Law in Contemporary Society
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The Utter Confusion of 1L Year

-- By LeoFarbman - 29 Apr 2015

A Year in Reverse

I walk into Jerome Greene Hall on a crisp August morning, excited to get started; yet not exactly sure what is about to happen next. The goal was simply to put my head down and just get to the other side. I was eager to be back in school, but I knew very little about law school, or the law whatsoever. I was nearly blind. I was never a paralegal and I’d never even heard of Paper Chase or 1L. My expectations were low, but I wanted to learn and I wanted to figure out what it meant to be a lawyer. Unfortunately, this wasn’t even a question I sniffed during first year.

After a full semester of getting no sleep, reading everything, and living in a culture of stress and fear, I was fed up. I felt painfully distant from myself and still had a semester left of this nonsense. My first semester eagerness was long gone and the reality was beginning to set in; this is three years, not just one. “Is this worth it?” kept spinning through my head. School was suffocating me and there was nothing easing the struggle. No focus on lawyering. No forms of collaboration. It never felt like a healthy or productive way to be trained as a future lawyer.

An Imagination Test

The teacher responds to a question at the end of class, “there is no plane, there is no jump.” I’m immediately taken back. I’m reminded of a letter from a young, struggling Hunter S. Thompson in response to his friend about the meaning of life:

Whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

I brood these ideas over in my head, trying to accept and/or understand their notions. A year into this journey of law school and I can’t help, but feel that I’ve floated throughout the entire process. I’m still not sure what it means to practice law, let alone run my own practice. I believe I am interested in civil rights law, criminal defense, and community development, yet through a year of school I have a hard time knowing. Envisioning a reality in that world wasn't even in the picture. Whether this is an institutional or personal problem doesn’t quite matter; I must start swimming towards a goal.

So, What the Fuck is Lawyering?

I turned my focus to LPW and the Moot Court when I had enough of substantive class and started to understand the game of it all. I met with a research assistant and found out how to research on my own. I then spent hours honing my research skills and learning how to write a brief. It was a step, but a baby step at that. Conversely to my thinking, the surrounding culture refused to take it seriously. Students complained around every corner about how it was a waste of time and it was time that should have been spent on our substantive classes. Even my LPW instructor didn’t take it seriously, he only showed up for two classes all semester; the 2L advisors ran the class and did all the editing and critiquing. The class with the most practical skills was treated like a joke while classes that have no relation to my practice (See: Torts) were worshipped. Besides the tradition of it, the whole system is lost on me.

There Is No Jump.

As 1L fades into darkness, the reality of my future must come squarely into the light. I now realize that 1L is an extremely flawed, archaic system, but part of the system nonetheless. I spent much too long worrying about my place amongst those around me and not on carving out a path of my own.

My first step is a summer stint at a small civil rights firm in Brooklyn. The goal will be to soak up everything around me and hopefully add some skills to my practice. Ideally, pick up a mentor or two. Maybe learn what I hoped to get out of 1L year, or maybe I just expected too much. Either way, I must use it as a launching off point over my next two years at CLS. Whether I get the clinic and journals I want or not, I must continue to swim towards a goal, not unconsciously float somewhere else.

The pressures of law school continue to resonate everywhere as the EIP process begins and the fight for next year positions heat up. I must stay outside of this cycle of keeping up. Law school is an imagination test; a test I must always remain conscious of.


Comment (Matt Burke)

Studying for Crim, such as I am, words like "consciously" and "unconsciously," as well as the implicit words like "intent"—as in, if one must do something, one does the thing with intent—all have a novel sort of resonance for me. My point being, you have a mens-fucking-rea. Model Penal Code 2.02 (1985). And your piece prompts the question: What's my mens-fucking-rea? Most of us around here, by hypothesis, have one, and I think for most of us around here, it's recklessly or higher. Id.

For myself, I think (abandoning, for the better, the MPC extended-metaphor) that I came to law school wanting, as you put it, to float. Part of it was that I didn't know what to swim towards, but the other part was that I was, as Eben might say, scared to swim.

I like your piece because you capture not only the process of coming to know what you want and learning how to get it, but you also provoke the realization that to know what you want, you have to know whether you want what you think you want. And that last bit of knowledge can be hard for us risk-averse-control-freaks to come by because, I think, a lot of us have convinced ourselves we want something that we don't actually want; and it's hard to unconvince ourselves—especially for those of us who wound up here because we thought we'd be good at the job of convincing.


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