Lowering the bar

How do you survive law school? When a member of Salon's reader community, Table Talk, asked for advice, here's what she got. What are your suggestions?

By Salon Staff
Published March 7, 2008 7:01PM (EST)

Private Life

What are you doing right now?

Maneki Neko - 12:27 am Pacific Time - Feb 25, 2008 - #7056 of 9568

My legal writing prof is making us write a memo about crim law when hello, WE HAVEN'T TAKEN CRIM LAW YET. And I have the flu or at least a really bad cold. Also, hi.

Vinca Minor - 12:42 am Pacific Time - Feb 25, 2008 - #7058 of 9563

Having a midnight attack of the old lady busybodies, a common affliction with me, and being unable to resist saying something which I hope will be useful and supportive to Maneki but hoping that if it is not she will not take it amiss.

You happen to have gotten an unfortunate bunch of classmates or at least a group which has not yet differentiated itself into real people, just an insecure glob at least some of whose members are trying to make themselves feel better by congratulating each other on their (possibly imagined) superiority and by making others feel worse. Some of how much the others feel worse is based in their response to this mooing herd.

If you focus on the essence of what you're there to learn, in time I think you may get to notice the herd less and your increasing mastery of what you're studying will make it obvious that they are not superior to you. The one you most have to convince of this is yourself, not them. They wouldn't say anything about you if there weren't something about you that worried them a little, made them feel like they had to diminish you to prop themselves up. Remind yourself of why you're there. It ain't to be homecoming queen. It's to study law and benefit yourself thereby. It's three years. The first one's nearly always the worst.

First year sucketh, from what I've heard over the years. Do not worry overmuch about excelling where it seems impossible; just get through it. I think sometimes just rolling your eyes and doing something is preferable to agonizing over doing it in whatever fashion you think the professors would like to see it. Keep a straight face if ridiculed. Some professsors like to imagine all of their graduates as trial lawyers and like to put the pressure on. (I say this as one who, uh, sneaked into law school classes for a year and managed to maintain a deadpan expression and not give away any emotion for free. Some of what trial lawyers do is fronting anyway, so practice, I say.)

Is it possible to approach those in second or third years in obsequious fashion and ask how they handled assignments like the one that's currently making you nuts? Such conversations can be enlightening. I was surprised in one class to find that the expected answer to almost any question was either, "I'm not prepared" (never admitting -- hah! an ing! -- to anything was more acceptable than hazarding an answer, the opposite to what I would've expected) or, if the prof was riding one of his particular hobbyhorses of social indignation, "It's unconscionable!" Students who actually knew the answers and popped them out were at grave risk of being noticed and grilled.

Another thing that I would advise is to avoid partying with the nasty crowd. Alcohol brings out the worst in people and it's a depressant. They're not people you want to mingle with in a group and definitely not people you want to be around when they're drinking. Your defenses are down when you're drinking around them, another reason to avoid that situation. Don't turn down invitations in an unpleasant way, just be busy doing something else, even if it's washing your hair or knitting a sock.

Stick to the basics of getting through an emotionally trying time. Get enough sleep, eat well, avoid stressors (the Heathers and the nasty kind of hot boys, alcohol and drugs, avoidable things that make you feel bad, etc. You know what they're likely to be better than I do), make positive experiences for yourself, stick to the task at hand -- study, not socializing except with people who bolster you and feel good to be around, even though it may take some time to sort out who they are -- and treat yourself as well as possible.

Put one foot in front of the other and don't think about too much time. Not how am I going to get through this year or three years, just what have I got due tomorrow or this week and what am I going to enjoy today? Even if it's a nap, a walk, a favorite corner of the library or a plain cup of tea, reward yourself for living and keeping on in what will eventually be a rewarding endeavor.

You worked hard to get where you are; don't let a bunch of assles who really don't care about you (or each other, probably) make you turn away from a path with a Very Good Thing at the end of it. They don't deserve that power over you; don't give it to them.

---Finishing blathering and creeping off to bed, embarrassed.

bbudke - 01:00 am Pacific Time - Feb 25, 2008 - #7064 of 9563

Hoping Maneki is able to hear loud and clear that we are sharing our hopes and advice for her out of our deep love and respect for her big sexy brain, and in my case, a deep-seated desire to know at least one person who will wear fabulous shoes to my arraignment for finally slapping the stupid out of someone deserving AND get me off scot-free. But also being ok if Maneki is the person who visits me in jail while wearing fabulous shoes and makes me cookies with little tiny files baked in.

Knowing how hard it is when you cry over and over "I can't do this it hurts make it stop" and everyone is "But you are so awesome with pain you are the best pain-taker ever I was in pain once but look at me now I hardly miss my leg at all."

Mostly just saying that while yes I agree that the legal profession needs more Maneki and less Johnny Cochran, I also hear her when she says that law school is suck-ass rotten torture that I would personally not subject my cat to even at 4 in the morning when we are playing the "lick your nostril hide under the bed break the perfume bottle hide under the bed barf barf barf OH WAS THAT YOUR SHOE?" game and I am having Warner-brother style fantasies of him all trussed up like a turkey emitting delicious-looking smell lines. NOT THAT I WOULD EAT MY CAT NOBODY CALL ANYBODY THE CAT IS SAFE AND FINE.

Maneki is awesome, whether she becomes a rad lawyer or a rad something else that does not even require brain torture.

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