The Law School Magazine  ·  Spring 2008 :

Student Perspective: The First Day of Law School

By - Spring 2008
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Flipping my desk calendar from October to November left me uneasy, even queasy – and not because I hate cranberries and pilgrim hats.  In fact, I have a weakness for cranberries and refuse to eat them unless I’m wearing a pilgrim hat.  But that’s neither here nor there, so back to the issue …

Scribbled and circled in red ink, ominously filling the entire box devoted to Nov. 19, was a note-to-self: “Contracts – Whaley.”  It would be my first substantive law exam, three hours long and all essay, closed book.  To say I dreaded the thing would be an understatement.

Sure, I had two practice exams under my belt, one in torts and the other in contracts, but those were administered under wildly different conditions, i.e., no pressure.  I otherwise had no clue how much or how well I was learning, although I figured my thinking had transformed to some degree because Mom and Dad said they no longer understood anything I said.

Mom: “Jonathan, your father dropped my potted plant from the back deck.” 

Me: “Sounds like Dad … and, of course, res ipsa loquitor.” 

Mom: “You and your filthy mouth!”

At any rate, I was sure the next few weeks would be demanding, if not hellish.  I had synthesized by then half of my class notes with the most popular commercial outline, and yet there was so much to be done.  I needed not only to finish condensing my notes, but also to review the relevant sections of the UCC and the Restatement (Second) of Contracts, both monuments to coma-inducing prose.

Ultimately, I mapped out a schedule, in light of my other classes, that would enable me to finish the outline one week before the exam.  I both succeeded and failed, insofar as I finished by deadline but fell behind in my other classes, skipping a case here or there, or deciding to forego any and all briefing in favor of simply reading.  Necessary, I thought, but arguably unwise.

The Final Countdown

I normally look forward to each weekend, knowing that I’ll be able, at least for a few days, to become a more well-rounded person, to talk about things other than law school and whether, you know, like, a 2L really asked a 1L on a date.  Yeah.  Anyway, sometimes I’ll catch a football game, other times a hockey game, and customarily I’ll try to find my future wife at a Columbus bar (admittedly with as much poise and promise as Miss South Carolina in a geography bee).

But with my exam on a Monday, the preceding weekend was different.  I didn’t look forward to it, and in fact I spent six hours Friday with my study group, wrangling primarily over the requirements of various damages and the bewildering nature of claims involving battle of the forms.  It drove us to drink – literally.  We hit a nearby watering hole that night to cool off before Saturday, which would bring more of the same frenetic pace, minus the study group.  We needed time individually to work through specific problem areas.

Enter: self-doubt.

As I piled layer upon layer, nuance upon nuance, I fitfully digested the material, whose volume was equal to two or three undergrad classes combined.  I felt I knew the stuff fairly well, but I continued to have no clue how I would perform on the exam.

Will I spot the issues? 

 If so, will I spot the relevant facts? 

If so, will I apply the appropriate doctrine? 

Will a supervolcano raze Moritz? 

In any case, I never prepared so carefully for an exam in my life. 


As soon as I awoke, I grabbed my outline to review it once more, bleary-eyed from a restless night, maddening in itself because, since Saturday, sleep was my only reprieve from studying.  Unable to focus, I set aside all things contracts, flipping on the TV to bide time and, in vain, to delay the inevitable.

No matter, the 45 minutes passed quickly, and before I knew it, I was sitting behind a computer in Drinko Hall, protected by a fortress of pencils and peppermints, watching many of my classmates build buffets on their desks – sandwiches, cookies, candy bars, hot and cold drinks, you name it.  Meanwhile, my mind was elsewhere…

Will I spot the issues? 

 If so, will I spot the relevant facts? 

 If so, will I …

 And seemingly instantly, I heard, “You may begin.” 

I followed my roommate’s advice to wait 10-15 seconds before reading the fact pattern, trying to avoid indirectly the pressure to keep up with the first person to begin typing.  From my quick but careful reading, I identified a number of issues, many of them thorny and with incongruous facts, and proceeded to write furiously, becoming more confident page by page.

I saw the issues.  I saw the relevant facts.  And I knew the appropriate doctrine.  I felt I would …

“Time is up.  Please stop writing.” 

I knew I would had survive(d) “Contracts – Whaley.”

 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