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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Year of Living Arrogantly

Suppose you have a mannequin in your trunk, she begins. Say it’s a nude, a male, and say you can’t close the lid without you tie it down with twine, and so you’re driving down the road with mannequin privates showing out your trunk. Can you get arrested for that?

Having spent the summer clerking for a criminal-defense attorney, I know that when the question is whether you can get arrested, the answer is always yes. But I also know there are times when it pays to be selective in one’s inquiries. And so I opted for the middle ground, responding with some vague speculation about whether mannequins are patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community and following it up with the disclaimer that trills as easily off the tongue as name and address: Can’t give legal advice.

I dismissed the exchange shortly after it occurred midway through the summer because I hadn’t yet entered the profound existentialist funk that generally ushers one into the third year of law school. But then I started to wonder whether the skill it takes to answer that question and myriad others like it is the skill I’ve been working to master. It was a momentary sense of uneasiness coupled with the realization that that caveat about not being qualified to give legal advice, a hallmark of professional responsibility among law students, does not hold water forever. I don’t know why I thought I should document my symptoms, but I tore a sheet of paper from a legal pad. Sluggish, I wrote. Suffer from apathy of unknown origin. I consulted an attorney I know, who diagnosed me with an acute case of third-year malaise. Take two milligrams of suck it up and don’t call me in the morning.

It’s the year that bores you to death, they say, that final year of law school when you grow numb and disgusted with the whole affair and prickly at the suggestion that all those dire reports of anemic job markets and inflated placement statistics and visions of student-loan slavery might just have some relevance to your life. By all accounts, it’s the year we phone it in, the year we’re entitled to take offense when our names are called in class, turn to some second year and say take this one won’t you, and, while you’re at it, make me a sandwich.

But that’s not the whole of it. This is also the year we presumably experience a renewed sense of forward momentum fueled by a reuptake of oxygen into bloodstream and brain. It’s the year we load up our plates with last call for opportunity in the event we don’t eat again. The mandatory sessions on managing stress and coping with increased predisposition to alcoholism are behind us, and the only things standing between us and a license to practice law are two sets of finals and a little detail I like to call the bar exam. Humility will have its day, but these are heady times.

And so we’ll shrug off the lethargy for a while longer and indulge ourselves another year in a law-school cocoon that is alternately terrifying and safe. Should your affairs grow complicated in another 14 months or so, look us up. With any luck, we’ll be qualified to dispense legal advice.