Fenno’s Guide to Writing a Good Exam

Let me begin by saying that the “free press” in this country is a sham, and The Record is no exception. I recently submitted two pieces for publication in this paper: one, an exposé entitled “Time-Travelling SS Officers at Harvard” (with chilling video evidence), and the other, a detailed proposal for replacing the Harvard Law School crest with a picture of an orca devouring the CEO of Goldman Sachs. Both of these pieces were rejected by the Harvard Law Record Editorial Board, on the grounds that they were a) badly spelled and b) “not a constructive contribution to the serious conversations currently taking place on our campus.”

Rest assured that I will continue to speak out on these matters, regardless of what the Dean has to say about it (I don’t think she’s said anything yet, but in case she does), or the student-journalist junta that controls this so-called newspaper. However, in the interest of actually reaching my HLS readership this week, I’ve chosen a “safe” topic upon which to expound my wisdom: HOW TO WRITE A GOOD EXAM. Continue reading “Fenno’s Guide to Writing a Good Exam”

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.”

Kong Phooey

Note: This serial is fictional. 

“Kong. Bar Review. Tonight. You’re going.”

Fenno glanced up at Chevy, who had just strolled into the common room with his demanding-face on. The two had met a few weeks back, when Fenno had sacrificed knee-skin to save Chevy from an oncoming Lesley skater; since then, the elder Chevy (sleepwalking through his last year) had taken the 1L under his wing.

“Man, I don’t understand that bar. Why would anyone bother? Last time I was there, I lost a good shoe—stuck to the floor, never could get it free.”

“What, do you have some crucial CRUPAC’ing to do or something? Don’t care. No time to argue. I’m headed to a pre-pre-pregame.”

“It’s 10:45. In the morning. On a weekday. And I’m not going unless you can give me a single reason to head to that bar instead of drinking cleaning solution.”

“Just take a look at the Guide entry. I think I wrote that one.”

“The what?”

Chevy grimaced, grabbed Fenno’s phone off the couch, and started tapping away.

“Here. The First-Year’s Guide to the Law School. Read up; there’s a bucket of gin waiting for me.”

Chevy tossed the phone back to Fenno and wandered down the hallway in search of potable. The first-year looked at his phone, which was displaying the purchase page for the $0.98 Guide app. The other suggested apps on the page were all at least $0.99, so Fenno took the plunge.


The First-Year’s Guide to the Law School was a most remarkable app, containing everything a bushy-tailed liberal arts kid needed to know to survive 1L in Cambridge. Some of the entries were even factually accurate. The Guide had come to dominate the app-store market for such things, crushing the competition led by the Encyclopaedia Cambridgia for two main reasons: For one, it was slightly cheaper. For two, the home-screen icon was helpfully emblazoned with one block-lettered word: “PANIC.” (If there’s anything a 1L’s good at, it’s panic.)


Fenno searched for “The Kong.” The entry lit up his screen.

The place where every night seems to end. Teams of Cambridge’s finest scientific minds continue to study the strange, gravity-like pull of The Kong, a pull fully active only after 11:30 or so, but each time they end up so hammered that they have to repeat their research again the next night. The current team has been working seven nights a week since 2001; as of this writing, they have made no progress. 

Fenno tapped the “Layout” link.

Three floors. The ground-floor restaurant is a fine place to punish yourself for any wrongs you have/will have committed in any present, past, or future life. Kong “food” is currently considered an illegal torture device by every nation except North Korea and the United States. Try the wontons. 

The second floor, best as anyone can tell, is devoted solely to standing in line for the third floor. While you wait, be sure to enjoy a Scorpion Bowl or five—the contents of the Bowl remain a mystery, though in recent times a consensus has formed that the recipe involves some combination of turpentine and Juicy Juice.

The third floor had its own sub-entry.

