Law in Contemporary Society

(Not So)Great Expectations

-- By MisanIkomi - 17 May 2009

Why do Expectations Frequently Never Seem to Match Up to Reality?

I mulled this question over on Thursday afternoon after I walked out of my Constitutional Law examination room. It was the last exam of my 1L year. Aside from the scary five minutes when my computer decided to freeze, the entire experience was rather uneventful. After I submitted the exam on SoftTest? , I felt like I normally do after I finish a law school exam: completely unsure about my performance. As I walked out and met with some of my friends, I felt like I was in shock. I was no longer a 1L. Much of my academic career has been dedicated to getting me to law school. I never really considered what I would actually do when I arrived. Yet, with the click of a button, I finished my first year. Just like that.

What Did I Learn?

Ostensibly, I now have some basic knowledge in the core subjects every lawyer needs. Supposedly, I know how to write a contract, file a motion, and prevent someone from appropriating my property. Presumably, I know what negligence is, what the reasonable person standard necessitates, and what the Model Penal Code definition of recklessness is. I now understand the distinction between the suspect classifications prong of the equal protection clause and substantive due process. I’m grateful that I had an opportunity to learn these things and I hope I can utilize all this new knowledge in manner that makes a positive contribution to society. But I expected to gain more from this year. I’m not even sure why. But it always seemed like law school had all the answers for me. Before I came to law school, the lawyers and law students I spoke placed so much emphasis on the importance of 1L year. Aside from the “all significant” 1L grades, I took that to mean that I would gain something substantial from my first year. Perhaps more insight into what type of lawyer I wanted to be. Or maybe the type of lawyer I didn’t want to be. But I don’t feel that I know any more about that now than I did before I started. 1L year is probably the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I expended a lot of effort throughout the school year with seemingly no end in the sight. After the numerous outlines and countless hours of reading, a mere click of a button signified the end of 1L year. It was rather anticlimactic. The night before I could barely contain my excitement as I studied for my last 1L exam, I kept imagining what it would feel like to finally be done. I expected to feel elated, like a large weight had finally been lifted off of my shoulders. I expected to feel like the year had been worth all the stress and agony; that I had found my calling. But instead, I didn’t really feel anything at all.

It Happens to the Best of Us

Clearly, I placed too much importance on what the first year of law school would bring. Frequently, reality does not live up to one’s expectations. One’s imagination can create scenarios that are vastly divergent from what actually happens. Now, I fully admit that this isn’t necessarily an unwelcome state of affairs. For example, last month, the news media was captivated by a potential swine flu outbreak ( The way the news media and people all over the country were talking about it, it seemed like they expected this potential outbreak to be like the deadly Spanish flu of 1918. People started walking around with masks on their faces and journalists feverishly began tracing the beginnings of an expected pandemic. Overnight, everyone was whipped into frenzy. In fact, even I became a little worried after my parents cautioned me to diligently wash my hands after I took trips on the subway. Thankfully, people have calmed down now. And it seems like the swine flu scare was just that, a scare. This is certainly an instance where I’m happy that reality and people’s expectations did not match up. On the other hand, there have been moments when my actual experiences have met and even exceeded my expectations. I had always heard that college would be some of the best years of my life. And they were. I think I grew up while I was in college and learned so much about myself and the type of person I wanted to be. I suppose I expected something similar after I finished the first year of law school. As a college student, whenever people asked what my future career plans, I always told them that I was going to be a lawyer. I never seriously envisioned what my career as an attorney would look like. I expected that law school would help me sort that out.

So What’s The Point?

I’m a firm believer in the notion that every experience teaches you some lesson; it might not be the one you expected. This is certainly the case for me concerning law school. I’m still not sure what my career as an attorney will look like. I definitely did not have the law school experience I had envisioned for myself prior to this school year. As I close out my first year of law school, I find myself having more questions, instead of answers. I had hoped and had thought it would be the other way around. But I think this is something I should embrace. This class has taught me the importance of asking questions and of not just accepting situations as they are. All of the readings and each classroom session enhanced this notion. This class has shown me that the real problem arises when we think know all the answers and push for reality to fit our own expectations; that’s exactly what I hope to avoid.

  • It's an interesting draft, and I very much appreciate your writing it. I'm a little surprised that your expectations work they way they do. I don't usually expect the moment of self-conscious growth to occur at the final moment of a project. I first learned when I was nine or ten about the letdown that tends to occur at the conclusion of intense experiences, that "so now what?" feeling, and the mild or not-so-mild depression that accompanies it, so I don't feel surprised when it turns up. It's in the middle of a complicated and difficult task that I expect the moment of registering growth to occur, when I realize that I'm working in a new way, having consolidated changes that are allowing me to get more from myself.

  • What I tend to observe in law students is roughly what I have experienced myself. Among the reasons that the flood of meaningless job-related bullshit in the third semester is so destructive is that it distracts people—as it was meant to do back when playing on student insecurities helped firms to corral labor they can no longer afford to want—from their own projects. By the middle of the fourth semester, people are beginning to find their way.

  • So I think there's an important element of difference in your account that seems to result from an expectation about timing that I don't share.

  • It is, moreover, good to have come to the end of the portion of experience you've been expecting since you were a child. That means you will now be able to face experience from here on out without being unconsciously limited by a child's understanding.


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r3 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:43:12 - IanSullivan
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