BY JUSTIN SHANES
It’s 8:35AM in the belly of Griswold and my Property professor is straddling – then riding – the wooden podium, beside which lies a stuffed fox. The blackboard is already graffitied with menacing Latin phrases like “capias ad respondendum,” and a question about the procedural history of Pierson v. Post hangs in the air like an unanswered call for spilled blood. The same two girls keep on volunteering, like auctioneers trying to outbid one another for “World’s Greatest Asskiss,” while the terrified mass that is the rest of the class remains stiffer than Michael Jackson at the Kids’ Choice Awards. Fifteen minutes into our discussion of the theoretical underpinnings of the common law of animal manucaption, I make a mental note to buy an MCAT study guide before lunch.
Day one of HLS was ugly (not 1L facebook ugly, but still a pretty nasty experience). Fortunately, things here tend to get better in a hurry. In fact, [brace for lame but obligatory analogy about the law school experience] HLS is sort of like receiving a shot of anesthesia: a fleeting moment of anxiety and pain followed by a long period of feeling utterly numb. But since I wish I had known then what I know now (and I really wish I had known the Red Sox would win the World Series before that weekend in Vegas), I figured I’d help ease the transition for the 1L class by providing a few helpful tips and suggestions.
Tip #1: Don’t talk about the LSAT. Ever.Law school provides you with plenty of opportunities to judge your fellow classmates and determine their place on the totem pole – who made Law Review, who got what grades, who is clerking for the D.C. Circuit, etc. But sadly, none of that stuff has been done yet by first semester of 1L year. So naturally, people turn to the only available benchmark of a law student’s worth: the LSAT. Of course everybody acts like this is a totally moot and unimportant tidbit of information, about as relevant to life as a Snapple “Real Fact” that “The town of Hope, Nebraska now has more cell phones than it does giant pandas.” But deep down, most students would cheat, maim, and murder to find out their peers’ scores. Resist this temptation! Don’t ask people what they got – and don’t think bringing it up in a roundabout, nonchalant way makes the attempt any less gauche. Most importantly, unless you’re on the phone with your Jewish grandmother, never ever brag about your own score. There were five chests with four kinds of locks containing three different gems, and you figured out which chest contained what gem. Well, whoop-dee-fucking-shit! That doesn’t make you William Brennan. You’re actually more like Ken Jennings: smart in a way only morons could appreciate. Try taking a test that, say, presupposes any actual knowledge – then we’ll talk.
Tip #2: Don’t study in Langdell.From the moment Joseph Story welcomes you with his “what up dawg” hand gesture to the moment you find that perfect spot on the fourth floor, surrounded by paintings of old white men and obsolete court reporters, Langdell Library can seem like the perfect place to brief those civil procedure cases. From there, it’s all downhill. Despite having picked a seat in relative isolation, it’ll only be a matter of minutes before your table is filled with one or more of the following types: 1) the Head Scratcher (nervously claws at his scalp until there’s enough dandruff on the table to sculpt a scale replica of the Pieta); 2) the Snick-Snack Whore (brings enough baby carrots, granola bars, dried mango, nuts, cookies, and Go-Gurt to survive two back-to-back nuclear winters); 3) the David Helfgott (pounds his keyboard like he’s playing Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 3”); 4) the Pigpen (quite simply, smells like the Devil’s anus); 5) the iPodder (purposefully blasts his tunes at maximum volume so others can be “impressed” by his collection of Ryan Cabrebra live tracks and rarities); and finally 6) the Highlight Junkie (brings Joseph’s Amazing Technicolor Marker Kit so that a different color can correspond with the facts, reasoning, holding, dicta, footnotes, nouns, adverbs, gerunds, and pluperfect subjunctives). Although this is entirely against my own interest, I’m going to recommend a genuinely awesome spot to study instead of Langdell: the fifth floor of Lamont. It’s beautiful, quiet, and devoid of law students.
Tip #3: Don’t check your Harkboxes.I’ve seen most 1L’s check their Harkboxes more compulsively than Sara Goldfarb in Requiem for a Dream. Are you really afraid that you’re going to miss Professor Bartholet’s lecture on “Reproductive Technologies and the Law”? Or that you won’t hear about NAMBLA’s upcoming babysitting workshop? We already have the Adviser, the Record, and flashmod to tell you about what’s going on around campus. Is a magenta flyer really what’s necessary for this shit to finally sink in? Look – a Harkbox is no more than a tangible spam folder. Checking it once every semester is more than sufficient.
Tip #4: Go away!Seriously, get the hell out of here. Out of your dorm room, out of the Square, out of Cambridge. As a good friend awkwardly put it during a firm interview, most Harvard students are “scholastic and monastic.” For some reason, most of us live like those dogs with electric collars that zap them if they go beyond a certain point. [As a side matter, if you do have one of those pet containment systems, make sure your uncle knows that before he drives Scruffles to the park. It’s been fifteen years, and I’m still in therapy.] Last year I went into Boston twice between the months of November and March. This is not healthy! Visit the MFA, read a book in Mayor Danehy Park, take your girlfriend to the North End, or just hook up with some BU skank at The Kells in Allston. If you spend all of your free time shackled to your chair watching television, you’re not “relaxing” – you’re Sloth from The Goonies. You have the rest of your life to lead a monotonous existence of working, eating, and sleeping. This is the last hurrah before adulthood. Take advantage of it. [Try to read this paragraph so that it doesn’t sound so… well, didactic and lame. I’d revise, but there’s a deadline to be met.]
Tip #5: Don’t confuse an easement appurtenant with an easement in gross.You dumbasses, I knew this distinction back when my parents still gave me baths in the fucking sink. Listen up: if an easement benefits its owner in the use of another tract of land, it is appurtenant to that land. The land benefited is the dominant tenement; the land burdened is the servient tenement. However, if an easement does not benefit its owner in the use and enjoyment of his land, but merely gives him the right to use the servient land, the easement is in gross. Duh! Honestly, guys, I thought you went to Harvard.
So that’s pretty much the story. You can take my advice if you wish, or you can always throw away twenty bucks on Scott Turow’s One L, the riveting passages of which contain insightful observations like the following: “For the most part, [the students] were a little bit younger than I expected. There were a number of women. A number of blacks. Most of the men wore their hair quite short.” And you thought NyQuil induced drowsiness?
Justin Shanes is a 3L. An annoying know-it-all 3L.