You might have thought hell was underground. Think again. The Kong’s third floor is the perfect place to ease your burden if you tire of carrying your dignity around all day. The strange, viscous substance coating the floor is the envy of defense contractors around the globe, all of whom are seeking a more tightly gripping polymer with which to bind warheads to missiles. The third floor remains Harvard Square’s premier destination for listening to horrid music while watching people “dance” like they’re trying to rid themselves of subcutaneous parasites. Highly recommended.

Fenno pulled up the “Bar Review” page next.

Nine out of ten people who own Two and a Half Men on DVD agree that the “Bar Review” name is still a hilarious pun. The HL Central-run event regularly devolves into a mad scramble for precious drink tickets, which confer upon their holders the power to not bother tipping bartenders. A must-attend for anyone who has to sit through Torts.

Next he tried searching “HL Central,” but the Guide only returned an “ENTRY NOT FOUND” page. Fenno shrugged. Chevy was right: he had to go to the Kong tonight.

“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 End of 1L (Part 8 of 8)

Note: This serial is fictional. 

Fenno skipped out of class, his step light. He had finished his 1L classes. The past year was suddenly a blur: it had humbled him, challenged him, shouted him down, shook him to his very core, revealed to him the horrible inconsistencies of the law… And yet it was over.

Not quite over: there were three more grueling and  tedious weeks ahead. Three weeks later, he would feel an even greater sense of accomplishment wash over him, after he had completed his last final. He would run wild with his section the last real night of his 1L year, feeling finally like he belonged with his imperfect section mates, each strange and impossible to discern, just like him.

There were so many uncertainties still in Fenno’s future: Would EIP bear fruit for him? What would he do after graduation? Where would he end up living?

Yet those questions could wait. In fact, Fenno began to take comfort in their mystery. The fact that so much of his future was yet undetermined wrapped Fenno in the knowledge that he was still growing, still changing, still open to revision and improvement. His uncertainty was no longer an ailment to be cured, but a badge that he would carry with him for the rest of his life, as he continued to learn and adapt and appreciate all those unanswered questions and discovered new unanswerable ones.

But, today, he had finished his 1L classes. And that little victory was something to revel in.

“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 2011 to 2012 School Year entitled “The Uncertain Fenno, 2011 to 2012.”

Fenno and the Prisoner of Concord (Part 5 of 8)

Note: This serial is fictional.

“Look, man, I really need your help,” the Prisoner of Concord pleaded. Fenno tried to remain unswayed. Prison Legal Assistance Project received dozens of such pleas a week. Fenno had joined because the time commitment, an hour a week, was negligible and the gaping white space on his resume demanded to be filled. But it was hard, to sit in a room and answer phone calls from prison, and say again and again that there was nothing he could do. He imagined the Prisoner of Concord, trapped in his little box, asking some clueless kid miles away for help.

A few days later, he was on his way to Concord. Fenno had taken the case because he was tired of waiting. He was tired of reading about and talking about and thinking about being a lawyer. He wanted to be one already.

Cambridge quickly receded into the grey winter textures of suburban Massachusetts. The prison rose from the ground, brick and concrete heavy on the earth, fences tearing at the sky, guard towers anchoring the atrocity to this world.

Fenno was run through metal detectors and buzzed through doors and ordered through hallways before he finally reached the small booth where the Prisoner of Concord had been brought before him. The Prisoner of Concord had stepped right out of a bad prison movie, his light blue jumpsuit ragged, tattoos grazing his worn face, and his hooded eyes hollow.

The Prisoner picked up the black phone on the other side of the dirty plastic pane separating him from Fenno. Before Fenno even picked up his phone, the Prisoner began to spew his story. He was not a bad person, the Prisoner of Concord explained, but life brings us where we are with little regard for such trivialities. The Prisoner rambled on about his life, prison, and how he found himself facing a disciplinary violation for merely for not hearing a guard’s order to get back to his cell. Fenno absorbed it all, fascinated, his ears delighted to devour words that were not related to grades, firms, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, or outlines.

Fenno left the prison feeling free. He had been so overwhelmed by 1L that he had somehow forgotten the rest of the world and all the strange and wonderful people in it.

