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Once you’re in law school, you don’t look back on college. Law school is a means to an end — of money and power without end — and so you focus on the future. Unless, that is, you happen to be at a dinner party where you feel compelled to make an impression by happening to mention that you went to undergrad at The University of Chicago. Of course, it was only jerks from Stanford that brought out that side of me. When you enter law school, you leave a lot of friends behind in college, many of whom think that getting into law school makes you as cool as the first kid in junior high to wear a leather jacket. Now I get questions like, “How can I beat out those other college juniors — those juniors who are asking their law school friends how to beat me out in the rat race?” Or, “What are the people like in law school? What do you mean even God doesn’t know how bad it’s gotten?” Once you write a column, you get to look back and answer those questions. So gear up — this is Everything You Wanted to Know about Law School but were Afraid to be Right About. College was the paradise of the individual: Discover who you are. Your entire life was built on personal development and self-exploration. (Now, science majors tell me this is crap — they were actually immersed in work — but how many of them go on to law school?) The most interesting facet of the universe was you, and how much more fascinating you got with every day of your burgeoning evolution. Law school is the negation of the individual: Strive to succeed within The System. No one cares about your personal development, including you. The stick by which you are measured (or cudgeled) is success. You discover who’s smart, who’s dumb, and where you fit in. You find out which classes merit doing the homework, and which ones instead warrant a hornbook, the Cliffs Notes of law school. Little wonder that college forms more lifelong friendships than law school. When you keep a fellow law school alum in your life, it’s called networking. The context of this “friend” is professional. It’s all very professional. In college, your summer job rewarded you with experience and beer money. In law school, your summer job pulls in $2,400 a week; now you’re throwing the dinner parties you used to mock when drunk on college beer. You may be learning (as well as earning) a ton, but this new knowledge is only valued insofar as it can help you land a longstanding offer from the uberfirm of Who Wants to Sue a Millionaire. College was about who you were becoming. Law school is about how much you can get, do, sue; who you can scare, manipulate, fool; what you can argue, convince, stomach. Connive, contrive; but always survive! After suffering this ennui of much oy and more vey, the confused 1L reached out to his seemingly content law school friends and asked what the hell was wrong with law school. The reply was always the same: “What did you expect?” What did I expect? I underwent culture shock when no one seemed to care how their environment was changing them, to the point where blood-lust took over that other kind of lust; or to care how grades were revered for their arbitrariness instead of mocked; how classes were actually more popular for making you think less outside the box. Maybe I did expect all this to happen. I just thought people would care that it happened. What do you expect? Academically, expect to be overwhelmed. The big secret about your first year is that, beyond Property or Contracts or motions to dismiss, they’re trying to teach you how to think like a lawyer. That’s what your profs are gunning for, and therefore how the grades are doled out. Until this mental morphing meanders its way to your thought processes, the big picture will never come into focus. If you only know the material cold, you’ll land B’s. If you think like a lawyer but have a mediocre grasp of the material, you’ll also land B’s. Expect to learn to think like a lawyer through a Gestalt process. Law school is as much absorbed as it is learned and taught. For many, law school comes together all at once, like when Hell Week finally breaks a U.S. Marine; you finally understand what it is they’ve wanted from you. Now it’s OK that you’ve learned enough Latin phrases to barter in the Vatican. Now that you think like a lawyer. Survival-wise, expect study groups. Study groups will likely help in your battle against your two foes, the curve and alienation — if only because you are being reminded regularly that you’re not alone in being lawyerized. If only because the few people you like are counting on you to read up on Bowers v. Hardwick. But remember: Most friendships (and therefore most study groups) are formed either during orientation, or not for a few months. It’s critical to be angelic those first few days. Listen to the cliques go click! Politically, expect scrutinization. As a 1L, all your classes will have the same 85 people, filled with (the same) fear and loathing. The minisociety will stratify itself from the get-go between the loud and quiet; smart and foolish; corporate and naive. Everyone is watching everyone watch everyone. Educationally, expect a lot from your professors. Unlike college profs, these academics had a choice about being a prof. This is not your philosophy prof who couldn’t find another way to get paid for dissecting Kant. By being a real lawyer, law profs could be reaping eight times what they currently garner for lawyerizing you. They love what they do and will speak to you like an adult. They are more secure than the college prof who shrieked to protect the sanctity of Aristotle. Further, the market on law school professorships is tight, so your prof probably went to a top-tier school. See? Only one year of law school and I care about that sort of thing. But I went to The University of Chicago as an undergrad; I must know what I’m talking about. Academically, worry about the prescribed concepts, not the individual cases. Law school exams almost never ask for or about a specific case. Instead, you are given a hypothetical fact pattern (hypo) and asked, as judge or counsel, to write about the ensuing claims each side should make. There’s no need to memorize what Colonel Mustard did to Mister Green. Just remember the rule that arose from the case. Which brings us to your actual work. During your first year, all you will do is read and discuss opinions of appeals courts. In the selected reading, the judges got to set a precedent because they were there first — a lot like the kid who chose whether you’d play handball or kickball because he got the ball first. Each precedent indicates what the legal rule for such a situation shall be forever and ever, until it is changed to something else. All subsequent judges follow suit — a lot like the kids who later join the game and play whatever that first kid chose to play. As for those hornbooks, if you fall prey to them, read them as you cover the material, instead of at the end, when you’re experimenting with time dilation: cramming a full semester into one week. Hornbooks clarify the material; they do not replace it. Another surefire way to land B’s. B’s are a big deal because they mean the top third of your class — a good chance of making good money. But pump your average to a B-plus and you’re in the top tenth — a great chance of getting to make fun of lawyers who only make “good money.” I saved the best for last: two prongs of useful, pragmatic advice for dealing with your first year of law school. First, make sure this is what you want. The law all too frequently attracts those unsure about their commitment to the law precisely because there are a million different things they could do with a J.D. Instead, think of law school like marrying your soul mate … who happens to be a leper. If it’s what you want, great — follow the dream. But don’t go in unsure of whether this is what you want. If it’s not what you want, the “What did you expect?” clan will rip you apart before you can say, “summer job.” Oh, I’m exaggerating, am I? How many people say they miss law school? Only those who really hate their legal jobs. Second, roll with the punches. Law school is designed to be a harrowing experience. You’re supposed to toughen up. You’re supposed to get thrown around some. In college, you were becoming yourself. In law school, they mold a shark out of you. Don’t even think about fearing those jaws. From now on, you are the jaws. Free-lancer Mitch Artman lives and writes in Chicago.

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