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September 26, 2009: What Result?
September 26, 2009
It is strange what comes to be accepted as commonplace. Looking down at a sheet of paper and reading, "Bill works at the zoo and often brings home the king cobra and saltwater crocodile on days when the zoo is closed…" followed by two pages of a story so layered and so bizarre that under other circumstances it would be funny, ending with a simple and all-encompassing two word question: "What result?" by the third or fourth exam, feels almost routine. If time weren't always so short in May or December, it would probably be a good opportunity to stop and consider the change, to ask the question "How did I get to this point?"
I think for any law student going through first year there is lot of self-examination and predictably a lot of self-doubt. As I talk to, and read the writings of, full-time day students I certainly recognize some common experiences: It's being told that we're learning to "think like lawyers" and wondering what that means, and how you know when it happens. It's learning to write like a lawyer, which often means saying the same thing three different times in a single brief and pretending those short dense sentences resemble what might have been, once upon a time, your unique writing style. It's coming to terms with the idea that grades no longer measure who you are, or even what you know, but rather are the product of single anonymous performance that evaluates how well you can, in four hours, confront the challenge of "what result?" It is surviving.
Like snowflakes, no two law students are the same, but I think those of us in the evening program see the challenges of law school through a slightly different lens. It's daunting enough trying to figure out the vagaries of proximate cause, but trying to divine it on a lunch break, or when your kid has the stomach flu, is that much more complicated. I don't mean to imply that it's harder to go to law school at night, or when you're older, or when you have a career, or children, but it is different. For me, the hardest part is trying to be good at too many things and often feeling like I end up not being good at any of them. There are days when, at any given moment, I feel like I am an abject failure at whatever (school, work, or family) I am doing.
Here's the thing, though, it is not that it is so arduous or awful going to law school part-time at night. It just takes some figuring out. Truth be known, I'm not a natural networker. I found myself in my first year sitting in class looking around and wondering how I fit in. I felt so different. What I found over that year was that in some ways what we evening students shared in common, often wore like a badge of honor, was that difference. Some of my classmates travel over an hour to get to Pace each night. Many have to sprint to the last shuttle bus to the train at 9:50. Those of us with kids miss them, often arriving home after they are asleep. We worry about keeping up, taking out loans, making mortgage payments, getting a job someday, and whether where we are on a random Thursday at 9:20, listening to the nuances of the UCC, is really where we're supposed to be. We are more than just law students. We are journalists, peace officers, contractors, paralegals, managers, teachers, salesmen, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. I have developed an immense respect for these people. In bits and pieces I have come to know something about their intelligence, sacrifices, struggles, fears, frustrations, and aspirations. In the vast majority, we accept each other, support each other and, in a fundamental way, understand each other.
As I have started my second year, the work is harder but not nearly so foreign or intimidating. I can take a moment to look around the room during class and feel a little more as if I belong. Still, I suspect we all ask ourselves from time to time "what result?" I know I do.