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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Excusable Neglect

What started as a light pulsing at the jaw line had devolved into a dull throb. The trouble was a swollen red pillow shot through with a jagged black streak in the spot that had once accommodated a wisdom tooth. When it ruptured into a bloody river filling the gulley between my cheek and gum, I called my dentist, his vacation notwithstanding.

“I need antibiotics,” I announced. “I’m in law school.”

I’ve taken to punctuating virtually every sentence with that statement and have found it useful in a number of settings. Miss a wedding? You’re in law school. Late turning over the rent check? Law school. I passed you on the highway and you didn’t even wave. For God’s sake, man, I’m in law school. 

The semester is drawing to a close, the staccato pulse of the study routine quickening every day. Review sessions for final exams are largely on the books. Our white board is streaked, our professors down to the red marker, having drained the ink from the black, green and blue. If we turn to this always versatile, dog-ate-my-homework, mother of explanations for curious behavior over the next couple of weeks, I say we’re entitled.

Law school can be an exercise in self-discovery, a series of triumphs as you push yourself beyond what you thought were the limits of your capability. Just as often, it’s a self-gathering force threatening to spin off its own axis. In those moments, some of your own marginal needs – and those of others to whom you would be obligated -- necessarily fall away.

We’re preparing for five exams, as opposed to the four we faced in the fall. We’re trolling thin summer job markets. We’re seeking membership on law journals or moot-court teams or one of the myriad other resume-building activities open to upper-level students and application deadlines are nigh. We’ve completed the intricate fall-registration process, exercising the new latitude we’re afforded as soon-to-be rising 2L’s.

Where the first-year curriculum is standard-issue crew cuts and fatigues -- basic research and writing skills, coupled with two semesters of fundamental doctrine -- second year allows a measure of choice. We can appreciate the flexibility, even if the strategic nature of crafting a schedule makes us lonesome for the days when they told us what to do. We’re sleep-deprived and we smell like a combination of fear and our too-familiar classroom, whose temperamental thermostat is governed by some faceless force in the ether. The stakes are high and the flashpoint dangerously low.

But keeping your head in the midst of chaos, filling in the fissures in the emotional fa├žade, is part of being a lawyer, and there are as many coping mechanisms as there are law students. Some turn to yoga and some to chocolate. Some chant life-affirming slogans and arm themselves with talismans. I personally adopted an unsettling and mercifully short-lived habit of referring to myself in the third person:  Sharon thinks the Supreme Court is entirely off the mark in this case. Sharon has nothing to add to this analysis of the summary-judgment process. Sharon is going for coffee now.

I can’t explain it, but maybe I don’t have to. I am, you know, in law school.

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