My name is Hala Furst, and I am a 3L. Before coming to Roger Williams I received a BA in Theatre Arts at the University of Minnesota. In the three years between graduating from college and arriving here in Bristol, RI, I worked as a hotel concierge for a luxury brand, a loan officer and mortgage...
I’m just going to warn you now…
In the first semester of your first year, you will be assigned a Memo in your Legal Methods class. Start working on it now.
Before you come to law school, you might look at a course syllabus and think, “Hey, this isn’t so bad. They only have about 15 pages of reading per class”. When you say this, don’t say it anywhere within hearing distance of a law student, because they will probably throw a highlighter at you before yelling something unintelligible about cursing you with a 12(b)(6) motion. Because 15 pages of reading in regular student land is vastly, vastly different from 15 pages in law student land. I have never had to take this much time to read anything in my life. It will take you 2 hours to read 4 pages of a case, and you will be working the whole time. In some ways it is incredibly frustrating, and in other ways it is incredibly fulfilling. Frustrating because COME ON, 4 pages? Seriously. And fulfilling because you realize that this is real learning, this work. When people say you earn a degree, they mean a law degree. You earn it minute by minute, word by word.
So, the same phenomenon operates with writing. Legal writing is unlike any other writing most of us have ever done before. A lot of people go into law school because they are good writers, and think this skill will serve them well. I certainly went into law school thinking that way, and if you’ve been reading my blog you obviously know I’m a good writer so I thought I would be in good shape. But then we all encounter Legal Methods. Legal Methods is like writing boot camp. they have to tear you down, so they can build you back up. It is deceptive, though, because your legal writing professor is usually the most approachable one you have, because their job is to explain things, not use the Socratic method to help you teach yourself. LM is the one course where someone will give you a straight answer, and that feeling lulls you into a false sense of security. Then you get your first paper back and you realize no matter how much explaining they do, you still have to figure it out on your own, just like your doctrinal classes. But still, when you get assigned this 12 page paper you will be tempted to think to yourself, “oh, whatever, I can knock this out the night before it’s due. After I get back from happy hour.”
No. No you cannot. This paper, which seems on it’s surface to be so straightforward, is a deceptive, enigma of an assignment. Every time you think you have a handle on it, you think of something that you forgot to consider, or some authority you didn’t reference, or a citation in which you may have missed a period or incorrectly underlined a comma (no, that isn’t a joke). You will spend approximately 18 years outlining it, and diagramming it, and then finally when you think you are ready to write you will write a sentence approximately every 12 minutes because you have to spend time considering what the word “the” means. Every word has to be defined and clarified and specified- when you come to law school you begin to understand that regardless of your political feelings about the man, when Bill Clinton said “it depends on what ‘is’ is”, he was actually asking a serious question. Suffice it to say, the Memo takes time, both in the doing, and in the thinking about the doing, and the procrastinating of the doing.
Which brings me to my next point: procrastination is not your friend. I am a procrasitinator. I loooooove leaving things to the last minute. Why do something today when you can complete it in a mad, blind, panic minutes before it’s due? It makes you feel alive, I tell you! You cannot do this in law school. I think most of us probably tried to get all of our regular work for the week done so that we could have big chunks of time to work on the Memo, but it soon become apparent that the Memo is not an all at once proposition. You have to let it stew and think about it a bit, and we would proabably all have been better served by working on it for an hour a day, encorporating it into our regular routine for the weeks leading up to the due date. This is how it would be in practice, when you have several cases going at once. As a friend of mine said today, it’s not like you can tell one client to shove off because you have to go to court for another one. You have to learn to juggle, and that is part of what we are all learning in law school too… it’s not just the law, it’s the practice of it. So when you are assigned the memo next year, please, for the love of god take my advice and start working on it when it’s assigned.
Oh, and that reminds me: whatever happens, do your work. At least always do the readings for class. This last week several members of my section had minor heart attacks when a professor who will remain nameless moved on to another case which no one had expected he/she would get to. Sure, it was in the reading, but there were expectations set of the pace of class, and there was a tacit agreement that we would only go so far each day. Or so we thought. So, when he/she called on a student in class to go over this case, there was a palpable chill in the room. It was literally the most nerve-wracking thirty minutes of my life. You will never be so uncomfortable as when you go to class unprepared. So at least do the readings, even if you don’t have time to fully brief. Your nauseous stomach will thank you.
Finally, I want you to know that none of what I write is meant to scare you, it is meant to prepare you. I still love every stressful, exhausting minute of being a 1L. Sure, there are things that I wish I didn’t have to do, and sure there are nights when all I want to do is lie on my couch watching reruns of Golden Girls, but the truth of the matter is that even at 11pm on a Wednesday night in the library there is no where else I would rather be. And, hey, at RWU, for every night you have to spend at a carrel you get a night like Friday, when SPENT hosted student/ faculty Jeopardy that ended with free beer and snacks. It ain’t all bad.