It was November and Fenno didn’t have a paper advisor. He didn’t have anything resembling a topic either, so he figured that made everything even out. The 3L paper had been on his list of priorities somewhere between reading a ten-year old issue of US Weekly and categorizing his freezer contents according to the Dewey Decimal System. But now that he had finished reading the article about Hugh Grant’s “joyride” with Divine Brown far sooner than he expected, he realized it was probably time to find an advisor so that he could get back to reorganizing his freezer and procrastinating for the next six months.
“Write about something that interests you,” Professor Elizabeth Warren had advised him when he approached her about being his paper advisor.
“Like the Brad/Jennifer/Angelina love triangle?” Fenno asked.
“It needs to be law-related.”
“Oh. Then what about the defects in the law of a state that would allow Britney Spears to raise a child?”
“Something a little more law-related than that. What legal topics are you interested in, Fenno?”
Fenno stared blankly at the professor as he searched for an answer to her question. He mentally reviewed all the class discussions and readings of the past two years. He thought long and hard. He continued staring at Professor Warren in awkward silence for twenty minutes as he mined his mind and came up with nothing. She continued to just stare coolly right back at him. Fenno felt himself falter and blink first, and he fled from her presence screaming like a seven-year-old girl with new appreciation for the intensity of her socratic method.
From that intimidating encounter Fenno learned that he needed to have some idea of what he wanted to write about before he approached another professor. He decided Langdell would be the best source of inspiration. Among all those law books something would surely strike his fancy. But after a few hours Fenno found that his only epiphany was how the statue of Joseph Story was quite reminiscent of the statute of John Harvard and how he should therefore start a law school tradition of peeing all over its foot.
With all the knowledge of Langdell failing him, Fenno grew desperate. He decided to converse with some of his classmates about their paper topics, hoping to find some source for inspiration, or at least a source for plagiarism. He generally observed a strict rule against discussing anything law-related with his peers, but sometimes even the most fundamental of maxims had to be compromised. But he didn’t want to think about how many Hail Mary’s it was going to cost him.
“What are you doing for your paper?” Fenno casually asked Zoe Segal-Reichlin.
“I’m not doing a traditional paper,” Zoe replied. “I’m conducting a grassroots effort to help disadvantaged communities in fifth world countries through education and litigation of humans rights issues. I sold everything but these clothes I’m wearing to finance the project, but I think it’s going to be great.”
Fenno grimaced and walked away without a word. He not only felt like a dunce who couldn’t come up with even the most mundane of paper topics, he also felt like a horrible human being. He vowed not to talk to Zoe again until he had entered the Peace Corps and the seminary.
Fenno’s conversation with Zoe had disturbed not only his conscience, but also his inferiority complex, which had lain dormant since the first term of 1L year when he had hired a translator in order to follow the grandiloquent pronouncements of his classmates. He still had no idea what the hell Mark Hopkins said whenever he was called on in class. He decided he was not about to ask another student what they were doing for their 3L paper unless he was sure it was something really ridiculous and lame.
“Hey, what are you doing for your 3L paper?” Fenno asked Jasi Kamody.
“Oh. I’m doing an economic analysis. I’m conducting an empirical study and an in-depth comparison of several factors on the real life application of the Coase Theorem to the-” Jasi began, but Fenno covered his ears and ran away screaming like a seven-year-old girl for the second time in one week before she could finish.
He decided that all students were to be avoided like the plague when it came to discussion of paper topics. He now knew that even those people that seemed the most innocent could not be trusted to pick a nice simple, lazy-sounding paper topic and avoid dipping into real intellectual discourse and scaring the crap out of him.
Unfortunately, he was still not able to come up with anything on his own, so he was forced to alternate watches between Griswold, Areeda, and Hauser and knock on any professor’s door from behind which he could hear something stirring. Mostly he only found the occasional mouse since he regularly missed the thirty seconds of office hours that professors were required to hold every week. But eventually Fenno’s stalking paid off, and he had suggested stupid topics and embarrassed himself with every single professor on campus. He couldn’t bear to show his face in any of their classes again, but that mattered little since he hadn’t been able to bear to get his ass out of his room and across campus for class all semester.
He realized he had very, very few options left, and so he emailed Professor Tribe on his sabbatical. Fenno decided that since he hadn’t been able to think of anything that made sense and had spoken nothing but gibberish with every other professor, complete candor was probably the only safe way to go.
“Professor Tribe,” he wrote. “I can’t think of anything. I can’t write. I’m completely stuck. I’m going to give up. Please help.”
Fenno received a prompt response a few hours later. “Dear Fenno,” it said. “Do not fret – this happens to even the best of us. I’m sorry I do not have any suggestions for you at this time. But if you come up with any ideas of how to get through this and start writing something that makes sense to you, please free to bounce them off me. No, really. Like, really, really free.”