Originally published -
I’m not going to lie, my first few weeks in law school have been more intensive than I ever could have imagined. I know that everyone you talk to and every book you read about it will tell you the same, but there is just no way to comprehend the amount of new material that hits like a tidal wave on even the most confident shores.
I came in thinking ‘hey, I’ve worked full-time before this, some of these people are coming straight out of undergrad, there’s no way that the work load will be as tough as everyone says it is’. Then I started reading cases, learning how to write memos, and began to understand the fundamentally elusive nature of the law. One of my professors said on the first day of class, ‘learn to embrace the ambiguity’, and there has been no more telling sentiment of what this thing we call common law really is. At the same time as it is difficult to learn the ropes, it has also been incredibly fun and rewarding. Not only has the learning proved to be as stimulating as it is challenging, I could not be surrounded by a cooler group of people here at UNH School of Law.
No matter who you are, what your background, or where you have been, the orientation at law school is the start of lift off from the comforting world and past life you can still feel vividly. I remembered all of the friends that I left behind in Colorado, all of the great memories made around campfires, bar tables, and even in the office at work. Orientation was a new world of people I had never met before, from all over the country and beyond. While everyone was nice and cordial, there was no way to hide the discomfort of being surrounded by strangers. We all made small talk between the lectures about lawyers’ responsibilities and expectations and were herded like startled cats between new class rooms that will serve as our primary stomping grounds over the next three years.
On the first night of orientation we were treated to free drinks and snacks by the school at a local pub, and began to turn small talk in to conversations, learning about each other’s past and what brought each of us to the smallish town of Concord, New Hampshire to pursue a career in law. It was comforting to know that everyone was so nice, and I am so happy to be able to call them my colleagues, but that feeling of separation from Colorado continued to grow.
After two days of socializing through orientation, we got a long weekend before classes started. I went out a few times with friends I met and had a fun time exploring my new domicile. My girlfriend and I had met some people enough to be able to go out for drinks with them, and we all talked in anticipation and dread about the start of classes. I realized in that long weekend one great thing about law school is the pleasantness of the people surrounding me. For all those out there, who “hate lawyers” and tell jokes about the cutthroat nature of them, I don’t think there could be a more miscast stereotype.
There is no easy runway into the start of classes at law school. In fact, I had to read about 50-60 pages of dense casebook for my first day of classes. It all seemed like a foreign language to me, and obviously as I am still only a couple weeks in, still does. But that first week, man, I just didn’t understand why we were reading these cases. I remember the first one I read, about a child putting a firecracker into the shoe of another, causing a serious foot injury. Why on earth was this relevant to learning the law? Especially knowing that I had come to school to study patent law, I could not comprehend at that point how these random stories of misfortune could be fit together to form a framework of any use. But I have quickly come to realize that these problems, and the way they are solved by the courts of this country, are at the heart of what makes America such a great place to live.
The ‘cold-calling’ prescribed by the Socratic method, the bane of Scott Turow in his famous book One L, James Hart in Paper Chase, and Elle Woods in my personal favorite, Legally Blonde, is no joke. On that first Monday in Torts class, my girlfriend got called on involuntarily to answer the very first question of the class.
“What is an Intentional Tort?”
Now most of you are looking up the definition of this question and finding one-sentence answers, but at the heart of it, and in a classroom setting, this is not an easy question to answer on your first day. Despite the fact that everyone reassured her of how well she had answered the question, she had been indoctrinated. When a professor bores into you about the details of a legal problem, there is just no way to not feel like a small child trying to reach for a cookie jar high up on the cupboard. No amount of Quantum Physics or Thermodynamics can prepare you for the complexities that take place in a Federal Court. It’s not to say that these aren’t themselves complex topics, but it is not the same type of thinking.
That Wednesday we had our first quiz, worth a total of 5% of our final grade between the individual and team portion. We had only covered about 20 pages of material, but I was still up all-night grappling with these new exotic concepts. How on Earth was I going to make it through an entire semester when I was up until 2 AM on the second night of classes trying to understand the difference between battery and assault, while at the same time trying to get myself in position to pass comment if I was called upon to discuss the diversity jurisdiction case we would be going over in the following class?
As of now, about two and a half weeks in, I am starting to feel like I am treading water, but “the jury is still out” on whether I will be able to get a peaceful night’s sleep this semester. Nonetheless, I can’t say that I don’t love this experience more than any other in my past. What really makes the time and toil so worth it is being able to share the experience with so many awesome, dedicated people going through the same struggle.
This past weekend, I went hiking in Vermont, and then went apple picking the next day with a horde of other “1Ls” on a beautiful fall day in New England. While we all had the guilt in our stomach about the time spent away from our casebooks, that was part of what made the experience so wonderful. Picking apples, enjoying the serenity, and every now and then complaining together about the hellish week of reading, writing, and quizzes awaiting us, I realized just how special an opportunity this has been. See, this is not just about punching a meal-ticket and getting a pay stub, learning to become a lawyer and interact with colleagues that I will be working with for the rest of my career, whether directly or indirectly, is a day-to-day process of self-assessment and internal reflection that will undoubtedly make me a better version of myself, and I am so excited to see what that future holds.