“Some of these guys are here for the rest of their lives, so they’ve got nothing to lose. They just want to make it hell for the rest of us.” The guard said on Fenno’s way out, and Fenno saw that he was trapped too.

Back on campus, Fenno worked on his motions to dismiss and for the first time in a long time, he remembered why he came to law school.

“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 2011 to 2012 School Year entitled “The Uncertain Fenno, 2011 to 2012.”

Fenno and the Perfect Hair (Part 4 of 8)

Note: This serial is fictional.

Fenno had entered law school with so many dreams. As a 0L, he had basked in them, colorful and different, each one vibrant and warm. He would wake up every morning during that lazy summer before 1L and try on a new dream: he was an ambassador to Syria, a BigLaw partner, a senator from Georgia, Vice President of some yet unknown tech company, a Circuit judge, an ACLU attorney…

Today, as he sat in Professor Feldman’s international course, Fenno had not dreams, but a narrow path to trod. Like so many of his peers, he now knew exactly where he was going and how to get there. He would attend EIP that summer. He would summer at a firm after 2L. He would work at that firm after 3L. After that, his life, no longer his own, would be measured in billable hours. At only 25, Fenno had his entire life already unfurled before him, with monotony the price to pay for stability.

For him at least, it was too late to find another path. His grades were too awful for anything more; thoughts of clerkships or the DOJ Honors Program vanished with the now ever-present LP. And although he knew that almost anyone in the world would kill to trade places with him, he was doomed to be forever trapped in rooms filled with people he would kill to trade places with.

Professor Feldman ran his hands through his perfect hair, as he often did, reminding Fenno of his own strange lot in life, to be cast always as the supporting actor, only to illuminate the real star. He imagined that Feldman’s classmates proudly recalled their memories of the genius as a young man. He imagined himself saying the same of Raj, destined for greatness as well, in ten years. Yet what he really wanted was for his turn in the sun, to have those dreams return to invigorate him once more. Instead, he was a train chugging from station to station, stuck on his track alongside wild horses, resigned never to run freely with them.

Fenno looked around his class and saw the two types of people at Harvard Law. There were the brilliant few, the chosen, who, like Feldman and Raj, woke up glistening, every hair in place, spewing genius from every breath. And there were those like him, who, though bright, worked through their to-do lists every day, wondering when their time would come and plodded on, comfortable but unremarkable.

“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 2011 to 2012 School Year entitled “The Uncertain Fenno, 2011 to 2012.”

Fenno and the Cold Reception (Part 3 of 8)

Note: This serial is fictional

The first person Fenno told about his LP was an OCS advisor. It struck him that his confidant was not a family member or a friend, but this stranger who recited assurances that he would get a job, but it would take work, hard work. He wanted to tell her that it wasn’t because he was stupid, that he was different from every other student who had gotten an LP. He wanted to fill the awkward pauses in the room with a sob story—his mother had died, his laptop floundered—anything but the truth, that he had no one to blame but himself.

He shuffled off to class later that day and, as he had done every class since the day grades came out, adjusted his seat so he could hide behind his peers. No longer did he fancy himself impressing his classmates with the facts he carefully gleaned from the casebook. Now, he merely wanted to pass through each class unnoticed. His classmates, too, had been transformed by their grades. Those who had done well were inflated by a new confidence to offer their opinions, unsolicited. Raj, for example, was routinely volunteering to parse concurring opinions and recent legal scholarship. And those, like him, who had been disappointed by mediocre evaluations, sank lower into their chairs and gazed glumly at their casebooks, hoping to avoid the almost certain public humiliation of the cold call.

That night, Fenno fumbled through his first reception. He had long shunned the practice of networking; to him, there was nothing more degrading than such an eager reliance on personality, rather than quality of work, for advancement. But the OCS advisor told him to attend, and he was no longer in a position to stand by his lofty and admittedly flimsy principles.

