[This is the first post of three for "Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong.”  Unfortunately the book excerpt could not fit in one post.]

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,

Thane.

PS:  Because of the character limit, I had to break this into three posts.  Whew.


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

Here’s the scene: a group of eager new law students file into the front doors of a law school sometime late in August. Filled with nervous energy, they’re nearly bouncing off the walls with excitement. The halls bustle with this energy. Anything seems possible. Yet much of this energy is channeled negatively. To cover intense feelings of inadequacy and nervousness, nearly all seem to blurt their life résumé when meeting each other: “Hi!…I’m Chip!…Yale undergrad and Exeter!… Heard of it?” “Hey!…I’m Suzy…just got back from my second summer in [pick some Third World spot]…guess it helped me get in here…did I mention I went to Princeton?” It’s amazing more students don’t pass out; they’re so busy racing through their life accomplishments they don’t seem to have time to breathe. And so it goes. For anyone within earshot (which is nearly everyone, as voices rise to eardrum-piercing levels), each self-flattering declaration causes, simultaneously, even more self-conscious nervousness, pangs of inadequacy, and, more than occasionally, dry heaves. Like electrons, students bounce nervously from one to another, eager to electrify others with their impressive credentials. Like spastic, autistic caricatures of themselves, many morph into almost-unrecognizable, egocentric boors. “Me, me, me!” Someone then mentions that the assignments for the first day’s classes are posted, and more than a few students gasp. Huh? You mean we really were supposed to have prepared? Quickly they make their way to the poster (or web page), jot down (or download) the assignments. They grab their casebooks, and start reading. Ohmygod. This isn’t like any reading they’ve ever seen. They attend a presentation on how to brief a case, and of course are eager to get started. They already have a dozen to do! Okay, they buy the extra highlighters and start to brief cases. Dutifully. Painstakingly. Man it seems to take forever. Each case seems to take hours--and it’s sometimes hard to focus halfway through on what was just read. Their minds start to wander ninety seconds into the first “hereinafter.” A holding? Huh? Procedural history? Gah! In the first week it seems that they’re spending every second of free time reading and briefing cases--and they’re supposed to go to class too! In class they take notes. Lots and lots of notes. Surely this will help to make sense of the Greek (well, Latin) they’re reading in the cases and hearing from the profs and other students. Oddly, the notes don’t seem to help. At the end of the week, they look at their piles of notes and it’s hard to tell what they’re even about, much less to help understand the cases. If they forget to put the class name on the note, they can’t even tell what the subject is! If they get out of order, they’ve no idea which way they go. So they put them in a stack that grows ever more disheveled, and on and on it goes, week in and week out, as they bumble through their first week, second week, and then first month. Someone mentions another task--outlines!--and now they’re starting to panic. How can they possibly do more?! The cases are taking all of their time, and they’re struggling just to keep up. Class is getting to be a joke. It’s fine to pretend to know what’s going on, but they’re worried about getting called on and goodness that is a sure killer, right? Then they’re called on. Ohmygod. I’m dead, they’re thinking. If only I understood that case! The facts! The holding! What are they getting at?! The prof must think I’m a real moron, you fear silently. Everyone feels this way--even the cocksure gunners (who hide their fears by having their hands nearly constantly raised). Surely they know how lost we are and will help. Now it’s a real panic. It’s the middle of the semester, they’ve been attending classes like clockwork, the professors are certainly nice, but it’s just not making sense. Gosh it’s hard. Hmm, outlines have been forgotten…there’s no time! …but with exams just around the corner, they know they have to start doing something. They’ve also read they’re supposed to practice with exams, and gee-it-would-be-good to have a study group. No way!

*   *   *

[See Part 1b.]


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

cooleylawstudent

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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong (Part 1a)
« Reply #1 on: June 24, 2010, 09:41:12 PM »
show up for a few months to a book club to talk about what you read, take one lousy set of tests(mostly essays), repeat for 6 terms, take one more big test, get a job, do it for 40 years, die, reincarnate, repeat as necessary.

Morten Lund

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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong (Part 1a)
« Reply #2 on: June 24, 2010, 10:09:35 PM »
show up for a few months to a book club to talk about what you read, take one lousy set of tests(mostly essays), repeat for 6 terms, take one more big test, get a job, do it for 40 years, die, reincarnate, repeat as necessary.

Unclear to what extent you are being facetious, of course, but no doubt many feel this way.

Which is sad.

The practice of law, like any other profession, can be dull or exciting from time to time, but it certainly provides the opportunity to make it something more than "rinse and repeat" - at least to those willing to make the most of it.

Few professions, IMO, offer the open field of possibilities that the law does.  What does a dentist do?  Pretty much the same that the other dentists do, and pretty much the same as what that dentist did yesterday and will do tomorrow.  What does a lawyer do?  That question cannot be answered in a single sentence, or even in a single book.  The answer varies so drastically among lawyers, and even for individual lawyers over the course of their career, as to render the question nearly meaningless.

The practice of law may be many things - it specifically IS many things - which is why the single thing it is not is uniform. 

the white rabbit

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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong (Part 1a)
« Reply #3 on: June 24, 2010, 10:45:39 PM »
show up for a few months to a book club to talk about what you read, take one lousy set of tests(mostly essays), repeat for 6 terms, take one more big test, get a job, do it for 40 years, die, reincarnate, repeat as necessary.

