Making Work Work for…Something

Note: This series is fictional.

On his way home from OPIA, Fenno flipped through The First-Year’s Guide to the Law School’s “SPIF” entry:

A pretty good deal. The Law School would prefer to cultivate a public image as something other than a factory mass-producing cogs in the machines that support the powerful, and so in that weakness and desire to throw the public off its scent HLS rounds up enough dough to keep first-years in grocery money during the last two months of meaningful professional activity most of them will ever experience. From here, it’s all shuffling money from one corporate monolith to another, so grab that funding and spend a summer making an insignificant contribution to the greater good.

That’s all well and good, but the trick, as Fenno was quickly realizing, was figuring out what sort of job to use that sweet, sweet cash towards. Because, as it turns out, the first year of law school doesn’t exactly point the uninitiated in any particular direction. To wit:

Scene: Civ Pro Professor’s Office; afternoon

Fenno: So, I think I actually like Civil Procedure. What does that mean? What do I do with that?

Professor: Well, maybe you should think about litigation.

Fenno: Alright. But that seems pretty broad; any tips on narrowing it down?

Professor: I’d recommend focusing on litigation that involves claims one party brings against someone else.

Fenno: I’ll show myself out.

Flipping through job postings wasn’t much help; wholly unqualified for anything interesting, wholly uninterested in anything plausibly attainable. “Think networking,” one friend suggested. “I found a gig through my mom’s ex-husband’s accountant’s niece’s job with this nonprofit in DC—it’s that easy!”

Fenno’s “network” consisted primarily of people in their fifth year of “writing my dissertation—no, really, it’s finally coming together.” These avenues did not prove fruitful w/r/t the employment issue.

And so it was with typically ambivalent thoughts in the back of his head that Fenno, a bottle of something brown in tow, cornered Chevy for a bit of serious mentoring.

“I don’t think I’ve ever asked you what you did over your first summer. Ice?”

“Unsanitary. Just pour.”

Fenno poured.

“I was working for this clinic that tried to help dance crews manage their intellectual property. Cutting-edge stuff.”

“Ah, I think I’ve heard of those guys. Fixation With Representation?” Fenno served himself amply and slouched back on the couch.

“Nope, those are the guys working with sand-artists. So fleeting, their beauty. I was with Step Up 2 Suggestive (Or at Least Establish Secondary Meaning). Cumbersome acronym, I admit. But they do good work.”

“I didn’t know you were so IP-focused. Does your firm do any of that stuff?”

“Not a shred. But it gave me a couple stories to tell in interviews. Did you know Jabbawockeez almost called themselves “B@nderSn@tch,” but their t-shirt printer didn’t allow the use of symbols?”

“Good to know.” Fenno paused. “I guess what I’m getting at is this: how am I supposed to figure out what to apply for when I don’t have anything that could even charitably be called an ‘interest’ or a ‘goal?’”

“Hey man, that’s the best place to be. Just means you can apply for anything, and tell each of ‘em that they happen to work precisely on your greatest passion. Can I recommend something near a beach?”

Seems like as good a filter as any.

“Fenno” is a fictional serial written by an anonymous law student. The main character is always named Fenno and is always a law student, but his or her character changes every school year. This is the penultimate installment of the series for the 2012-13 school year, entitled “Fenno: Mostly Harmful.”

Closes a Door, Opens a Bottle

Note: This series is fictional.


FROM: Lisa Burns

SUBJECT: Fall 2012 Grades Now Available



Fresh off a resoundingly successful run of Solving Problems, Fenno was strolling to his first bit of Crim when his phone buzzed. In retrospect, you’d say “buzzed ominously,” but come on, that thing goes off about 85 times a day with crucial email dispatches (“Queueing Theory, Salad Bars, and You: A Message From Restaurant Associates”), and besides—three weeks of pass-fail stakes have a way of driving these sorts of things from one’s mind. But anyway. With the full benefit of hindsight, we can now say “buzzed ominously,” because that subject line sent a shiver down Fenno’s spine.


To dispense with the suspense, Fenno’s grades were fine. I mean, they’re not going to be naming any buildings after him in 100 years, but on the whole things could have been a lot worse. The author does not wish to leave that drama hanging over the remainder of the piece. Fenno himself isn’t going to have a chance to check HELIOS until after class, but there’s no reason we can’t get this out in the open now.


The First-Year’s Guide to the Law School’s “Grades” entry contains a subsection on “Getting Your First Results.” Fenno skimmed it while he walked to Austin:

Brace yourself. There are those who will try to talk you down, console you with stories about how Professor So-And-So TOTALLY got an embarrassing grade on an exam one time, and look how that turned out. Do not listen to these people. Like it or not, your 1L grades are pretty much the most important thing that comes out of law school. At most, your 2L grades come into play depending on when you start hunting for your second summer job, but if you’re a properly soulless EIP-type even those don’t matter.