The firm that night was Simpson Thatcher, a firm he, in his new position at the bottom of the barrel, could now never hope to work for. Still, he feigned confidence and a passion for the law. He declared his devotion to Mergers and Acquisitions as one would professing undying love to a princess. He waxed poetic about contracts. He echoed New York was indeed the center of the world.

He walked back to his dorm feeling that he had done very well, that he had played the part of a promising legal enthusiast and perhaps that would be enough.

“Coming back from a reception?” his neighbor asked, spying him in his dark suit. When Fenno nodded, the aged 3L said cynically, “Those don’t really matter. They’re just going to decide based on your grades.”

Fenno was quickly deflated again.

“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 2011 to 2012 School Year entitled “The Uncertain Fenno, 2011 to 2012.”

Fenno and the Ultimate Failure (Part 2 of 8)

Note: This serial is fictional.

Fenno’s heart stopped when he saw it. The “LP” next to “Torts” was tiny, yet it seared him. A thousand thoughts ran through his head, and his tiny dorm room spun. He lay on the floor, wishing it would just swallow him already. He remembered his college friends teased him about becoming president one day. “Good luck with that now,” the positively gleeful voice in his head said. He tried to straighten the room, plot a new path, and count all his blessings, but it didn’t work. All he could see was that LP. That mark that would live with him forever.

And then his computer started dinging. G-Chats flooded the room, “How’d you do?” “Bar Review to celebrate?!” “Yes! H in Crim!” He shut off his computer and climbed under his covers. He reached for his phone, but then he realized there was no one he could call. He couldn’t tell his parents; they had been so proud of him. He couldn’t tell his friends; they would think less of him. So he just sank into his bed, hoping someone would run into the room and tell him everything was going to be alright. But no one did, probably because it wasn’t going to be.

Fenno was awake long before his alarm blared at 8:30 a.m. the next morning. He wondered if he should even go to class or just walk straight off campus and keep on walking until he could find a place to hide and simply disappear. He eventually decided to strategize his day. He would have to walk into class late and leave early to avoid questions from class mates. But maybe that was too obvious. Maybe he could enter class normally but feign a sore throat. He was still contemplating his options while brushing his teeth in the dorm bathroom when Raj walked in.

“Hey, how’d you do?” Raj said.

“Yeah, good, pretty good. You?” Fenno replied, surprised at the stillness in his voice.

“DS’d in Contracts! Can you believe that? I barely went to class. But I’ll take it.” Raj said.

Fenno heard himself congratulating Raj as he slinked away.

“No one has to know,” he thought.

“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 2011 to 2012 School Year entitled “The Uncertain Fenno, 2011 to 2012.”

Fenno and The Prophecy (Part 1 of 8)

Note: This serial is fictional

“You will all fail on January 26.” The words had appeared mysteriously on the white board beside Fenno’s room in Ames dormitory. When Fenno saw it this morning, still groggy from sleep, that terrible knot that had occupied his stomach since the end of finals stirred and tightened. Just as he was about to erase the awful prophecy, Raj walked by, read it aloud, and shrugged. “I think that message is for you, Raj,” Fenno said, jokingly, but a horrible voice in his head whispered in reply, “No, it’s for you, Fenno.”

He tried to brush the thought away, but it stayed with him all day, through the drone of another day of Problem Solving Workshop and through the sloppy group meeting following it. That night, at Cambridge Common, he sat with his section mates and played a game they had been playing every night since finals had ended: Who’s Getting an LP?

“Jessica.” He heard himself say, “She was late to like every class. She never knows what the fuck she’s talking about. And she wasn’t in a study group.”

His friends debated his claim, like they did every night. But even though Fenno thought he had downed enough beer to dull the voice, he heard it again, louder than before. “Fenno. He had a panic attack when he saw the last fact finder in Torts. He was six hundred words under the word limit. And he went to a state school.”

“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 2011 to 2012 School Year entitled “The Uncertain Fenno, 2011 to 2012.”