The Law School Magazine  ·  Fall 2007 :

Student Perspective: The First Day of Law School

By - Fall 2007
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Editors Note: In the spirit of keeping alumni abreast of the College’s environment, we’ve asked 1L Jonathan Peters to detail his personal experience throughout his first year in law school.  Jonathan will continue to welcome our alumni into his journey in future editions of All Rise.

She calls on me the first day of class, the first day of law school. 

“What’s the historical difference, Mr. Peters, between a writ of trespass and a writ of trespass on the case?”

(Insert panic here.)

“Well,” I respond, “one is on the case and the other, of course, is not on the case.  Which means that the second one, the writ of trespass on the case, yes, uh, is drawn to fit a case – a particular case, I mean.  Right, it’s drawn to fit a particular case, Prof. Cole.”

What in the world did I just say?  Maybe she won’t notice that I’m totally, unashamedly inarticulate.  Yes, she will.  She’s a law professor, and I haven’t spoken so unthinkingly since, under anesthesia, I told my knee surgeon to “saddle up because it’s time to play miniature golf.” 

Nonetheless, Socrates seems merciful today, saying, “That’s on the right track, if not lacking a few details.  We’ll work through it together.”

Just what I want to hear: “We’ll work through it together.”  In other words, “I’ll pepper you with questions until we move coherently from A to B.” 

“Would you give any consideration,” she continues, “to whether the injury in question was direct or indirect?”

I suppose I’d be willing to do so if you’d give any consideration to my rapidly increasing heart rate.

Gripping the Torts casebook, my fingers whittling away the binding, I answer, “Actually, yes, trespass would typically fit direct injuries, while a trespass on the case would fit indirect injuries.” 

Where did that come from?

“OK, Mr. Peters, and what about damages?” 

“Umm, well, trespass alone doesn’t require any actual damages…” I say, sounding as if I’m asking a question rather than answering one.

“Good.  Now, I’d like to hear from Ms. Smith.”

Oh, sweet Lord, yes … I’d love to hear from her, too …

Expectations and Surprises

Law school as an experience is what I expected, and it’s not what I expected.  I knew it would be expensive, but I didn’t know books my first semester would eclipse $800.  I knew my classmates would be bright, but I didn’t know they would comprise the most credentialed class ever to enter the College, with a median LSAT of 162 and a median undergrad GPA of 3.61.

I knew that law as an academic discipline would be challenging, but I didn’t know it would cause my matrimony to Black’s Law Dictionary.  (Talk about a dry dinner date.)  Already, the two of us have moved from the murky depths of Pennoyer – the tour de force of antediluvian jurisdictional jurisprudence – to more electrifying and sexy subjects, like liquidated-damages clauses.

Oh, how I fancy those liquidated-damages clauses.

Anyway, all kidding aside, I find myself looking up five to seven words a case, depending on the area of law, and subsequently rereading parts of the case to put everything in context.  Sure, it can be frustrating because I’m no longer accustomed to defining words as I read.  That was so five years ago.  Nonetheless, it’s part of the process, and the ultimate result – understanding and perspective – is intrinsically rewarding.

It’s also humbling, the case method: researching, reading, ruminating, rinsing, and repeating.  I now recognize how little I know of the world and appreciate the extent to which I had erected my own prejudices as principles.  Every class, every day forces me to think critically about issues that I previously neglected and forces me to modify my approach to problem-solving.  Sometimes I affirm my original beliefs and approach; other times I reverse and remand for further consideration.

Opportunity, Privilege, and Responsibility

I’ve realized already that as law students and future lawyers, we have extraordinary opportunity.  We have extraordinary privilege.  And most importantly, we have extraordinary responsibility – to the law, to the bar, to the courts, to clients.

Most of us have and continue to surrender weeknights and the occasional weekend to build the kind of track record that produces results.  We read voluminously.  We write voraciously. We cram.  And we weave networks to help us jump any and all hurdles.

We carry our own bags, and we benefit from the wisdom and experience of others, which places the duty on us to reciprocate — to help others.  It’s a mutually inclusive, win-win transaction in which commitment and conviction together are the currency.

No doubt, my classmates and I have endeavored to join an honorable profession, and to be part of one helluva journey – for the next three years and, quite frankly, for the rest of our lives.  I look forward to their achievements, their success; to our achievements, our success.

But above all, I look forward to the journey.

Jonathan Peters, a first-year student and award-winning columnist, is a Phi Kappa Phi Fellow and Leadership Scholar at Moritz.  Peters is from Athens, Ohio, and a graduate of Ohio University.  In his senior year at Ohio University, he interned in the public information office of the U.S. Supreme Court.  E-mail him at peters.401@osu.edu

 

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