Nineteen Years of School Is Quite Enough, Thank You

After three years I have finally — incredibly — finished law school.

During the week between graduation and the start of bar review class, I felt oddly untethered: what would I do without the crippling stress, the camaraderie, the late nights, the bad coffee? The answer, apparently, was sleep. For a solid week, I slept, woke, read novels, slept again, went to going-away parties, and slept some more.

The final semester is supposed to be the most relaxed part of law school (a relative distinction at best). Instead, my colleagues and I found ourselves working harder than ever on Law Review. Early graduations and semesters abroad left our department shorthanded, and I wound up giving my classes short shrift as I struggled with the extra-heavy workload. But I still found time to shake myself and look around.

The social dynamic among the students changed radically during our last semester together. Instead of keeping our heads down and congregating briefly to commiserate, we were all suddenly friends. I got to know people I’d previously counted only as friendly acquaintances and, once we all started showing our human faces, we discovered that we were more bonded than any of us had realized. Having finally gotten the hang of this law school thing, and knowing that final semester grades were (for many) relatively inconsequential, we spent lazy afternoons drinking beer and playing Frisbee.

Well, not quite. Classes were still demanding. Some people (including me) were still looking for jobs. We were, after all, still in law school. But we were also, as a group, a bit less neurotic than we had been. People smiled more frequently. Granted, those smiles were sometimes exhausted or pained, but the end was in sight and we were all deeply relieved.

Graduation day was much like every graduation day in history: a blur of robes and mortarboards, handshaking and photo ops. Nobody tripped while crossing the stage. But at the end of that long, blinding walk, we were not given diplomas. (Until all the grades are in, nobody has officially graduated.) We didn’t even get imitation leather diploma folders. Instead, we were handed a box approximately the same size as a diploma holder. Each box contained a business card holder and a Post-it dispenser, both made of heavy glass and etched with the school logo. Huh?

But we didn’t have a lot of time to puzzle over those parting gifts, or to wonder where our fake diplomas were. The ceremony clocked in at a tight 120 minutes. And for me, this graduation ceremony — unlike those following high school and college — had an element of the grand and tremendous. When the dean asked us to rise and then solemnly pronounced us graduated, my heart seemed to rise up out of my chest. For the first time, the full force of my accomplishment hit me. I’d done it. I won! I graduated! Law school didn’t beat me! (Though it had certainly tried.)

But one funny thing about graduation was that no one was sorry to leave. The common feeling seemed to be relief. Of course, we’d all miss each other, and we’d miss some people a great deal, but no one I talked to wanted to prolong the experience by even one day. My classmates and I had mixed feelings about leaving high school, and very mixed feelings about leaving college, but our feelings about leaving law school were only relief and a little jubilation. Mostly relief.

The moment I graduated was huge. But I felt that I’d gotten the point of law school, finally, several months earlier.

It crept up on me. For five semesters, I’d been struggling to stay focused and attentive, slogging through cases and essays, and generally grappling with the study of law. Then, suddenly, I got it. I saw the forest instead of staring, befuddled, at the trees. The law opened up to me and revealed itself to be a system, with discrete but interlocking parts. I found myself reading cases and law review articles for fun.

These epiphanies are very, very rare, and very precious, and they keep us addicted to learning. I’m hooked. As soon as I recover from the crushing grind of law school — followed quickly by the crushing grind of preparing for and taking the bar exam — I’ll take up a foreign language. Or read some books on linguistics. Or find another huge challenge to take on. After law school, anything else would feel like a breeze.

Except med school, of course. Hmmmmm...

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