Some of these guys need some kind of ethical philosophy to justify it. Some guys like “live free or die.” But that’s all bullshit. I know that now; that’s all bullshit. You do it because you were trained to do it, because you were encouraged to do it, and because, eventually, you, you know… get to like it…
– Martin Blank, Grosse Pointe Blank
With the holiday season now on the wane, I’ve once again started to become vaguely aware that I will soon be ending my annual visit to the family homestead on the banks of the Great Black Swamp (it’s a thing, look it up) and returning to the mistier, though blessedly less mucky, habitat of law school. Mixed in with the impending reality of the impermanence of the season (and its attendant free time) is a reminder of an uncomfortable reality that I first became aware of around this time last year. I can’t say for certain that this reality isn’t simply an oddity of my particular group of law school cohorts, but, on the basis that I’d prefer it to be so, I suspect that it’s rather pervasive amongst law students in general. Chances are that it’s going to catch at least a few members of this year’s 1L class by surprise as well.
Before winter break, most 1Ls speak of “going home” as though it refers to the time they’ll get to spend with their families. This tendency is ubiquitous among both of the principal 1L types:
- Those still hard-wired as an undergrad and using the holidays as an excuse to get mom to do their laundry; or
- Second career folks like me who are either (a) single and going crazy trying to make good on a post-undergrad promise never to miss a family Christmas, or (b) married and going crazier trying to synchronize family obligations with a spouse and children (I don’t know how you do it, David).
There’s only one problem here. Both groups get it wrong.
No matter how much we like to think that we’re not affected by law school, that we’re still “ourselves” and nothing’s changed, that’s just not true. You realize it the moment you step back into the law building after break when you involuntarily sigh, relax slightly, and the following thought comes, disturbing and unbidden: “It’s good to be home.” This is, of course, assuming that a similar physiological reaction and thought did not accompany the arrival of your new coursebooks several days earlier. The first time this happens it’s disconcerting. When you come back after 1L summer and it happens again, you laugh a bit and shrug it off as being happy to have a familiar setting after a summer internship that taught you only that the rules change every time you think you know something.
This time though, I’m not really able to laugh it off. I’m looking forward to it and I know that I truly want to be back. I want to be at school. I want to be in classes, spend hours in the library, and consider myself lucky if I get home before 8:00 each night. I’m not really sure when the change precisely happened, but somewhere along the line the pressure and the constant engagement of law school became not just normal, but welcome and comforting. All of the crazy, loophole-finding arguing—the absurd hypotheticals, the ridiculous ability to see why a failure in the chain of custody really should exclude evidence necessary to convict a rapist—is no longer disturbing. For the last year and a half I’ve been trained to shut off emotional reactions and simply be logical, I’ve been encouraged to do it, and I’ve come to like it. If you’re cut out for law, you will too.
When you’re walking up to the law building again in a couple of days remember this: it’s welcome home.