Civ pro on the down low


So, I originally planned to write this week’s column on the topic everybody is talking about: the dormant commerce clause; specifically, I intended to catalogue the Supreme Court’s recent treatment of state regulations that are facially neutral but have incidental effects on interstate commerce. But no sooner did I launch my biting critique of Chief Justice Burger’s majority opinion in Hunt v. Washington Apple Advertising Commission than I received an e-mail from the Registrar announcing that winter term grades were soon to be published online. Taking this as a clear sign that perhaps the world could wait another week for my Article I, Section 8 musings, I decided to write about something that hits closer to home.

Personally, I’m not terribly worried about my winter grade. Why should I worry when, according to everyone I’ve talked to, nobody did a damn thing all semester? Nobody read, nobody studied, nobody came to class. Come exam time, everyone was “totally screwed” and everyone was “going to fail.” Well, I did something. I read most of the material, I studied a bit… I guess I had a clear advantage. I can probably count on getting an A, right?

Wrong! [For added effect, summon up the image of that red “X” that flashes on the screen during Family Feud when no one surveyed thought that “taxidermy” was “something you do while driving.”] You see, when students claim that they barely did any work for a class, they’re doing what is referred to as… well, lying. Their statements could not be farther from the truth. Bizarre, I know. But there’s a phenomenon at this school where students are afraid to admit that they work hard. It’s called “closet gunner” syndrome, and it’s an epidemic at Harvard Law.

“I haven’t read since last Monday.” “I haven’t read since flyout week.” “I haven’t even opened the book.” Bullshit. You were reading five minutes ago. You were reading before the first day of class. In fact, if there had been a copy of Glannon’s inside your mother’s womb, you’d have finished all of the examples by the end of the second trimester. It’s unfortunate that it took me so long to discover what was really going on, as the clues were everywhere. “I don’t care what I get now that a firm hired me.” Oh really? Is that why your Con Law textbook has more handwritten annotations than [insert something very heavily annotated]?! Why it has enough colored tabs to choke a small horse?! If no one studies, then how come Langdell is more bumpin’ bumpin’ at 3AM than Lindsay Lohan’s 18th birthday party?

The most telling observation I have made regarding this phenomenon came during the recent blizzard. You know, the one where we got thirty inches of snow and it took two hours to walk half a block? I happened to find myself in the library the very next day (to play chess, of course), and much to my astonishment I saw that there were people there. Dozens of people, on all floors, studying away. Students had braved the worst blizzard in decades to go to a fucking library. It’s no wonder they didn’t postpone exams: these students were living proof that when it came to academics, nothing short of Armageddon was going to get in their way (though even then, can’t you picture some 1Ls asking the rising dead if they have old outlines they’d be willing to share?).

Now lest I be guilty of overstating the case, I must admit that there are, in fact, some students who say that they slack off and truly do. I happen to know both of them, and they’re very nice people. But the reality is that the vast majority of us are working much harder than we let on, which leaves one to wonder why. You don’t see students at Juilliard going, “Man, I have not touched my viola since September. My sheet music for tonight’s concert? Just skimmed the first movement.” I think part of the explanation stems from the fact that nobody wants to be the typical Harvard student. We all want to play it cool, hide behind a guise of cool nonchalance while being catty and making fun of everyone else. All the “real” nerds. They are the ones worthy of our incessant ridicule. So let’s mock their neurotic ambition. We can pull off the same grades without having to break a sweat. That makes us better than them, above the fray.

Or maybe it’s just that people still fear the pangs of being slapped with that ignominious scarlet “N.” As in “nerd.” (Sorry, someone reading an early draft had no idea what I was talking about.) But isn’t it too late for that? We’re students at Harvard law, which on the nerd scale places us a notch below the people who dressed up as Jar Jar Binks at the Episode 2 premiere.

Finally, it’s possible that we all learned our lesson during the first week of law school, when those students who talk more than once are branded “gunners” and forever ostracized from the general community. But we need not determine the motivations to conclude that this behavior is not only disingenuous and annoying but simply unnecessary. We’re all a bit dorky, and those who claim to be a little less dorky are competing for a petty distinction. So I call upon all law students to stop the deception and instead embrace their geekdom. To come out of the closet and proudly proclaim, “I do all of the reading assignments, and I’m proud.” To call home and finally admit, “Mom, Dad… your son’s a closet gunner.” Don’t worry, they’ve had an aching suspicion ever since your “friend” stayed the night over the summer. They knew he was your (study) partner – and they love you anyway.

Because this transition will prove difficult for many students, they will need some help. At first, try letting your friends know that you don’t mind that they study. Tell them that you study too, and that maybe you can form a study group together. When this fails, you might have to take more drastic measures. If your friend who “did no work” somehow manages to post a 340-page outline on HLCentral, call him out on it. If necessary, resort to subtle modes of torture by actually exaggerating how much you study. There’s nothing sweeter than seeing someone try to conceal their state of white panic when you tell them that you’ve not only read all the optional supplemental materials but can recite them verbatim. Backwards. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

I leave you with the insightful lyrics of En Vogue, whose timeless wisdom never ceases to enlighten my understanding of all issues: “Getting caught you in a vicious web of lies / they can hurt you and destroy you / you watch out for lies / just a devil in disguise.” Would Terry, Cindy, and Maxine lie about not studying? I think not.

Guest columnist Justin Shanes is a 2L. He did almost no work for this column.

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