1L Experience: Giving thanks for break


For many 1Ls, Thanksgiving break next week may be the first time to see families since starting law school. One of the most common questions my family asks me about law school is, “So, what exactly are you learning?” (The other most common questions I’m asked by my family include, “Are you eating enough vegetables?” “Have you met a nice Jewish girl yet?” and “Have you figured out a way for me to get out of that felony murder charge?” (My uncle Elmer. He’s got some problems.)

Usually, I just respond to the question about what I’m learning by dropping some big complicated words I’ve heard in some of my classes. For example: “I’m learning a lot, Grandma. I now know that given the precedent set in the landmark case of promissory estoppel v. appellate restitution, the jurisdiction of the exclusionary rule is an intentional infliction of emotional distress. But only if the action is brought in a federal district court in reliance on the expectancy nudum pactum de novo res judicata assumpsit.” That usually shuts people up pretty quickly.

I’ve recently begun to wonder, however, if I am in fact learning anything useful, or at least anything useful for Thanksgiving conversation. I’ve already thought of a few good lines I’ll hopefully be able to use at the dinner table. When my little cousin throws up on the floor, I can exclaim that he was simply performing a restitution remedy and disgorging the benefit the festive meal had conferred upon him. Or, when my aunt throws out the burnt sweet potatoes, I can gently warn her that even under the Fourth Amendment, her trash can be searched without a warrant, and the whole world will know she can’t cook.

But more seriously, I wonder if there’s anything substantive I’ve picked up in 11 weeks of law school. And when I really think about it, I realize that there is quite a bit I’ve learned. I’ve learned that highlighters don’t last very long. I’ve learned that getting called on in class isn’t as scary as it first seemed. I’ve learned that you can always read more carefully. And, I’ve learned that for every argument on one side of a policy issue, there are four counter-arguments, two counter-counter-arguments, and one random side that can be categorized in the world of ancient Greek mythology.

I’ve also noticed law school has started to make me think differently. I now send e-mails with numbered bullet-points: “ The movie was (1) a dramatic masterpiece, (2) with stirring performances by (a) the pretty blond girl, (b) the overly-precocious child, and (c) the giraffe, but (3) I was distracted by the German subtitles.”

Furthermore, I’ve started to recognize the opinions of certain Supreme Court justices: “The rhetorical flourishes in the first section makes me think it’s Justice Jackson, but the wavering between federal and state common law smells a lot like Justice Ginsburg.” And, the most dangerous knowledge of all, I’ve begun to actually recognize the names of law firms: “White and Blue. Yes, I know them very well. They specialize in international export law, yes? And the esteemed firm of Chance, Luck and Happenstance. 3600-hour-a-year billing requirement. Excellent firm.”

My family thinks it’s pretty cool that I’m at law school. Frankly, so do I. I think it’s pretty cool that last week in Civil Procedure, we had to read page 1000 of our casebook. “Let’s turn to page one thousand and four” is something I never thought I’d hear anyone say. I think it’s pretty cool that three months ago I would have said that UCC was some fringe cable network (the United Cheese Channel? Urban Cinema Channel? The (always-exciting) University Choir Channel?), and now I know that it stands for the Unenforceable Contract Channel and, without looking, I know that UCC 2-205 refers to “firm offers.” (But please don’t ask me what a firm offer is!)

Valuable knowledge? Maybe not. But enough to impress my relatives at the Thanksgiving table. I’ll be sure to tell my grandmother that I’m eating lots of vegetables (well, lots of one vegetable, anyway — it always seems to be squash week at the Hark). And if you’re that nice Jewish girl I’m looking for, send me an e-mail — I’ll be sure not to introduce you to Uncle Elmer.

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