Editor’s note: We asked four 1L law students—two from Colorado Law and two from Denver Law—to submit articles for our new column, “Law Student Chronicles,” twice per year for five years. We will follow them through their educational journey, as well as join them as they venture out into the legal field.
Though I hardly knew it at the time, a day in the life of my first semester followed a fairly clear schedule. The routine was buried under a blur of back-to-back obligations in and out of law school, but it was there. And for the most part, I don’t recommend it!
At 6:30 every morning, my phone rings out with one of those songs you just can’t fall asleep to–whether it’s the Matrix’s famous “Neodammerung” (which is also my ringtone), John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates,” or Beethoven’s Fifth, I’m wide awake by the time the music’s over. Because I’m applying to become an officer in the Marine Corps, I have plenty of working out to catch up on. So, I’ll keep the music flowing with something more relaxing for a mini-workout of pull-ups, sit-ups, and a mile-long run. That, coupled with a Jewish morning prayer called “Sachrit” and a quick breakfast, sets the right tone for what will surely be a long day.
Having spent four years studying Talmudic law every morning at Yeshiva University, I was already well acquainted with the lifestyle of a legal education. The mounds of judicial opinions presented a tough read for our untrained eyes, but Talmudic opinions are designed to be all but impossible to read alone so as to encourage group study. Even the emphasis on “what iffing” a case to death is a technique that transferred smoothly from Yeshiva to CU Law.
Of course, my familiarity with the techniques behind teaching law didn’t make learning the courses any easier. My “aha!” moment of clarity came about a day or two before each final, which you might observe is “not good.”
The main adjustment for me, aside from the almost daily free lunches and fascinating speakers, came in the form of “only” having five courses to prepare for– instead of the nine or ten courses typical of a Yeshiva schedule. The biggest, and perhaps most basic, aspect of law school that I only learned about halfway through finals is the fact that I’d wasted a serious chunk of free time by studying mainly established law instead of focusing on the “maybe,” which is what law finals are testing. (I wish I could restart the semester with that pearl of wisdom!)
Sitting in class and prepping for the next classes often distorted the rest of the day into a haze of confusion, frustration, and worry–a process some 2Ls sum up perfectly as “the maze of pain.” This haze made the days seem as long as the weeks seemed short. I liberally sprinkled more pull-ups, sit-ups, and running into the study breaks, though working out feels less like a break and more like studying for another test – the ominous Physical Fitness Test. If a selection board accepts me as an officer candidate, then I can look forward to ending my second semester with a ten-week semester at the Officer Candidate School that will make this 1L experience feel like a summer’s breeze.
The real break I allowed myself during the weekdays amounted to eating dinner with a tivoed episode of “Law and Order” or “JAG.” In hindsight, I should have spent that free time practicing piano – because watching legal shows does nothing to take one’s mind off of law, and because piano is a passion of mine. At least, it was; I haven’t touched the keyboard since October. That marks a second bad habit I won’t be carrying into “round two,” the second semester.
While that routine resembles a typical day, the truth is that there is no “typical” day in law school. When Legal Writing shook me out of the day-to-day mentality by dropping a memo, citation exercise, or library research assignment, hours upon hours of research and hesitant draft-writing would introduce themselves to the routine, often at the cost of sleep or breaks.
The floodings, snowstorms, and extra-curricular activities I’d taken on also had a way of disrupting an already hectic schedule. As a participant in CU’s Access to Justice program, I drove down to Westminster (not “Westminister,” which my GPS insists is in England) and took notes at a furious pace as judges and witnesses spoke about the growing inability for Colorado’s poor to access legal aid. Along with the other Access to Justice volunteers, I then turned our notes into a draft that will be presented to the state legislature.
Late in November, I also spent the better part of a week being an expert witness in the 1L mock trial. My intention had always been to focus on honing my writing and research skills with Access to Justice, since I’m still under the impression that us lowly 1Ls are not needed for our trial experience. But I was randomly invited into a team and thought, “Witness? How hard could it be?” That may be the greatest understatement of my law school career so far. From memorizing and presenting my deposition and direct testimony (I should say “testimonies,” since each day greeted me with a seriously revised set of directs) to answering unexpected questions on cross-examinations without saying too much or too little, I didn’t do much else that week aside from the trial.
Thankfully, I learned an enormous amount and our team made it to the semi-finals. And, believe it or not, the experience is something I’m eager to repeat next semester–this time, as a mock lawyer.
Until then, free to share yours thoughts and comments below! What do you want to hear more about in upcoming columns?
By Zamir Pearsall