In the dream, it is always exam day and I am hopelessly late or lost, if not both. I am slogging up from the Third Street lot, limbs leaden and breath coming in short rasps. Somehow, the pages of my outlines have become loosed and are fluttering in all directions. I chase one into the street and bend to retrieve it just as it flies out of my grasp. This goes on and on, me pivoting and bending and clawing at the air as the pages scatter more widely. In the strange illogic of the dream, it does not occur to me that it is too late for them be of use. I finally reach the law school and discover that my classroom is not where it was the day before. I duck into a warren of offices, one mute dean after another looking at her wristwatch and slowly shaking her head. They keep directing me into a byzantine brick hallway, where I spend the rest of the night looking for non-existent classrooms.
Every law student has had the dreams, which generally crop up at exam time. An attorney I know whose bar card has been snug in his wallet for years vividly recalls a law-school dream in which he had been exiled to a remote outpost to take his Civil Procedure exam and lost all his time plodding through quicksand to get there. My own subconscious once conjured up a troika of professors in tattered Civil War garb, slowly twisting toward me on broken hips, heads swathed in bloodstained bandages. I chose not to delve too deeply into the pathology of that one.
What puzzles me now is not that I have the dreams, but that they should resurface here in the waning days of summer, with classes not to resume for another two weeks. And then I remember the bar exam, which was administered in recent days and which has worked its way lately to the forefront of my thinking. For one thing, not all of those who underwent that grueling two-day process are faceless would-be attorneys, but people I actually know and root for. One called a week ago seeking the return of a study aid he had loaned me for a summer course. When I inquired after his state of mind, he responded in a thin voice. Of his jumble of unintelligible words, I could make out only two: “medical school.”
As you might expect, the format mirrors that of the law-school exam, for which a career in, say, journalism may or may not be adequate preparation. Where the news abhors redundancy, the law finds solace in its embrace. An effective law-school essay explains beyond all rational need for explanation, states the obvious and then states it again. The tapestry must be unraveled one fiber at a time and rewoven into a seamless analytical whole. Throw in a nuanced observation here and there. Be brilliant and original and thorough. Your time starts now. In the new dream, I am the Susan Lucci of the bar, more renowned for serial failures than for a single success.
The thing about the dreams, though, is that you wake up in the gray light with your life just where you left it and you discover that what you thought was true is not true at all. Such is the nature of law school.
A year ago, we wandered around as the strangers that we were with our free highlighters and our flash drives and our fists full of popcorn and split into teams for an awkward round of Brandeis trivia. I reflect on the composition of that group today and recognize some folks I’m reasonably sure would help me hide a body without asking a lot of questions, in the unlikely event the need should arise, and I’d do the same for them. This is so, despite our disparity of gender, race, sexual orientation and socioeconomic background. Oh, and age. Intensity of shared experience overshadows the rest, I suppose. That, too, is the nature of law school.
The cliché goes like this: the first year of law school scares you to death, the second works you to death and the third bores you to death. I am months removed from the vision of the wounded professors and am no longer fearful, but I am hardly bored. Early in the summer, I would dash from a morning class to the car and head to my downtown job as a law clerk, a drive that conveniently matched the length of time it takes to consume a cinnamon-raisin granola bar. Nights and weekends not devoted to study fed the needs of a professor hungry for research assistance. Soon there will be more class work and a journal article to conceive and bring to fruition. Perhaps you, too, have spent a summer with one foot in the past and the other in premature apprehension of the future. We must now pull both into the present for what shall, absent a better suggestion, be known as The Year of Working Feverishly. We can be bored next year.