The 1L experience


Newly admitted students are everywhere these days, roaming about wide-eyed and cheery, asking “Should I go here?” as if we really have much that is unique or helpful to say.

I remember being in their shoes. It wasn’t too long ago, but it feels like it was. A bunch of stuff, positive and negative, bubbles to the surface of my consciousness at once, things I would like to ask them. But I don’t want to repel the pre-1Ls from Harvard with my negative thoughts, much of them having to do with my own unfulfilled expectations, much of them stemming from the stress of being “in the thick of things.” So I figure that most admits won’t read this column, and it’s better that way. But I thought the rest of you might be interested to hear what I’d ask these young, green admits:

Has it really hit home for these admits that wherever they go to law school, they will read case after case, day after day, about the terrible things people do to each other? That as a result, they will probably become anti-idealistic to some significant degree?

What kind of crowd do they imagine they will encounter here? Will they find, as I have, that their classmates are strangely both eager to talk about their activities and extremely reluctant to talk about their personal feelings or aspirations? Will they sense the vague social norm, as I have, that being concise and consistent in conversation seems to be more important than just voluntarily expressing yourself freely and emotionally? Do they think that somehow this will not affect them, that they will be an exception?

Do they expect to find many fly-by-night social butterflies at HLS, or that they will have the time, the energy or the will to flutter much themselves while they are 1Ls trying to manage the coursework? Have they faced the fact that if they aren’t “socialites” already (after all, that’s part of the reason they got in), they probably won’t magically transform when they get to HLS? (I mean, mad props to T.J. Duane and others who are trying to make HLS more social, but frankly, HLS still has a pretty bland social scene. Besides, I’m not sure that more law school folks are what I want in my life right now.)

Do the pre-1Ls realize how separate HLS is, both physically and socially, from the rest of the Harvard campus? Do they realize how big a difference this makes it from being an undergraduate?

Should I tell them that they might find themselves, about a semester and a half later, yearning to spend as much time as they can meeting people elsewhere, from different schools, studying anything but the law? That they might find themselves going to Widener and Lamont library to study more and more, not to meet people necessarily (though hopefully!) but just not to be in the shadow of Langdell? Will they choose to get away from that and go someplace where they can look around and at least delude themselves into thinking that they’re hard-core with their drab-covered casebooks and their run-on documents to scrutinize? Can they see themselves pondering going to the children’s reading room of the local public library, where they can be sure of not running into anyone reading anything as complex as they are? Maybe reading a little Winnie the Pooh for a break will even help to balance the psycho-spiritual burden of caveat emptor or dissecting notions of criminal complicity?

These are things I would like to ask the pre-1Ls. Or rather, myself as a pre-1L.

Anyone feel me out there?

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