Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Monday, April 28, 2003

A couple of soon-to-be 1Ls recently sent me some questions via e-mail. Thought I'd post some of the answers, slightly edited, since someone reading might find them helpful. If anyone reading has other questions, I'm more than happy to answer (e-mail me)... anything to distract me from my schoolwork. :)

1. Do professors really call on people randomly?!

Professor styles differ, but all of my first-year professors have, to some extent, called on people randomly. And it's nowhere near as bad as it sounds. (1) It doesn't count at all in your grade -- the grade is based only on the exam, which, at least here, is graded without them knowing whose paper it is (we use code numbers), and (2) when everyone's at risk of being called on, they're too worried they'll be next and thinking of their own answers to actually listen to yours -- no one remembers "how you did," and no one cares, because even if you mess up, they'll mess up eventually too.

It's not a big deal. That said, I had one professor who was a master of this calling-on-people stuff, and got to about 50 of us every day in an hour and a half. And, although it sounds like torture -- and I am not a person who generally talks in class at all -- it was my favorite class because it was so intense, and time moved so quickly, it was like an event, she was so entertaining, just to watch her
"manage" the room of 80 students. Amazing. And the less interesting classes, to me, have tended to be those that rely mostly on volunteers -- many professors do this, but will also assign a group of students to each day, as being the ones "at risk" of being called on; so when you know it's your day, you read more carefully. I find this ends up being a somewhat less effective method of getting students to do the reading, because it encourages everyone to be less prepared when it's not their day. So, yeah, they call on us randomly, but it's really no big deal. By day two, it won't even be a concern.

2. How all-consuming is law school?

Personally, I find it more similar to undergrad than I expected. There are definitely people here who do nothing but go to class, study, and perhaps do some footnote-checking for a law journal a handful of hours each semester. There are people I see in the library every time I go (which is not that often, and at random enough times that they wouldn't always be there, unless they're always there). But I honestly don't know what they're spending all that time doing, and I'm certain that whatever's making them devote so much time to studying is in their own heads -- they're the ones responsible for their work-life balance, and it's not the inevitable result of the workload. On the flip side of the spectrum, there are lots of people for whom law school, like undergrad was, is a lot more than just classes and studying. I've had three-hour lunches with classmates in the middle of the week, with nobody running off to study, I know people who leave campus almost every weekend and visit friends or significant others or go skiing or any number of other things, without their work suffering. I do lots of extracurriculars, I hang out with friends, I do my reading, I watch TV, I don't feel stressed, and I don't feel pressed for time much. So it's definitely possible to have a life, and not be neglecting your classwork in the process.

3. Do law students love learning the law, or are they just there to get a job?

I may be the wrong person to answer this question, since there are lots of people who "love the law" more than me. That said, there's no doubt that classes are generally interesting, some more so than others, but they're not bad. And there are lots of students who get really into this stuff, and are really invested in the material and invested in the class discussion. A good amount of people here are excited and invigorated and motivated by what we're learning, and talk about it outside of class, and talk about it with our professors, and get a lot out of it, and are not just passing time to get the degree. In fact, I don't know anyone who genuinely dislikes it, and isn't at least interested -- if not completely personally invested -- in what we're learning. I go to class every day. Most people do. I do the reading. Most people do. I'm learning stuff. Most people are. If you're worried that people treat this as a necessary evil on the way to their comfortable law firm jobs, that's not what I've seen here. That said, second and third year may be different, once many people have job offers and are looking past law school toward their careers ahead, as opposed to first year. Although I hope that's not the case.

4. Are faculty accessible?

I've actually been pleasantly surprised at how accessible the faculty have been. They all seem to have been ordered by the administration to take the 1Ls out to lunch in small groups -- so that's been nice, getting a meal with each professor at some point in the semester, in a group of 6 (some of them even paid). And they have office hours, and they're eager to talk to students. Personally, I'm not very aggressive, and I really don't seek out the professors like some students do -- going up to them after class with questions, asking them if they need research assistants, etc. But some people do. The professors are eager to get to know students. Of all the concerns you might have about law school, this really should not be one of them.

5. Is law school super-competitive?

Everyone with a Harvard Law School degree will do fine, or at least that's what they keep telling us. So there really doesn't seem to be that much overt competition. And because the entire grade in each class is based on a final exam, graded blindly by the professor (you use a number, not your name) and often with so much room for different answers that it seems kind of hard to weigh one exam against another, a lot of people feel that their grades are somewhat arbitrary and aren't really a true reflection of anything. I'm not sure I agree with that -- but it is hard to get too worked up when you're not really sure the questions the professor will ask will be representative of the course in the first place. So, it's easy to rationalize that a bad grade isn't indicative of anything. Even though I think that's more of a rationalization that the complete truth.

That said, there is a mandatory 1L curve in each of our classes, centered apparently somewhere between B and B+. Which disappointed a lot of people after we got first semester grades because they expected all As, and also made some people happy because they didn't get anything below a B-minus. Bottom line: hasn't been ultra-competitive, and maybe in part because this is Harvard and not Joe's Law School & Tackle Shop, people are less worried, because we know we'll all do fine regardless.

6. Are students connected at all to the world at large?

I think this depends a lot on the student. There are people here who never leave Cambridge, and probably rarely leave the law school campus. There are also people here who are almost like commuter students, and go to class but live complete lives outside of the law school. Because Boston is just a 20-minute subway ride away, there are options -- you're not trapped here, unless you want to be. But lots of people want to be.

The school provides ways to be connected to the outside world in an academic setting too -- there are clinical courses that allow people to work with real clients and get hands-on experience as a lawyer, there are student organizations like the Legal Aid Bureau that do the same, there are organized social outings in Boston, I know people who do things completely unrelated to school... there's definitely a way to be connected to the world at large.