Unclear to what extent you are being facetious, of course, but no doubt many feel this way.

I generally don't take him too seriously.  I think that's a healthy attitude.
Mood: Tired but cheerful.  :)

cooleylawstudent

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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong (Part 1a)
« Reply #4 on: June 24, 2010, 11:12:08 PM »
point out one part of what I wrote that isnt true.

show up for a few months to a book club to talk about what you read, take one lousy set of tests(mostly essays), repeat for 6 terms, take one more big test, get a job, do it for 40 years, die, reincarnate, repeat as necessary.

Unclear to what extent you are being facetious, of course, but no doubt many feel this way.

I generally don't take him too seriously.  I think that's a healthy attitude.

Thane Messinger

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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong (Part 1a)
« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2010, 04:54:42 AM »
show up for a few months to a book club to talk about what you read, take one lousy set of tests(mostly essays), repeat for 6 terms, take one more big test, get a job, do it for 40 years, die, reincarnate, repeat as necessary.

Unclear to what extent you are being facetious, of course, but no doubt many feel this way.

Which is sad.

Well put, Morten. 

Thelo, I write this with no disrespect:  Scan even a few pages of either of Morten's books and you will understand why none of the qualities you mention are even remotely true (despite being a common assumption).  This is in many ways the anti-answer.  A "book club" is many things, but law school it is not . . . and in law school it is hardly sufficient to "talk about what you read."  Law exams, while frustrating and stressful and falsely narrow, are highly accurate.  As to "one more big test, [getting] a job, [doing] it for 40 years," and then to "die, reincarnate, repeat" etc., that doesn't sound like much of a life to me.

Thane.


cooleylawstudent

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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong (Part 1a)
« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2010, 12:20:08 PM »
I repeat mention one thing that I said which isnt true, you didn't

You said that book clubs aren't lawschool(no *&^%) that dosn't make lawschool not a bookclub. Wrap your mind around this, not all birds are crows but all crows are birds.  :-X

"dosnt sound like much of a life to me"...... neither does dumping garbage into the back of a a dump truck in midJuly in MO, but people do it all the same.  :P

"not remotely true(despite being common)" WTF?! How can be common and not "remotely" true?  "Its impossible, but we all do it"..... :-X

show up for a few months to a book club to talk about what you read, take one lousy set of tests(mostly essays), repeat for 6 terms, take one more big test, get a job, do it for 40 years, die, reincarnate, repeat as necessary.

Unclear to what extent you are being facetious, of course, but no doubt many feel this way.

Which is sad.

Well put, Morten. 

Thelo, I write this with no disrespect:  Scan even a few pages of either of Morten's books and you will understand why none of the qualities you mention are even remotely true (despite being common).  This is in many ways the anti-answer.  A "book club" is many things, but law school it is not . . . and in law school it is hardly sufficient to "talk about what you read."  Law exams, while frustrating and stressful and falsely narrow, are highly accurate.  As to "one more big test, [getting] a job, [doing] it for 40 years," and then to "die, reincarnate, repeat" etc., that doesn't sound like much of a life to me.

Thane.

Thane Messinger

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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong (Part 1a)
« Reply #7 on: June 25, 2010, 03:29:47 PM »
"not remotely true(despite being common)" WTF?! How can be common and not "remotely" true?  "Its impossible, but we all do it"..... :-X

Thelo -

Excellent catch.  I have corrected it to "despite being a common assumption." 

Better?

Thane.

cooleylawstudent

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Re: Setting the Stage: Or, How to Do Law School Wrong (Part 1a)
« Reply #8 on: June 25, 2010, 03:41:17 PM »
ok. now its just wrong for factual reasons and not typo's.
Which part of what I wrote wasn't right?
You tell me to "scan a few pages of his book" WTF is that supposed to prove even if I did? That someone has an opinion on it and put it on paper?
Consider this my written opinion on it. If I see an elephant at the zoo should I wait with anticipation to read an article in the paper to see if it was really an elephant and not a squirell in clever disguise?  ???

"not remotely true(despite being common)" WTF?! How can be common and not "remotely" true?  "Its impossible, but we all do it"..... :-X

Thelo -

Excellent catch.  I have corrected it to "despite being a common assumption." 

Better?

Thane.

Thane Messinger

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Pearls before Elephants
« Reply #9 on: June 25, 2010, 06:47:50 PM »
ok. now its just wrong for factual reasons and not typo's.
Which part of what I wrote wasn't right?
You tell me to "scan a few pages of his book" WTF is that supposed to prove even if I did? That someone has an opinion on it and put it on paper?
Consider this my written opinion on it. If I see an elephant at the zoo should I wait with anticipation to read an article in the paper to see if it was really an elephant and not a squirell in clever disguise?  ???


Dear Elephant -

Quite right.  One might, however, consider the source of the opinion.  As we're now two generations into postmodern subjectivity, this might be a bit much, but even so one might . . . . squirrel! . . . want to at least consider the thoughts of a biglaw partner.* 

Just saying.

Thane.

*  As Morten is probably too polite to bring this up, I thought I might.