What is it like to be a law student?

What is it like to be a law student? Exhausting. Exhilarating; humiliating; intense; indescribable.

Imagine taking a plane to a new country, getting off the plane and finding out that the natives speak a language you've never heard of before, and you're starting school in that language tomorrow morning. Imagine that not only is it a new language, but that the rules of logic, of argumentation, even of courtesy are different from any you've ever heard of before. And know that from the first 15 minutes in, you're being judged by your ability to perform according to these unstated rules.

You generally have about 15 classroom hours each week, and you're told that homework should take about three times as long; that's about 60 hours a week. And after the first semester, that may be true; if you're really good at picking up on each teacher's style and all the words you have to look up in the dictionary, you may get it down to 60 or 80 hours a week halfway through your first semester. But for the first month, expect to work 80 hours a week and not to catch everything.

You read the case, and you go to class thinking you know what it said, and your professor asks you something altogether different. I'll still never forget that poor kid with a southern accent in first-year contracts. We had just started a new chapter; the title of the chapter was "Mistake." And the judge wrote an opinion about a mistake in a contract. The teacher walked into class, settled herself, and said, "okay, let's talk about failure of consideration." The country boy said, "but this is a mistake case!" And the professor said, "When the client walks into your office, is he going to say 'I have a mistake case here"? The case is whatever you can win it with." She then went on to explain how if you argued it as a mistake case it was a loser, but if you argued it as a failure of consideration case, you might win. Needless to say we walked out in various degrees of confusion, frustration, depression, and anger. If you can't even trust the table of contents, what can you trust?

That's law school.

And at the same time, it's not in English. "Should we grant a JNOV here?" You don't know what a JNOV is; that's something you're going to learn in civil procedure in three weeks; this is torts class, and you thought the topic was negligence. And unless you're quick, you never will know what a JNOV is, because when you're taught it in Civil Procedure, you'll be taught it in English, and JNOV is the abbreviation of its name in Latin.

I am not making this up.

You will read a case, and the professor will ask, "how did this case get to this court?" And you won't know, because it was never discussed anywhere in the case. The professor's just reminding you that if you don't know everything about a case, you can get blindsided by the judge.

Essentially, first-year professors see their job as to make us feel like a fool so often and so publicly that you vow to look up everything and understand everything and repeat everything so that you'll never be made to feel like such a fool again as long as you live. And if you actually manage to do that, you'll be a good lawyer.