If you’re at this school, there’s a… fairly good chance you’ve been getting good grades for a while. With that comes a better-than-average chance of being terrified of closing off any doors to possible futures: as long as your grades are solid, you can keep pushing off the “my life means this now” day of reckoning. That ends now. A good chunk of your fellow first-years just received confirmation that they’ll never be clerking on the Supreme Court or working for Wachtell. Now, this is fine. Life continues. You will not be thrown out of school. But if you’re part of the set who’s been living each day chasing that awesome sticker that says “Grape Job!” and there’s a little bunch of grapes with a smiley face and when you scratch it it smells like grapes, it’s time to get that soul-searching out of the way. This problem is particularly acute among those affected by Small Pond Syndrome. 

“Small Pond Syndrome” is cross-referenced:

A particular affliction common among small-town, state-school types. These kids come to Harvard from the top of their classes at middle-of-the-road schools, eager to test themselves in the big-leagues. Symptoms include an outwardly indifferent, folksy-charm manner masking an inner fear that they’re not really very smart at all and will be rapidly exposed as frauds leading to expulsion, shame, and ditch-digging. Remedied by an early Low-Pass and an evening with an old friend.


Fenno’s Crim class was one of those cruel, laptop-free affairs, delaying any immediate HELIOS run. (And HELIOS on a phone is the sort of hell only wished on one’s worst enemies.) This left him plenty of time to stew, to craft elaborate contingency plans, to steel himself for what was to come. (Here your narrator is compelled to remind you that everything turns out fine, and no grim fate awaits your protagonist.) A like mood hung over most of the class; you could tell who checked their phones on the way over on the basis of each unfortunate soul’s glazed-nervous look.

Post-class, walk back. Chevy was reclined in the common-room, bag of Haribo and a sixer within reach.

“Whoa there. You in some kind of hurry? Kick back, crack a barley-pop. Maury’s on.”

Fenno relayed the situation in re the unfortunate email and his current mission w/r/t computer access. He expected the characteristically blasé response typical of any Chevy/academics intersect. Instead, solemnity:

“Hmmmm. Yes.”

The first-year retired to his chambers, poured a stiff one, and logged in. Turns out, everything was fine. I mean, they’re not going to be naming any buildings after him, but… Anyway. More important things are afoot: is he the father or not?

“Fenno” is a fictional serial written by an anonymous law student. The main character is always named Fenno and is always a 1L, but his or her character changes every school year. This installation is part of the series for the 2012-13 School Year, entitled “Fenno: Mostly Harmless.”


Fenno and the Final Countdown

Note: This series is fictional.

The First-Year’s Guide to the Law School has this to say on the subject of Thanksgiving break:

They say that time is an illusion; the reading period, doubly so. Law students have for decades observed the strange changes in the rate of time’s passage that occur each and every late-November. Tests that seem, when pondering them over a pile of dried-out turkey, to be eons away, suddenly upon a return to Cambridge accelerate over the chronological horizon with alarming speed. Or, put another way: oh no, tests soon.

Fenno was with his study group, talking through an old Torts issue-spotter and quickly realizing that he had not spotted very many issues at all. He’d barely come up with anything for the question about the landlord who didn’t repair the showerhead with a design defect that caused it to fire ball bearings at near-supersonic speeds instead of emitting water like it should’ve. That probably should have been caught at some point in the R&D.

“Christ,” sighed Fenno, “how do you guys catch all of this stuff? I’ve got a 50-word answer.”

“Oh, for this one the outline I got from ACS had all kinds of good stuff. But for that last one, I got a lot out of the FedSoc stuff. That one’s a bit shorter.”

“Wait. How short is ‘shorter’?”

“This one’s…what, 75 pages? Sounds about right.”

Fenno swallowed, hard, and quickly minimized his 13-page torts outline.

The Guide, on “outlines”:

It is vital to accumulate as many outlines as possible, from any and all sources. Do not shy away from making gray-market deals for bootleg outlines from student orgs you’ve never heard of; accumulating this wealth of past knowledge is one of two known purposes of these organizations.

Here the guide cross-references “Lunch.” The “outlines” entry continues:

A phenomenon dubbed “outline envy” by the health center is natural and healthy. A good 1L will quickly realize that the number of outlines in her collection is rivaled in importance only by their length. An outline should be easily consultable under time pressure, in order to alleviate the need to actually retain any information. Thus, an outline should be kept at a reasonable length. The classically accepted formula for determining the rough target-length of an outline is as follows:

(Length of the course’s casebook)/2 * (your worth as a student and a human)3 + 42

The equation’s result can be then adapted to fit your personal idiosyncratic habits, and to make sure it’s at least as long as everybody else’s.

