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I don’t know what’s gonna happen man, but I wanna get my kicks before the whole ****house goes up in flames! –Jim Morrison For 3Ls, this is the home strech. True, the Bar Monster is still hiding under the bed at night, just waiting for them to close their eyes. But for once, the stress over grades isn’t as looming. Sure, there are those who still work their hardest at this stage of law school strictly because after all the suffering and striving, they don’t want to see their class rank go south for the summer. If class rank for the sake of class rank is how you want to spend your last semester before that firm job, buddy, I hope that does it for you. We asked some soon-to-be graduates about their feelings now, as law school life comes to an end and the life of a practicing lawyer looms on the horizon. DEATH OF A LAW STUDENT Some are taking on a Willy Loman-esque philosophy. Jamie is coming to terms with exactly what the law means to her — and what it is costing her. She lamented, “I just want one whole day where I don’t have to stress. That doesn’t sound like too much, does it? I swore to myself after I survived my first set of finals that I would enjoy one stress-free day in law school not involving playing hooky. But the way the law school conspiracy is run, the second one project or crisis is over, a new one takes its place. It’s not that I’m overwhelmed. I can handle what I have. I just want to have one day that I can say law school didn’t claim. I like what I do. But there’s always something.” “Have you seen or read ‘Death of a Salesman’?” “Look, I’m not going to kill myself. But … well, maybe you hit something there. Because sometimes it feels like I’m killing myself.” “And you keep chugging along because? …” “Because I’ve been around the world and seen places all over where human life is valued about as much as a sack of rice. One time, that was literally the case … You see, I have no choice. I have to do what I’m doing. It’s bigger than me. The problem is, with the life I live, it gets clearer every day that I am smaller than it. “So what are my thoughts now that I’m finishing law school? That I would do it all over again, only, I wish it didn’t take so much out of me.” MIDNIGHT FROGGERS The problem with trying to pause and figure things out at this pivotal stage is that, as the end approaches, there is more and more to do, and less and less time to think about what you are doing. Jason has never been busier in law school, and that includes finals. “Besides breaking up with my 1L girlfriend when I’ll move back East, in the next couple months I have to: figure out which offer I’m taking, study for the MPRE, study for the bar, graduate, find an apartment in New York, move, say good-bye to everyone … Soon as that’s over I get a month of suddenly doing nothing in Tahiti. I know I’ll just go nuts. And then suddenly I’ll be working two full-time jobs at whatever firm I finally settle on.” “Two?” “It’s hard for me to digest one job being so many hours. So I just think of it as two jobs doing the same thing for the same employer.” “Does that mean you’d rather work 40 a week and make ‘only’ $60,000?” “What I’d rather do is just outright give them two or three years of my life and have them pay off my student loans, all in one smooth transaction. It would only take a minute. Then I could immediately walk away with three less years to live and not worry about making money all at once. Go back to a normal life, you know? “But to answer your question about how it feels to be finishing law school … I just can’t answer your question. I’m too busy to feel anything. Really, it doesn’t feel like anything other than what it is — busy.” In fact, the only reason Jason had time for this conversation was that all the stress gave him insomnia and so he called me in the middle of the night. “Two in the morning,” he sighed. “This, at least, is my time. I refuse to spend it on law school. A lot of times I just get under my flannel covers and watch old episodes of ‘The Muppet Show’ on tape.” “Come on, man. Then you are doing something other than stressing. There is a way you feel about law school.” “OK, OK,” he laughed. “You’re as persistent as a cross-examiner.” I felt a combination of wince and a smile settle onto my face. “OK. The way I feel is that I really appreciate what time I do get to myself and I’ve learned not to throw any time away. I mean, it’s Kermit.” FUN, FUN, FUN NOW THAT DADDY TOOK THE LAW FIRM AWAY “How do I feel? I actually feel hungry — in that long-term sense. I want to do things now.” Watson is one of those law students who manages to coast to a fair amount of success with minimal effort or stress. “Ever since I was a kid, my father and I just understood that I was to join his import-export practice. I mean, I had my summer jobs set up before I ever got to law school, me, the only child. It was more important for me to learn how to be a lawyer in his firm than my material per se. If it weren’t for the bar, I’d have had zero incentive to learn most of the things they tried to teach me [in my classes]. Well, maybe that’s not so unique. “A few months ago, my dad had a heart attack. Not too major. He came home the next night and he’s fine now. But he can’t stress. So he had to give up the firm. That was when his partner decided to have a midlife crisis and left us to open an Italian restaurant. “A business acquaintance of the family’s heard what was going on and offered to buy my cut of the firm out. We talked it over, and it worked out for everyone. Best for the family and our clients. Smooth transition, you know? “And suddenly, instead of a set path, I have every option in the world now.” “You mean that you don’t have to work at the firm?” “I mean that the only thing I have to do is to take things seriously now. Look man, I’ve been cruising on auto-pilot for five semesters of law school. This is the proverbial blessing in disguise. Now that nothing is a given, I can really push myself.” “So what are you going to do?” “That’s just it. I don’t know. Isn’t that great?” “It could be.” “Exactly,” he said as he