Becoming a 1L

BY PIA OWENS

My husband was watching “Prison Break” in the living room. “I appreciate what you did for me,” said one of the characters. “I’d like to pay you back. Tell me what I can do for you in return.”I poked my head out of the bedroom, where I had been reading about promissory estoppel and restitution. “No! Don’t say that!” I called to the guy on TV.

My husband stared at me. “Why? What are you talking about?””No one should ever promise anybody anything,” I informed him. “You could be held liable in court! If you want to give something to someone, you should just give it to them, but don’t ever make any promises. That’s what I’ve learned during the past two weeks.”

“What kind of world are you living in?” he asked, aghast. “What’s happened to you?”

I was expecting the question; I just wasn’t expecting it so soon. I shrugged. “I’m a law student.”

I’ve heard that law school changes you. You start questioning every idea you’ve accepted as true. You become cynical and jaded. You slowly lose your ideals. You start chasing the same credentials as everyone else, even if you’re not sure why. You start drinking a lot. Or so I’m told.Well, I have been drinking a lot more than usual, thanks to all the happy hours and receptions. My alcohol intake has probably quadrupled over the past few weeks. (It’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. For reference, I can count on one hand the number of times in my life that I’ve finished an entire beer.)

I’m starting to become a tiny bit more cynical, as my husband and the “Prison Break” guy can attest, but I have a long way to go. I’m still a little shocked when I read some of the cases: kids who sue their parents, landlords who spy on their tenants, Supreme Court justices who restrict defendants’ constitutional rights. When professors give us hypotheticals in class and ask what advice we’d give a client, I always want to tell the client not to sue — it’s not worth the aggravation. That impulse must wear off eventually.

As for chasing credentials, it’s early for us 1Ls. But I’ve been hearing about people who have already formed study groups, and even people who are in multiple study groups. Classmates are starting to outline and buy course supplements and worry about exams.

When I came to visit Harvard during the Admitted Students’ Program in April, I was surprised at how laid-back the students seemed. One 1L scoffed when I asked if his journal work took up a lot of time: “With our workload, I could be on three journals.” No one seemed to be studying; everyone said they were off to parties or to watch TV. I wondered if the rumors were false. Maybe law school wasn’t so hard after all.

The next morning, I was talking with some of the other admits about our mock class later that day. “Oh, I just skimmed the case we were supposed to read,” said one girl. This comment was met with a chorus of, “I just looked at it for a second,” “I don’t even know which case it is,” and “Oh, were we supposed to read something?”

Once class started and everyone’s hands were in the air, I realized that I had come across HLS’s peculiar brand of anti-competition. No one wants to admit they’re working too hard. No one wants to appear too ambitious. But behind the scenes, is everyone secretly studying furiously and forming factions and plotting their ascendancy? Is it really just like Scott Turow’s 1L, minus the sadistic professors?

Maybe I’m imagining all of this and my first few weeks of law school have made me more cynical than I thought. Maybe I’m already going through the inevitable Change of Life that happens when you become a law student. The beginning of my 1L year hasn’t turned me into a soulless alcoholic automaton yet, but there’s still time.

Pia Owens, 1L, is from Watertown, MA.

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