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Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from Larry Dieker Jr.’s book “Letters from Law School: The Life of a Second-Year Law Student.” At the start of my second year of law school at New Orleans’ Tulane University, I sat in a gigantic classroom waiting for the start of Evidence class. Around the room I saw the familiar faces, a little older, a little wearier, a number with worry now sprouting from their heads in coarse white strands. We were survivors. We had glimpsed the abyss and held fast. By nine o’clock, almost all of the seats in the lecture hall were filled — more than 140 students. Evidence was a popular course, required in many schools. A lawyer is expected to know something about the rules of evidence. When people think about lawyers, they usually conjure up images of the courtroom, the lawyer rising to speak. “Objection, your honor. Hearsay.” “Sustained.” Most lawyers see little of the courtroom, but a practical reason existed for taking the course: The rules of evidence were also on virtually every state’s bar exam. Students may do fine in law school. They may do better than fine. But if they did not pass a three-day exam two months after graduation, they would never be lawyers. So while first-year students worry about surviving law school, second-year students begin to worry about the rest of their lives — how to pay off their student loans, how their education will translate into a career, and what they’ll need to know to pass the bar exam. When news got out during our first year that less than 70 percent of Tulane law students had passed the Louisiana bar exam, students were suddenly concerned. Spending $65,000 on an education, many expected to know at least enough law to pass the bar. Professors, especially those with more theoretical approaches, were on the defensive. Tulane’s free-market approach to class selection was under attack. The administration scheduled a meeting with students to discuss course selection. The old explanations about the purposes of a legal education were hauled out and presented by several of the school’s more respected professors. The bar exam, that final hurdle, was put into perspective. Yes, the bar exam was something to consider when scheduling classes. No, we should not plan our entire law school education around the subjects tested on a state’s bar exam. “Taking the bahexam is like having to tap dance,” Professor Pillsbury told us, finally. “It bears about as much relation to law school … . The bahreview course will teach you everything you need to know to pass.” For many, though, the thought of paying $600 for Tulane’s bar review course seemed like one more bitter pill to swallow. Over the next couple of class meetings, Professor Landrow would introduce us to the basics of trying a case. Pre-trial preparation, he said, was the most important part. As lawyers, we would always have to keep three things in mind: the facts we would need to prove, the witnesses who would get those facts before the jury, and the exhibits we would introduce with each witness. Landrow was so enthusiastic, we were all ready to give it a try. Get the videotape running. Competence is preparation. You only have to be 51 percent right to get a hundred percent of your damages … We wrote down what the professor said. We studied for the exams. The final two years of law school seemed to dissolve in an instant. Many of us had the idea that we would review our class notes for the bar exam. For most, there just wasn’t time. Besides, the notes no longer seemed relevant. Like everyone else, we took the preparation classes. We purchased binders that contained, we were told, everything we needed to know to pass. To make sure, we sat through lectures and listened to tapes and took practice exams. Then we filed into a convention center filled with tables and nervous potential lawyers and started to write. Law school had prepared us for this much. We could read questions and write essays. We could spot issues. We just had to hope they were the issues the examiners were looking for. We had to get something right. We thought about it in the evening, then suddenly it wasn’t worth thinking about any more. There was nothing that could be done. We went back the next day, then the next. We kept writing and watching the clock. Time seemed to be gobbled up like a cookie. Then we waited. We waited for the letter to arrive in the mail with the results. We waited for the letter that would tell us whether, after all we had been through, after four or five years of serious undergraduate study, with our grade-point averages clutched between our teeth, after three years of law school, after numerous exams and embarrassments, after accumulating enough student loans to buy a house, after endless financial and personal sacrifices, after following a single dream for as long as we could remember, we waited for a thin letter to tell us if it was all worth while. If the letter said we passed, then we hugged friends and wiped away tears. After years of waiting for tomorrow, for one brief moment, there was only today. Lawrence Dieker Jr. graduated with honors from Tulane Law School in New Orleans. He practices law in Ohio, where he lives with his wife and their three children. “Letters from Law School: The Life of a Second-Year Law Student” (Writer’s Club Press) is available at all major online book retailers, such as Barnes and Noble(a partner of law.com). Copyright 2000 by Lawrence Dieker Jr. All rights reserved. Portions of this article previously appeared in “Student Lawyer” magazine.

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