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From one minute to the next, I can't tell whether I am more amazed that the year flew by so quickly or that it took so long. I thought it had flown by until the day after school when I was saying goodbye for the summer to a couple of my good friends who were in my study group. Up until then, it seemed like just a few days before I was playing softball during orientation week with my new classmates. Then as I was saying goodbye, again after playing softball, I realized that after all we'd been through together, it felt like I had known them forever.
I am writing this column in the sun (oh, how I've missed my friend the sun) outside a coffee shop in Vegas. After three weeks of working full time externing for a federal judge, I realize how much I missed the working world.
I started out the school year all gung ho and filled with good intentions of changing my previous poor study habits. (That didn't last as long as I wanted.) I can't understand completely why it is that I've been a top performer at the jobs I've had, but I can't get motivated in school. Second semester grades haven't come out yet, but I am pretty sure I'll still be in the middle of the pack, which I guess is okay.
So far so good
So far (okay, three weeks isn't much to form an opinion from) working for a federal judge has been interesting. The attorneys writing the briefs I've read couldn't have taken a legal writing course similar to the one I did, or they would have failed. It's amazing to me that some practicing attorneys write worse briefs than did we students. The writing and organization is sometimes sloppy, and the creative interpretation of the underlying case law is mystifying. How can opposing briefs cite the same case but identify a contradictory holding?
I am now learning how important it is to hand in a well-written brief. The shoddy ones with the creative interpretations automatically make the reader doubt the substantive claims behind them, even if the claims are strong on their own.
My time is again my own
The best part about summer so far is that my free time is truly my own. When I flew home for spring break, I popped in a DVD to watch during the flight and felt guilty that I wasn't studying. Actually, all through spring break I felt guilty that I wasn't doing any work. The guilt was also there when going to a movie or a ball game or any time I spent just having fun during the semester (though I think I pushed that guilt aside a bit more easily than most). Now, when I leave work I am free to do whatever I want. No need to break out the casebooks over the weekend.
Advice to incoming One Ls
Have fun. Don't fall victim to the stress. There will be more than enough of your classmates doing enough stressing. Make sure you do most of the reading, but don't be afraid to skip a night of reading to go to a ball game, a movie, a concert or whatever it is you are into. If you get called on the next day, just pass. Your grade won't be affected, and your life will be the better for it. Enjoy the flexibility of your schedule and sneak off to a museum or take a nap one afternoon.
Law school is nowhere near as bad as you think it will be. Sure, there were lots of times I wished it was over and that I could get back to working in a real job, but there were certainly plenty of fun times in the first year.
The Pitcher's Mound
There were ups and downs this year, moments when I wondered why I had decided to go back to school. When I'd wonder why anyone would ever want to subject himself to severe winter weather or the tedium of law school. ~
Sometimes in life there are moments of clarity when you take notice of where you are and what you are doing. Most of the time I see the trees, but every so often I can back up and see the forest. There were two such moments this last year, both happened on the softball field.
My first year of law school pretty much started and ended on the pitcher's mound of a softball field. During orientation I was standing on the pitcher's mound of a section v. section softball tournament when I looked up and saw all of Chicago's massive skyscrapers above me. That's when it hit me. I was at a pretty damn good law school in one of the nation's great cities surrounded by my new classmates preparing to embark on a year like no other.
The day after finals we were playing a softball game at Comiskey Park (aka U.S. Cellular Field, where the White Sox play) against the One Ls from our supposed rival school, the University of Chicago. That's when I looked up at the scoreboard and the stadium, surrounded by my classmates, who are now my friends, and realized that I had completed my first year at a pretty damn good law school in an amazing city.
To use some math that would make Yankee Hall of Famer Yogi Berra proud: after the first third of law school, 90 percent of the work is done. They say it gets easier from here, and judging by how often I saw a 3L on campus (almost never), I believe it.
Years from now, when I am toiling away billing 2,000+ hours per year for some sweatshop law firm, I will probably stop for a minute and remember back to those two moments on the softball field and wonder why I'd ever wished law school would end. (Though being a federal judge looks like a good gig.)
In keeping with my tradition of the year, my cigar is almost gone so this column must be finished.
Trevor Hayes is a first-year law student at Northwestern University School of Law and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is just now learning that books can be used as more than doorstops.
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