Right now law students everywhere are enjoying their summer
breaks internships and clerkships, but fall semester looms on the horizon like a proctology appointment. Here is a comprehensive list of a sentiment everyone shares at some point in law school: it’s just like high school.
You have a locker and/or a mailbox that will become a regular part of your routine. You will run into your locker buddies on a regular basis. Your friends will drop notes in one of these devices to say hello. Maybe you’ll even get a Valentine! Maybe you will decorate your locker with a photo or a souvenir from class to make it feel more like home.
In college, the dorms and classrooms and professor’s offices were spread around campus. College students explore their campus, eat lunch and have class in different locations everyday. In law school, much like high school, everything happens in one building. You run into professors and students constantly, establishing a routine in which you wave hello to friends during passing periods, wait outside a room for the previous class to finish up, or drop off a form to a professor’s office between classes. The existence is so insular that, unless you did your undergrad at your law school, you have an incredibly limited knowledge of what happens outside that building. You may find yourself unable to give a tourist directions to the football stadium or tell them where to get a sandwich anywhere other than your law school dining hall, which can feel like a high school cafeteria at times, too.
Everyone knows everything there is to know about anything. If two people leave a bar together and hook up, word spreads. If someone plays solitaire on his computer during class, everyone knows about it. If a student drops out of a class, has a summer job offer yanked, pops Adderall, cheats on his girlfriend, gets arrested for drunk driving, or does anything even remotely scandalous or interesting, news of the indiscretion spreads almost instantly.
Given the stress of their surroundings, law students form friendships very quickly that have a fast, intense quality, reminiscent of teenagers’. New friends make plans to live together, travel together, and go home for Thanksgiving together. These friendships do not necessarily last throughout law school. Recruiting season brings out the worst in people, ruining some friendships. Some cliques that were built around section allegiance disintegrate in favor of lines drawn by journal membership or club participation. In high school, a friendship may be lost to theater; in law school, moot court might be the relationship killer.
Every club or activity you could participate in during law school is just another version of law school. Being a member of a journal is a more elaborate version of legal writing, with reading, Bluebook editing, and paper writing. Participation in moot court involves legal research, writing, and oral advocacy. Every club has a focus on some aspect of the law or legal practice, so even your job of coordinating the travel of a speaker still demonstrates your interest in environmental law or entertainment or M&A. In high school, the clubs and extracurricular activities had more variety–like music, creative writing, robotics, sports, or the AV Club–but they served a focused purpose for some people: to make their college applications look impressive. Every law school activity serves the same purpose, to look good on a resume. If anything, the participation in extracurricular activities is worse in law school than in high school because, at least in high school, the activities were a break from the monotony – and the odds are that you joined a club because you were truly passionate about it, not about what it might do for your career.
In high school, fellow students know which town you live in, what elementary school you went to, and what your parents do. In college, sometimes people forget which state you are from. Once law school starts, things come full circle. If one of your parents is a judge, people know about it. If you took five years off between college and law school to work in theater, people know about it. If your father’s cousin is a professor at the school, everyone knows about it. The social fabric turns into Mean Girls where everyone suddenly knows everything about the new girl, except every law student is the new girl.
The difference between a 1L and a 3L is as great as the difference between a freshman and a senior in high school. In college, people asked you your major; in law school and high school, people ask you your year. (Or they already know it, since it’s such a small world.) The same rules from high school apply: a 3L does not hang out with a 1L, a 1L who dates an upperclassman is “cool,” but upperclassmen who dates a 1L is “preying” on them. 1Ls are considered to be “adorable” and “naive,” regardless of how much life experience they actually have. And of course, 3Ls in their last semester are all-knowing and exhibit strong symptoms of “senioritis.”
“I got a B, my life is over!” Such a sentence could only be uttered by either a high school junior or a first year law student. Not making it onto a journal, getting a bad grade, being yelled at by a teacher, not being invited to a study group–none of these things really matter in the grand scheme of life. When school becomes your whole life, though, every fault within that world feels like its the end. And, much like teenagers, a law student will scoff at the idea that their trouble is actually quite small.
There’s a reason Barrister’s Ball is called “Law School Prom”: no one has been to a dance like that since high school. People dress up, go in groups or with dates, have pre-parties and after-parties, and dance to popular music in a rented darkened room in heels that hurt. The only real differences are that the use of alcohol is legal and incorporated into the execution of the dance.
When not at Barrister’s, law students treat their own apartments like the house of a high school friend whose parents are out of town. The small community means that pretty much everyone is invited to every party, usually hosted by the same one or two houses. People drink like it’s the first time they’ve had access to their parents’ liquor cabinet, dance or sing along like it’s the first time they’ve heard music, and get excited about the idea of debating the finer nuances of the city noise ordinance with local police officers.
“Everyone’s wearing a suit. Am I supposed to wear a suit today?” Anytime a law student does something different, it is noticed because everyone is doing exactly the same thing—taking the same classes, getting involved in the same activities, learning from the same professors. “Did you hear Chris isn’t doing Moot Court?” “Well did you hear that Sam turned down an offer from the journal?” Wearing khakis and a dress shirt on presentation day (instead of a suit) is as close as most law students will come to feeling like they dressed Goth in high school. The law school experience is so regulated and regimented that any deviation is noticed and brought to everyone’s attention.
Of course, law school and high school are very different in other ways. For example, it’s common to be nostalgic for high school. Law school, not so much. Unless, that is, you enjoy proctology exams.
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