The Five People You Meet in Law School
A week before I took the LSAT, Tim looked at me dead in the eye and said, “Listen carefully, Qasim. You need to know something. Law School is a place where dreams go to die.” I listened patiently, and wondered what could be so terrible as to evoke Tim’s antagonism. As I prepare to graduate, I understand the journey to get here.
And as I begin this next chapter in my life, I reflect on the past three years and realize several untruths that were told to me. No, law school is not the hell they’ve made it out to be. You don’t lose your hair (well I did but that’s genetics), you don’t gain 20 pounds (well I did too but just shut up for a minute), and you don’t ruin your family life (well…actually yeah my family life got stronger). If you’re thinking about law school—good. If you’re in law school—better. If you’ve graduated—great. Whatever you’re doing, stop, reflect, and remember the five people you meet in law school.
The Students: Here’s how the students break down. You start with the Brains. The Brains are the ones who don’t really need to study—or if they do, it’s just to make you feel less dumb. Most of them are really nice, which makes you feel all the guiltier for wanting to punch them in the back of the head. Not that I wanted to do that, but then again, not everyone is as mature as I.
Next is That Guy—and there’s always, always, always That Guy. Who is That Guy? That Guy is the guy who asks every “what if” scenario conceivable, and many more that would never have crossed your mind were it not for his twisted mind. That Guy is the guy who invariably raises his hand as every class ends, making sure everyone stay longer. That Guy answers, or tries to answer, rhetorical questions. Never mind that the game is on and class is out—That Guy has no shame. He’ll even do it on the very last day of the semester. And to be sure, it’s always a guy—never a girl. Maybe the entire male species is just stupid. Maybe that’s why there are more women now in law school than men, because women are just establishing their domain as the smarter gender. If that’s true, then That Guy isn’t helping the cause because for some God forsaken reason, he’ll just keep asking terrible, terrible questions. You know how they always say, “there’s no such thing as a stupid question?” Well, That Guy proves them wrong. You’ll know him when you see him, because he’ll be the one talking when everyone wishes he’d drink a nice glass of shut the hell up. And while reading this, if you can’t figure out who “That Guy” is in your class—I got news for ya buddy—you’re probably him.
Finally, there’s everyone else; the “normals” as I like to call em. I was a “normal,” it’s not so bad. The normals make up most of law school, and ensure the legal industry remains a fiscally viable model. If you’re lucky, you’ll be a Brain (in which case make sure no disgruntled “normal” punches you). If you’re unlucky, you’re That Guy. But more than likely, you’ll be one of the “normals,” and life will go on without a hitch.
The Professors: Law School Professors are just as diverse as the student body. You’ll start with the “legendary guy,” the one who’s been there since the school opened, and expects to be there long after. He’s the “be all end all” of law, may look well over a century old, and would’ve written the Constitution himself were he not slammed solving the rest of the world’s problems. You’ll have him at least once and he’ll spend most of his time talking about how law students aren’t as tough as they used to be in his day, and why corporal punishment has its merits.
Next is the law professor who is so hilarious you remember his jokes more than his content. This is the guy who teaches you that it’s okay to laugh at legal jokes without feeling like a total loser. He’ll probably spend at least a few minutes a day mocking you and your inferior intelligence, but it’s all in good fun, especially because he’s probably right. Years later you’ll remember some random rule like FRCP 13(g) based on your ever-loving grandmother. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s because you haven’t had that Professor yet.
Finally, you’ll have the one or two professors you really connect with and will know for the rest of your life as your priceless mentors. These are the ones whose office doors are always open for you, even when they’re closed. The ones that treat you like family and take you under their wing, even when you don’t know why they care so damn much. They’re the ones who see things before you do, and guide you without you even knowing you’re being guided. They’re also the ones who cause the most pain when they’re taken away—as they inevitably will be. Find these professors, as they’re your best ticket to success. If you’re lucky, you’ll get the legendary hilarious mentor Professor all in one. I was so fortunate.
