Legally One L: The MS Word File Chase


Last week’s Record survey showing that we HLS students rank ourselves number one in the country might not have seemed particularly momentous. It might even have seemed, well, obvious. But despite that, it’s a nice illustration of a principle most HLS students are aware of, even if only subconsciously: the value of our degree relative to other law schools depends almost entirely on what we manage to convince the world at large the value of our degree is. Yale and Stanford and schools we never even think of may be better objectively (I wouldn’t know), but nobody excels at self promotion like HLS students.

To be fair, this is not a skill that’s unique to Harvard. Law schools and law students generally have long attempted to project an aura of Serious Intent. The girl at the table next to me at Starbucks yesterday had a Pathology textbook that was probably about 80 times as complicated as anything in my Civ. Pro. book, but its cheerful bright blue cover was no match for Civ. Pro.’s sober navy blue and gratuitous gold lettering.

But Harvard Law School has managed to beat them all. How? By having their graduates develop an entire genre of books and movies, all about how difficult HLS students’ lives are. One L reveals “the humiliations, triumphs, hazings, betrayals, and challenges that will make him a lawyer – and forever change Turow’s mind, test his principles, and expose his heart,” says the back cover blurb in classic “See how important we are? See?” style. And then there’s The Paperchase, less a study in law school and more a study in which you shouldn’t be a complete tool.

Legally Blonde is bright, cheerful and contemporary, but essentially the same. Ever read the book? Don’t feel bad; nobody has. You know why not? It takes place at Stanford. There’s a reason they changed the movie to Harvard, namely that the HLS mafia broke the director’s knee caps. And the mafia was right: once the setting was changed they had instant credibility and a commercial hit.

These memoirs serve a dual purpose. Not only do they enhance the value of an HLS degree for both the author and his classmates, they also make a lot of money. Seriously, One L was a New York Times bestseller. Despite the fact that it’s really, really boring. And hey, I have student loans to pay off. I want in on some of that action. Thus, I’ve started compiling my own 1L memoir. Here’s a sampling:

On the Law School Facilities:

Possibly the most brutal thing about law school is the harsh minimalist environment designed to keep our minds sharp and our bodies alert. Luxuries are scarce. For instance, there’s no free coffee during the afternoon, and at all hours of the day I have to pay for my own Diet Coke (or steal it from one of those tables they set up outside of every event the school throws).

The Spartan air of the place came into sharp focus today when I went to the Hemenway Gymnasium, only to find out that, once again, the cable was out. It was right when Laguna Beach: The Real O.C. was about to come on, too. Instead, I was forced to spend my hour on the elliptical machine listening to the peppy gym music mix and leafing through an old issue of US Weekly. Will this place’s small indignities never end?

On Class:

A peculiar aspect of the shark-like law school atmosphere became apparent to me when computer problems struck, forcing me to attend class without my laptop. In addition to having to scrawl notes by hand, this meant I was left out of all the AIM conversations going on around me. Were study groups being formed? Outlines being exchanged? Parties being planned? Now I’ll never know.

Worse still, I couldn’t check my e-mail for two hours; by the time I finally got to one of the terminals in the Hark, my inbox was jammed with 275 e-mails from OPIA about job search strategy sessions, resume strategy sessions, e-mail inbox management strategy sessions, and strategy sessions strategy sessions.

On Student Competition:

Today my study group finished our outline for Civil Procedure. Actually, when I say “finished,” I mean we “pulled it off the Internet .” Then we e-mailed it to everyone else in our section. And in return, we received a file of 87 different outlines and 600 old exams from back when the professor used to teach the same class in Zambia. Say, is this class, like, graded on a curve or something? Because that could be a problem.

Hmm, that doesn’t have quiet the ring I’d prefer. Perhaps HLS has lost some of its edge. Well, no problem, it just means that we have to work harder to get our book deals and retain our hard core reputation. Which means that under no circumstances are you to admit to your friends and family that you spend half of Torts playing Minesweeper. After all, Spider Solitaire is far more prestigious.

Katie Mapes is a 1L.

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