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by Trevor Hayes | March 10, 2009

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In Vault's new column, One L, Northwestern Law School 1L Trevor Hayes gives you the skinny on life in the law school trenches. This is the eighth in a series.

As we approach our second batch of law school finals, the student body lacks a sense of stress that many felt last semester. Most people want to do well, but many say they gave their all last semester, saw that law school grades are a crapshoot and decided to enjoy this semester more by not working so hard.

But then again, my classmates must be doing some work because I still haven't been able to rally a large group of One Ls to take an afternoon out of reading week to see my favorite team, the San Diego Padres, play the Cubs at the amazing Wrigley Field. Thankfully, I've managed to assemble a few folks for the outing.

There's an almost universal feeling that the effort, and stress, put into last semester was overkill, and people are determined not to do it again. A couple of examples from my personal experience illustrate this. In one class the professor used my answer for 30 percent of the test as the sample answer, but I still didn't get an A. For another test I flubbed the save on my laptop and lost an answer worth nearly 40 percent of the test and didn't get a C. The professor from the first class couldn't give a good reason why I didn't get the A even though I had one of the better answers for a big chunk of the test; the second professor couldn't really articulate why I didn't fail the other test. This all lends support to the theory that profs draw numbers from a hat.

The people I know believe they got the major concepts of each class and can identify an intentional tort and discuss the theories of causation in product liability theory. (Palsgraf-Polemis-Wagon Mound, anyone?) And that's really the important part, isn't it? We will be able to use our knowledge to practice law in a couple of years, so who cares about the grades? Oh yeah, the recruiters care, which mystifies me completely.

Obviously, everyone in law school is intelligent, and anyone who's attending law school knows the arbitrary nature of the grading system and that what separates an A- from a B+ is the toss of a coin. So shouldn't a greater emphasis be placed on the other aspects of law school, such as involvement in extracurricular activities and leadership? The specific practice areas of the law will primarily be learned on the job anyway, but leadership skills and a willingness to be involved are intangibles that people either have or don't. Then again, maybe the firms are just looking for drones to punch in the hours. I hope not. Maybe I am just biased because my skills lie more in the area I am pitching for.

Can't teach an old dog new tricks

I've learned this semester that 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks' is a clichi for a reason. I've never been a great student. Extracurricular pursuits and involvement in the campus and larger communities have always been a higher priority to me than straight A's. I thought I would turn that around this year. While in a job I can be a perfectionist, whether that be waiting tables or as a reporter covering a vice presidential visit. But for some reason in school it is so much easier for me to say 'good enough' and move on to the things that most interest me. So I guess before taking my advice on the laid back approach to law school, you should e-mail me in December to ask about my job hunt. ~

We all could possibly be deluding ourselves into thinking that we can take it a tad easier this semester. Maybe we should be working even harder. It is impossible to talk to career services without hearing the pat speech about the economy and the horrible job market. But that's just not the environment at our school. We work hard but balance our lives with extracurricular activities and fun activities wholly unrelated to the law. It's one of the reasons I came to this school and that attitude wasn't as pervasive last semester as it has been this one.

Think for yourself

A classmate just walked by, and I asked him for input on this column. He said one of the things important to pass on is to think for yourself and not let people tell you how you should feel. He said not to think law school is hard just because people tell you it is and not to feel stressed just because you think you are supposed to feel that way. And I couldn't agree more.

None of us can believe that we are just a reading week and two weeks of finals away from finishing our first year. The year, and especially the second semester, has just flown by. It is so hard to believe that in just over four months we will be coming back from summer two weeks early to start on-campus interviews with law firms, and that a few months later many of us will have landed the jobs we will work for the next five or so years, if not more. So many of my classmates came to law school without a clear idea of which area of the law they want to practice in and now we are almost to the point of having to make that decision. Many still don't know what they want to do when they grow up. But who ever does?

I hope I've helped to demystify the law school experience in this column over the last several months. It is definitely harder than undergrad, but it is not this horrible existence for three years where there is no time to have fun. I know classmates who go out four or five nights a week and others who train for marathons or spend hours a week volunteering and yet others who are just set on having a work-life balance.

As a member of the student admissions committee here, I've been talking to dozens, if not hundreds, of prospective students in recent months. Many of them seem to feel their lives for three years will be nothing more than home and school. If you are a prospective student, don't let that be your existence next year. Life is too short to spend that much time in the library, no matter how spectacular your view of Lake Michigan may be.

I'll give more of my final thoughts on law school in next month's column, which hopefully I will write poolside in Las Vegas. That is if the federal judge calls to offer me the job this week. If he doesn't, I will be writing Lakeside here in Chicago while writing appellate briefs for the State's Attorney's Office.

For now, I need to get it in gear and wrap some studying around the Padres games and the Lakers playoff games to overcome a semester's worth of procrastination and figure out what this rule against perpetuities from property class is all about.

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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