The first two years of law school are not unlike Ferdinand Magellan’s storied voyage. (Bear with me.) As a 1L, I walked into Drinko Hall with a plan: I would specialize in First Amendment and constitutional law, and I would graduate and follow in the footsteps of Floyd Abrams. As a 2L, I returned to Drinko Hall with a different plan: I would not specialize much at all, and I would graduate a generalist, ready for whatever my first client brings to me. Now, as a 3L, I’m just hopeful that the law someday will make sense to me (I’m only half joking).
Which is to say, I set out two years ago with one set of assumptions about the law and my professional life, prepared to follow my carefully drawn maps, but I have changed direction as my interests evolved and as opportunities presented themselves. Indeed, two years of servitude to contracts, criminal law, evidence, property, administrative law, etc., all punctuated by bouts of solitary confinement to get it done, has expanded my field of vision.
Ignorance and Romance
The more I learn, the more ignorant I feel — and I’m not trying to be humble. I really feel dwarfed by the law. I coasted through undergrad, more or less, and figured (in blissful foolishness) I could coast through part of law school. Not so much. It’s been a rough ride, one that permanently has changed my perspective. I mean, I’ve caught myself saying how happy I am that an exam is only three hours, proctored in class. Which is so much better, I tell myself, than an eight-hour take-home. That’s right, I now live in the parallel universe where people celebrate three-hour exams.
In a larger sense, my once romanticized perception of law school and the legal profession, a la To Kill a Mockingbird, has succumbed slightly to reality, sometimes far afield from anything romantic (except to say that the law is a jealous mistress). Still, I remain hopeful, for good reason, that I’ll find my place in the law, somewhere I can do good and decent work in a community that matters to me. I’m confident my classmates can do the same.
Finding Your Passion
First, a confession. You don’t want me to be your tax attorney. Those folks are important, sure, even loved by some (presumably their spouses), but I’m not wired that way. Passion begets performance, and I’m about as passionate for tax law as I am for penny loafers. (Ironically, most people who practice tax law also wear penny loafers.) That said, the last few years have brought some surprises. For example, I entered Moritz with a fear of business law — an aversion to it, even though I performed OK in undergrad b-law — and now I’m executive editor of the Entrepreneurial Business Law Journal, clerking in-house at a Fortune 500 company, and I scored my highest grade in contracts. Go figure.
And the surprises don’t stop there.
As a judicial intern at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, I discovered an interest in class-action work. As a judicial extern at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, I discovered an interest in criminal sentencing. And as a student in Moritz’s mediation practicum, I discovered an interest in the interplay of ADR and disputes that arise under the Freedom of Information Act.
Quite simply, I have zigzagged through law school, discovering different professional possibilities along the way.
Stealing Lunch Money from the 1Ls
I’m looking forward to my third and final year — looking forward to stealing lunch money from the 1Ls, getting to know the 2Ls, and continuing to cut my path to the profession. I’m signed up for some clinics, a few substantive courses, and a couple of cross-disciplinary seminars. No doubt, the surprises will continue.
In any case, compared to a few years ago, I’m older and wiser (and much poorer), and yet it scares me to think that I’m supposed to know what I’m doing. Supposed to have a sense of the answers, or at least where to find them. In reality, I’m just wondering and wandering myself to contentment, trying to chart my own storied voyage.
Jonathan Peters, a rising third-year student and award-winning columnist, is a Leadership Scholar at Moritz. He is from Athens, Ohio, and a graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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