Fenno: Snack to the Future


IT WAS the last day of class, and students seemed alert: the sound of keyboards being tapped echoed through the classroom like digital rain beating on its desks. Fenno looked to his left, where one student was engrossed in eight simultaneous GChat conversations (and even an MSN Messenger chat with someone in Europe) and then to his right, where someone was furiously composing last minute emails to the owners of several cramped New York apartments he was scrolling through on craigslist.

The professor was flattered. “I’m really striking a chord today,” he declared. “It’s been a real pleasure to teach such an attentive class.” And with that, he was out. The class finally looked up from their games of solitaire, E-Trade dashboards, and fantasy football leagues, and applauded. One or three even awkwardly stood up, expecting to lead a standing ovation. They didn’t. The professor was taking it all in, anyway – whereas some may have leapt from the room in order to be spared the embarrassment of overwhelming praise, he sauntered, drinking in the acclaim. It was a full seven minutes before he finally exited the class, taking an artful bow on his way out.

“Prick,” declared the person to the right of Fenno, who had returned to his furious craigslisting halfway through the class’ cacophonous display of sycophantry. “His exam is going to be miserable, and he made us write a paper, too – as if he’s even going to read it. I mean, with that, we probably won’t have our grades in ’til 2013. I gave him all ones on the evaluation, and recommended he be put up for tenure review in the comments”.

As he spoke, he was making entreaties to a craigslist poster who had advertised his basement closet being “rat free for over six days”. “Please answer the door unarmed,” the student wrote.

The GChatter to Fenno’s left spent the next ten minutes elaborately closing out her conversations, before turning to him with a flourish. “So,” she said to him, “what are you doing this summer? I’m splitting three ways between firms in Rio de Janeiro and Abu Dhabi and then going to coordinate a housing law program for Justice Works International in the Borneo rainforest.”

“Um,” gulped Fenno. “I’m just going to be sticking around Cambridge, I guess.”

“Oh?” GChat girl said, now in a rush. It was clear she’d been more interested in spreading news of her trifecta than engaging in a genuine conversation. “Research assistanting, huh? Chasing the academic life? Have fun with that.”

As she fled his presence, Fenno felt relief. He hadn’t actually wanted to tell anyone what had happened. His mind cut back to the incident, in distant 1L year. He’d been on the Hark patio, enjoying one of the delicious snacks Dean Kagan used to provide on Wednesdays, before they mysteriously disappeared right around the time of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. One of his section-mates had strolled up to his table, surprised to see him outside.

“Hey, Fenno,” greeted the section-mate. “I thought I was the first one done with the Civ Pro exam. Guess you beat me to it! Man, I’ve been waiting for this day ever since I received my admission to law school. I guess I know now who’s going to be my competition for that Second Circuit clerkship. See you at the Sears Prize ceremony!” With that, the section-mate trotted back to the library, no doubt intending to ace yet another exam.

Fenno struggled to keep down his next bite of construction mitigation snack. Civ. Pro. Exam? Had he really missed it? Fenno hadn’t even studied for the exam at that point, let alone been ready for it. In the coming days, he felt the full wrath of the Harvard Law School administration. What did he mean, missed the exam, they wondered. Nothing like it had ever happened in the history of the school. Deliberations were held. A special tribunal was convened. A sentence was handed down: Fenno would repeat all of Civ Pro during his 2L summer. He would not get to go to a firm. He would not get to collect $20,000.

In the coming year, the joke was on Fenno’s classmates, as firm after firm canceled their summer programs, deferred incoming associates, and even bribed students contracted to begin work to stay away. Still, he carried his dark secret throughout 2L year, feigning excuses for why he was only half-heartedly participating in OCI (“oh, I plan to run for Congress right after graduation anyway. I’m just ambitious like that”), making up exotic destinations that he faked travel to during fly-out week (that tanning parlor did a good job on “Guam”), even going so far as to manufacture his own firm swag on CafePress.com (he needed a new soup thermos anyway).

As his last semester as a 2L came to a close, though, and his remedial, rump 1L year approached, Fenno was drowning in his secrecy. He had to tell someone. So he broke down and fleshed out the entire story with his roommate, a nonthreatening lay person who had nothing to do with law (as Fenno’s professors would say, he was “smart…in another way”). He knew he’d made the right choice when his roommate told Fenno not to worry. “At least you still have most of your outlines, right?”

Fenno went white. His mind cycled back to his laptop, on the first day of CivPro, 1L year. He’d typed the date, and then moved on to his favorite classtime activity – watching a YouTube video, in silence. “Right,” he replied, emptily. It was going to be a long summer.

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