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Monday, October 11, 2010

The First Punch is the Hardest

A friend of mine who earned his bar card some years ago insists that the first law-school exam is like the first punch in the boxing ring. The pain is blinding, but it numbs your face for the blows to come. After taking my first exam Friday, I hope he's right.

Legal Research is the Rodney Dangerfield of the first-year curriculum. It’s the law-school equivalent of Library Science and, according to our academic-success coordinator, is also the course most frequently failed. Its low-priority status is unjustified, considering that effective research skills are crucial if one is to become an effective lawyer. Aside from the fact that it’s a one-hour credit, I think the trouble is that it suffers from an abundance of clarity. Where the doctrinal and writing classes require a maddening degree of analytical thought, Legal Research is a more-or-less orderly plod through what is nevertheless a daunting array of resources. But because it is so straightforward, makes such utter sense within the nebulous context of everything else we do, it would be easy to lull oneself into thinking it can be committed to memory at the last minute. But one would be wrong. The volume is too great. It’s too easy to mix your slip laws with your session laws, mistake your Supreme Court Reporter for your U.S. Reports, and, before long, your wildcards are in bed with your truncators and it can make for an ugly scene. Like the rest of law school, it’s like standing in a confetti storm, grabbing what you can while the rest of it spins out of your grasp. In addition, there is little room for ambiguity on a Legal Research exam. A faulty answer is incapable of redeeming itself through the application of sound reasoning. A wrong answer is just wrong.

It might have been the stress, but something else began to happen in the days leading up to the exam. Our immune systems began to fail. Lectures became punctuated with coughs and sneezes of indeterminate origin. The student who sits next to me in Property spent an entire class period blowing his nose and building a pyramid of used tissues as he clacked away on his laptop. Three days later, I developed my own case of the sniffles. 

It was within this context that I spent the weekend prior to the test crafting what I thought was a useful outline and consulted it repeatedly in the following days. Many of my classmates made flashcards. By mid-week, we had gathered in hastily formed study groups and proceeded to quiz each other mercilessly. By Thursday, the sessions acquired an undercurrent of desperation and fatigue. We kept it up until the exam was a couple of hours off, then we shrugged and adjourned to either pace or play Ping Pong.

The closest thing I have to a good-luck charm is a triangular hunk of pewter with the word “hope” carved in fanciful script on its face. I picked it up at a mission in the Appalachian foothills, a place where hope is in short supply indeed and where I might have devoted a year of my life had law school turned me down, but that’s another story. The point is that I usually keep this substitute rabbit’s foot tucked in my pocket and made sure it was there Friday. Luck is no substitute for hard work, but, all other things being equal, it is not a bad supplement. And, should you encounter good fortune and wish to attribute it to something, I find a hunk of pewter is as good a thing as any.

I don’t know whether the exam met the legal definition of what one of my study partners indelicately called a “brain rape,” but it wasn’t far off. I have no idea how I did and won’t know until grades are released at the end of the semester. In any event, I can’t afford to dwell on it. Legal Research is behind me, but I have five other classes to tend to. It’s what I imagine it would be like to have six children. Give one more than it’s share of attention and you find the other five playing in traffic in their diapers.

So back to work it is. We have a practice midterm in Torts on Friday. Anyone need a chunk of pewter?

1 comment:

  1. You hit it square on the head, Sharon. Great post.