THE 1L EXPERIENCE

BY DAVID BAHARVAR

Every once in a while in the cases we read, I run across facts that are especially disturbing. For example, a rapist breaks into a single woman’s apartment during the night. He is in the home for hours while she is locked outside because the police won’t believe her story and refuse to break open the door. When they finally do, they find that the assailant has been raping her children for hours. In the judges’ opinions and in class, there was precious little discussion of how shocking and deplorable the episode was, how we felt about it and what we think ultimately needs to occur in order to salvage the well-being of the parties involved.

Cases like this lead me to wonder, what does this all mean? Are we supposed to become desensitized to the tragedy of such cases? Should we view the facts as a clinician views a patient or a scientist views a specimen — isolate what is relevant to the issue at hand and disregard the rest in the interest of efficiency and clarity? I recall a 2L telling me that some of the cases shared last year were so unsettling that she would cry after reading them. Does the nature of legal education say something about the field that we are entering, how we are being taught to think and what we are being trained to care about as lawyers?

Speaking of what we care about, our immediate concerns seem to be centering around November 1st — the date after which 1L’s may receive counseling on job opportunities from the law school staff. Will we rush in herds to Career Services for the best leftover firm jobs, after having watched the 2Ls and 3Ls scramble for them these last three weeks? How many of us will earnestly pursue non-traditional opportunities — choosing not to work for large private law firms — this summer? Of course, that choice will depend on each person’s circumstances and goals. For those of us who have already decided to work for a private firm after law school it might make sense to take that route from the start. Or does it?

It seems like the majority of us are much less resolved on those larger questions about what we ultimately want to devote our energies to. The few 1Ls who seem to already have a focus are usually the “older” ones — that is, the relatively few who are more than a couple of years out of college. Given this, I would think that the advice we get from all around to “expand our horizons” this summer would be especially salient for most of us now. But is that advice mostly falling on deaf ears? Do most of us have “tunnel vision” with respect to what job we may accept after law school — how we might work the law into our careers and lives, while avoiding the large-firm track?

Chatting with fellow 1Ls, I also wonder about “tunnel vision” with regard to our lives at HLS. Most 1Ls I chat with say that they haven’t done any extra-curricular activities outside the law school, and the only activity within HLS that they’ve actually contributed anything to has been subciting for a journal. And most 1Ls hate it. So why do we do it? Is it because we ultimately hope to write for that journal about something we deeply care about, or even just to satisfy our intellectual curiosity? Or is it perhaps that we convince ourselves of the hoops we must jump through, the “dues” we must pay, so that we’ll reach that next step, have that next credential, and THEN maybe we’ll devote our time and energies to what we really care about? Or is our motivation actually a mix between the two?

How many of us have resigned ourselves to leading tedious, hectic, worried 1L lives, perhaps even before we got here? Is it possible that being “forward thinking,” one of those traits common to high achievers like HLS students, takes a toll on our personal development in the present? If so, where does it end?

These are concerns that I think many 1Ls have wondered about. Each of us will find our own balance, no doubt. As we continue to get comfortable with each other as a class and especially in our sections, I see more and more folks talking about how they feel about the larger system of law that we are learning about and how it could or could not affect our lives. We look to each other for advice as well as reassurance about why we are here, the impact of this new rush of material on our psyches, and what we really want to make of it, not just what we need to know for class. Slowly but surely we are feeling empowered to form personal opinions and judgments about what we are learning. For most of us, this has been the most thrilling part of being at HLS.

With comments or to start a dialogue, please e-mail dbaharva@law.harvard.edu.

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