The Administration: Forget students, forget Professors, forget ranking, forget tuition—you can judge a law school’s quality by its administration. This includes Deans, Secretaries, and everyone in between. These are the individuals who do the things we foolishly call the “little things,” i.e. make the school run. They can handle everything, and with awesomeness. A school with good administrators is invariably a good school, but one with administrators who would rather you not disturb their perpetual fixation on things other than students is generally an indication that at least at that law school, your dreams will go to die. And no, this is not an exaggeration.
The best administrators are the one who always gives you a hug whenever you walk by. My theory is that something about you reminds them of their son or daughter, or grandson or granddaughter, and they can’t help but let you know. It’s a win-win, however, because they typically have plenty of candy available, and sugar is a necessary drug to keep you energized. To be sure, you shouldn’t be on any other drugs in law school, or otherwise.
Next, you’ll find the administrator who means well but either never remembers your name, or never remembers how to pronounce it properly. You don’t want to embarrass them by correcting them yet again during your 3L year, so you just let it flow. And the ones that don’t remember your name, you drop hints like, “I freaked out when my professor said, ‘Your Name said slowly and enunciated, brief this case for the class.’” It’s okay if they don’t remember though, you usually still get a hug and some candy.
And finally, you’ll find the administrators who make sure you graduate, by any ethical means necessary. They look at you for all the incompetence you bring to the table, and raise you enough intelligence to ensure you walk. They’ll fix your computer when no one can, get you into classes that no one could, and find you books you didn’t think existed. They will move heaven and earth, and a bit of hell, to ensure that you grab that blank piece of paper on stage in May (the one that everyone in the audience thinks is a diploma).
The Lawyers: Believe it or not, you meet lawyers in law school. Shocking, I know. And they’re not all either Lionel Hutts, Johnny Cochran, or Jackie Chiles. But in general, the lawyers you meet typically fall into one of three categories.
The first category are the ones you suck up to as a 1L because you think it’ll help you get the job you want. The truth is you probably have no idea what you want because you’re more worried about getting a 4.0—as your focus should be. But you’ll inevitably find yourself sucking up to someone for some reason or another, simply out of formality. Trust me, that phase’ll pass soon.
Next, you’ll find those lawyers who hate their jobs, their life, and their career. They’ll lament at their decision to go to law school and will tell you to “quit while there’s still time!!” Pity them, really, but also thank them for showing you what you do not want to be in five years, and for reminding you what happens when you pursue and get a job only because you sucked up to the hiring lawyer more than anyone else could or would.
Finally, you’ll find the lawyer you’re looking for—the one who mentors you because they want to, and helps you get the career you want. They recognize your talents—because you are talented—and give you an opportunity reflective of those talents. They don’t ask you to be someone you’re not, and appreciate your sincerity and candidness. You treat these lawyers with genuine respect, and they reciprocate by treating you with genuine leadership. These are the lawyers you want to be around, and this is the type of lawyer you want to become.
The Friends: Finally, and this is the best part of law school, you’ll meet your future best friends. Don’t be surprised if the ones who thought were friends prior to law school “change,” because…it might just be you changing. Likewise, don’t be surprised if the ones you didn’t know were friends unexpectedly show up, and you realize how much more you suddenly have in common now.
But ultimately, and as corny this sounds, the greatest part about law school is that you begin to realize what you really believe in and why. Law school changes your worldview—in my opinion—always for the better. Some become more liberal, some more conservative, some more boring. But all become surer of how they want to contribute to society—and your friends become a reflection of your growth.
Don’t make the mistake, however, of avoiding friendship with anyone simply because you think they’re too different from you. Their seeming difference is probably the single greatest reason to reach out and make friends with that person. Law school teaches you that you do not need to agree with someone to be friends—good friends even—with them. Those who figure this out early are generally the most successful in law school, and in their careers. Those who don’t, well, that’s why for them, law school served as judge, jury, and executioner for their dreams.
If you didn’t know any of this, well, now you do. And now, you can make sure that when you do go to law school, your dreams don’t die, but instead manifest into reality. Good luck.