It was late, and Fenno was hunched over a five-year-old Civ. Pro. exam. Chevy wandered past the younger’s open door, either going to or coming from the bar. He paused.

“Did I or did I not see you in the same position six hours ago?”

Fenno sighed. “Perhaps. But these tests loom large; the fear of the LP is strong.” He paused for a beat. “Don’t you have any exams?”

“Oh, sure. Four of ‘em. Better than actually having to write a paper; turns out, when you have more time people expect something resembling quality. Gotta embrace those low expectations.”

“So…you do…study, yes?”

“That would be one word for it.” With that, he was gone.

Fenno paused, and looked down at his 23rd practice exam. He pulled up his measly 17 pages of Civ. Pro. outline, and for a minute thought about plugging it into the Guide’s equation to solve for personal worth, and thought better of it. He poured a drink and went to track down Chevy.

“Fenno” is a fictional serial written by an anonymous law student. The main character is always named Fenno and is always a 1L, but his or her character changes every school year. This installation is part of the series for the 2012-13 School Year, entitled “Fenno: Mostly Harmless.”

The Craving Contests

Note: This series is fictional.

The total area of Austin North’s blackboards rivaled the square mileage of most Midwestern counties; nonetheless, Fenno’s Torts prof was struggling to find a sliver of space on which to write some nonsense about incentives or something. Fenno wasn’t listening—no, it was the rest of the blackboard that had his full attention. That glorious 98 percent of the board was occupied by announcements for Free Lunch.


The First-Year’s Guide to the Law School has this to say on the subject of “Lunch”:

The only thing justifying the existence (and funding) of Student Organizations. It is known that Lunch motivates a greater percentage of a law student’s actions than the next three motivators (fear of failure, a self-image tied totally to academic performance, and the DT’s) combined. This fact, combined with most students’ (at best) ambivalence towards any opportunity for bona fide intellectual or social growth, means that Student Orgs must funnel the vast majority of their meager funding into foodstuffs. The Law School itself is aware of this, of course, but maintains funding as a way to covertly subsidize the crucial Lunch, thereby avoiding the riots that would inevitably ensue if the student population were to purchase Hark Food by the pound more than three (3) Lunches per week.


Some poor, cold-called soul was stumbling over some gibberish involving gratuitous use of “ex ante” while Fenno picked through the rainbow of chalk. Half of it was old news already, advertising Lunches that had come and gone; between that and trying to keep all of the “LAW AND ______” (insert: “gender,” “horticulture,” “philately”) groups straight, Fenno required maximum concentration.


The Guide contains a separate “Lunch and Linguistics” entry:

One must exercise caution in choosing your Lunch. It is a common mistake to choose an event based on topic group affiliation; such a route is to be avoided. Decisions should instead be made along the three relevant categories: “Lunch” means “Pizza,” and generally connotes lukewarm and sober Pinocchio’s; best for hangovers or similar need-for-congealed-grease-on-bread situations. “Non-Pizza Lunch,” is for the gamblers among us; likely contains soggy burritos or bland sandwiches, but there’s a non-zero chance of cookie. “Thai Food” is the holy grail, for reasons not requiring explication.


Fenno was walking headed for a back-row seat in “Hands Off My Jenny: Invert-Error Recalls and the Supreme Court’s Takings Jurisprudence,” burritos in tow, when he bumped into Chevy. The third-year gave him a glance.

“Where,” queried Chevy, “are you off to?”

“Um. That chair? It seems like it will serve my current needs.”

Chevy’s brow arched slightly. “I didn’t take you for a stamp man.”

“Well it was either this or pizza with the Archery Tort Defenders League.”

“That’s… not what I meant.” Upon taking note of the quizzical look on Fenno’s face, Chevy felt something that might have been wistfulness. Or a headache. Either way, he just muttered, “Ah, youth.” After a quick side-to-side glance, he slipped an unopened foil pan marked “CHICKN” into a Coop bag and walked out the side door.

Fenno was stunned by this complete disregard for basic human courtesy. Then he looked down at his burrito. Up at the screen, where somebody was prepping powerpoint slides covering, in laborious detail, failure-points in various printing techniques. Over to the empty chair. Sideways to the door. Freedom.

Out in the hallway, Fenno saw Chevy leaning up against the wall, rice caught in his stubble. The elder gave the younger a brief, prideful nod, then ducked into the stairwell. Fenno found a quiet bench outside, and thought that he’d never tasted chicken so tender.

“Fenno” is a fictional serial written by an anonymous law student. The main character is always named Fenno and is always a 1L, but his or her character changes every school year. This installation is part of the series for the 2012-13 School Year, entitled “Fenno: Mostly Harmless.”