I think I mentioned that law school destroyed for many years any yearning I had for continued education. It is not that the material itself is so very hard once you get the hang of it. It’s just the massive amount of information that must be assimilated that wears you down.
For the most part, undergrad school had been little different for me than high school. I read the assigned texts and wrote papers. I got the grades with fairly little real work. That is not to say I didn’t study. I certainly did, especially stuff like French or astronomy. But my social science classes were the normal stuff. I was and am a prolific writer, and I write with ease and as you can tell I don’t proof a good deal. I tend to organize in my head a lot, though I have developed a rather odd way of working on very long pieces. I’ve written at least two papers in my lifetime that were in excess of one hundred pages.
Law school was a totally different experience, one that no one can really be prepared for. I suspect that medical school is very similar, but I’m not sure. In any event, law is taught by the casebook method. Text books are nothing but hundreds of cases, usually grouped around specific issues. From reading the cases one is expected over time to understand the basic theory and the major exceptions to the rule.
The student quickly learns that the way one “reads” and prepares for class is to prepare case briefs. That means simply a reading of the case, and then setting out the facts, issue and holding. Part of the process of learning is to correctly figure out what these respective things are. Sometimes they are fairly easy, other times maddeningly hard. The point is, that a good ability to do this is essential to being a good lawyer. The student must understand precedent, the holding of one case that then controls the outcome of other cases. Precedent requires a firm ability to correctly discern what facts are essential, what the exact issue before the court is, and the precise holding of the court. Other matters are considered dicta, interesting and sometimes useful statements, but one’s not central to the decision, and thus not controlling in any later case.
Each of us first year students quickly learned how to brief the case. However, a new methodology was also employed. That was the Study Group. Generally composed of 5-6 people, a study group usually met daily, often in the cafeteria to discuss the days work. We would go over our respective notes from class and also the case briefs. You raised your issues of confusion, and answered others. Collectively, you hoped to get a better handle on what you were supposed to get from each days teaching.
The need to get into a good study group was paramount and once in one, you had a real edge in doing well. Openings seldom came along, and if you were in a bad one, you waited anxiously for an opening in a better one. It was a group decision whether to add this or that person. People were evaluated quite simply on their capability with the material. We were essentially using each other to gain an advantage.
I often arrived at school at 6:30 am when the law library opened. This was my home. I stayed there except for class, and study group sessions nearly all day and often well into the evening. On Saturday I was there from when it opened at 7:00 am until midnight. Sunday from 9:00 am until 9 pm. I did this for months on end. The cafeteria had a microwave so I bought a lot of canned junk like Beefaroni and ate at my study desk in the library. They were very easy about eating there, and many people did. You tended to adopt a particular study desk in some far reach of the floor. It was extremely disconcerting when you found an “interloper” at “your” desk, I can tell you.
Testing occurred at regularly set intervals, midterms and finals. They all consisted of the same thing. Several problems were given. They were factual situations such as: A, a landowner owns a fee simple, and has 4 children, 3 of which were males, and 2 of which had children. A dies intestate. A’s wife and one minor child remain. And then some question regarding who sued who, and who wanted what. Your job was to give the answer.
Now law school answers were not the same as you might expect. There was no truly right or wrong answer. Most questions were formulated to be in the grey area. Close to a major principle but also in an area where exceptions have been carved out. So technically you could come out with two very different answers, both equally graded. The trick was to know what the general rule was, what were the sub rules and which exceptions were held by majority or minority courts. As long as you correctly framed these issues, the answer you decided upon really did not matter.
You were usually given more questions that you could easily deal with. Speed became important, you really needed to know your cases and law. It was not unusual to write two pages and realize that you had missed a controlling fact, and had to X out all of it, and begin again. That caused, as you might expect a huge amount of sweating, as the clock ticked away. We always left an exam feeling exhausted, drained and cussing the day we ever considered this inhuman profession.
One of the things this lead to, especially for me, was the conclusion that discussing tests after they were taken was fruitless and prone to make you violently sick, sure you had failed. People wrote vastly different things, but because there were often several ways to approach a case, this might mean nothing, or it might be everything. In any case, I concluded that since I could not unring the bell, so to speak, I utterly refused to discuss an exam once over. I literally went to the extreme of doing the plugging my ears and talking to myself to drown out any such conversation until I could escape.
Did I mention I spent a year in mortal fear of flunking out? LOL. To tell the truth, of course it was not like this day in and day out. We grew used to and comfortable with being called upon in class, reciting, and being humiliated in error. We all suffered and so nobody took it very personally. We took time off here and there to go to a Redwings game or a real restaurant for a nice meal, or a movie. Most of our professors were nice and approachable.
At the conclusion of the first year, I was frazzled. The round of finals was torturous and I spent every waking moment in the library, going over and over notes and outlines which we all created. We went over each others outlines, we took turns questioning and probing. We studied in groups, in pairs, and alone. We looked scared. You could see the desperation and fear in every eye, as the testing continued. Finally, at a point, we would recognize that no more could be crammed in, and we collapsed into resignation. For better or worse, we could do no more, but simply go and take it.
Once over, we offered feverish good wishes to friends and departed. The testing took about a week overall. We limped to our cars or bus stations and traveled home. I to my little room where I quickly packed and said goodbye to my landlady. I packed up my car and drove to Flint. When I arrived, I told Dad that I need to decompress before looking for a summer job. I unpacked my car into my room, took the dog and went up north alone.
This was the first time I had ever done this. I felt the most wondroussense of freedom and relief as I drove northward in Michigan. Having traversed this roadway hundreds of times over the years, I was amazed how different it seemed as the driver rather than passenger. I arrived and with instructions, I turned on the water, primed the pump and took a walk. Each morning I would drive to Prudenville around the lake where I could get a Detroit Free Press. I spent the day doing nothing much, but enjoyed it immensely. I walked and sat outside and gazed at the lake. I shopped at antique stores.
I was planning on a week, and had so informed my dad. Alas, he “got worried” and he and my grandmother arrived on Wednesday, about the 5th day into my leisure. I was so unspeakably upset that it was most hard to suppress my anger. I needed this time to unwind so very desperately, and now I was forced into a routine of answering to two others again. He sensed my anger I believe, but as was his wont, had not a clue.
Grades came a couple of weeks later. Much to my surprise and delight I got A’s in most courses and a B or two at most. Not a single C. I was in. I had made it. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, said that if you made it through the first year, you were assured of making it. At that was true. I never experienced another day of real fear. In fact I began working my third year and worked throughout it.
Such was the beginning of my odyssey into law.