led us into an Italian restaurant. “It will only be great if I make it great. It will suck if I don’t do something about it. For the first time, I’m responsible for my situation!” After some wonderful Moscato, he got a distant look in his eye, and I got my tape-recorder ready. “I didn’t have to struggle for a thing in law school. Not for a job, and not for grades either. I just didn’t have to take it seriously. Even the few times I got an A+, it didn’t mean much to me. I knew where I’d be working at until my kids would be ready to take over. And given my dating history, that would have been quite a while indeed. Now I want to see what I can do.” “Any ideas?” “Not a one. My head is spinning with a million maybes. But,” he pointed out excitedly, gesticulating with our now-empty bottle, “I am excited about the future for the first time. I want to be serious about it. The law, you see, as you may have noticed, quite frankly, bites. Bites! It bites for most people most of the time. For the people who need its protection or a way to get money — and for the people who work in it. But this baptism by fire thing has woken me up. Now! Now I can choose for myself what to do and why. I want to do things instead of just thinking about them or talking about them.” Watson’s situation is unique, and it is part of the reason I asked him for an interview. Because if few students are really committed to working a certain area of the law (besides the area that can pay off $80,000 in loans), then now is the time to figure out if they really want what they are about to commit to or not. Law school can feel like a crowded tidal wave you’re expected to surf. Everyone’s looking for an offer to land on the beach with. You hope for a smooth landing at a well paying institution. That institution will look at you like a sponge washed up to shore: “How many hours can I squeeze out of this thing before it goes dry? That’s OK. Look at all those other sponges washing up, just begging to get squeezed!” By chance, Watson was forced to learn to swim, to learn to navigate his own direction. Not everyone has that chance fall into their laps. It seems that all that one really needs to learn to swim one’s own way in law school is the simple desire to do so. HAVING IT YOUR WAY Mark decided it’s never too late. While he can’t wait to start his tax work in Jersey, there is plenty to enjoy now in law school. “Ever since I got to law school, I made every sacrifice in the name of pragmatism. Took the classes that would help me either get good grades or prep for the bar. Now I’m taking a light load [as far as registered classes go] and just sitting in on all the classes I wish I had taken. It sounds nutty, but I’m doing more reading for those classes than the classes I’m registered for. See, I want to attend and follow the material for my own reasons. For once, this damn law school can’t make me learn what I don’t want to, and it can’t stop me from learning what I want!” “Don’t the professors figure out what’s going on?” “Only one has so far. I got called on — he had looked at the seating chart wrong. And I said, ‘Oh, I’m not Mr. O’Brien. He’s behind me.’ But he’s one of those profs. He said, ‘Well, you haven’t IRACed a case for us yet. What is your name?’ What could I do? I jumped into the case without mentioning my name, hoping he wouldn’t bring it up. “Now let me tell you: I had never been a smooth talker in class. Never. Always felt that pressure, felt all those eyes staring right through me, you know? But for the first time in law school, after five stuttering semesters, I totally came through.” “Sweet! And the prof never found out?” “He caught up to me in the hall. Said I showed a solid understanding and enthusiasm for the material he rarely sees in his classes. Said he wanted to buy me a cup of coffee. How could I refuse? “So we talked for an hour about about mental health law. And the whole time, I’m thinking, “Please, don’t ask my name.” Which of course he did. He said it wasn’t a familiar name to him, so he consulted the seating chart he of course carried with him. I was so afraid he would misunderstand. Then he figured it all out for himself. He was really impressed with my ‘initiative.’ Now, instead of coffee, he takes me out for lunch.” “What’s the big deal about him finding out? Why not just ask the profs if you can audit their classes?” “Because I’m taking the classes for the experience of taking them as a student. I wasn’t able to take them as a law student the regular way and I wanted to know what it was like, not just passively audit without any accountability. Maybe you don’t get it, but it makes all the difference in the world to me.” “So you’re not going to come clean to all the profs whose classes you’re auditing? You might be able to give up cooking.” He cocked an eyebrow. “No; the thing is, I don’t want to be treated differently since I’m not treating the classes any differently. If I was ‘just auditing’ and had never been called on, I wouldn’t know now that I have it in me to speak well in public. Maybe I won’t try to limit myself to transactional work alone after all. My whole future is posibly changed and definitely filled with more possibilities.” “Is this just about litigational versus transactional opportunities?” “More than that. I have a whole new perspective on succeeding in the law now. It really is about pouring yourself into your work with enthusiasm. I know this sounds idealistic, but I figure if I can find a niche where I’m doing what I enjoy as much as these classes, I’ll thrive — and never stutter again.” Of course, Mark’s situation is atypical in that he wants to take more classes. But his case isn’t unique, and is entirely relevant here because taking on a whole new perspective on law school, one not facilitated by the normal way of doing things, has allowed him to find his own way to succeed. And if nothing else, that’s what this epoch of law schooling should be about: putting together and understanding how to use all the tools you fought so hard to attain. Free-lancer Mitch Artman lives and writes in Chicago.

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