Back to Reality

October 24, 2011 - 12 AM

A.G., 1L

First year is a nightmare. Workload? Oppressive. Classmates? Obsessive. Professors? Aggressive. You’ll try to keep up. You won’t. You’ll try to have a social life. Don’t. Forget about purgatory; you’re gonna burn in 1L.

I wasn’t looking forward to it. It had been three years since my last lecture, paper, or exam. I had been working in Canadian politics. I left without regrets. And yet there I was, in the humid glare of late A ugust, reckoning with doubt among my Ikea boxes. Sure, I had been away at school before, but this was different. Undergraduates don’t usually leave grown-up lives behind. I had barely unpacked, and already I missed my job, my friends, my life. A provincial election was getting underway in Ontario, and my former colleagues were on the barricades. I wasn’t with them. I wanted to be.

I needn’t have worried. If law school is an ivory tower, then this place is afraid of heights. Eighty percent of my classmates spent at least a year out of undergrad before starting at Yale. When they arrived, they didn’t leave the real world behind – they brought it with them. Within a month, one of my fellow first-years had flown to Liberia for that country’s elections – she’s writing a book about African development. Another went back to Britain for the Conservative Party conference – he was a policy advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron during the 2010 election. For my part, I couldn’t stay away from the Ontario campaign – I went back twice to knock on doors.

The legal theorists here write newspaper columns. My Con Law professor has two novels to his name. My Contracts professor has written four. My Procedure professor has argued before the Supreme Court, three of whose justices took Torts from the same professor who’s teaching me now – and who also moonlights as a Senior Judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Yale may be miles from home, but the real world is never far away.

I never did finish unpacking my boxes. Several of them are still scattered around my apartment, full of old newspapers and obsolete business cards and expense claims I forgot to file – fossils of a former life, perhaps, but part of the present, too. Together, they’re a gentle reminder that all of this is temporary.

Yes, the class discussions are intense, the reading assignments are copious, and the cold calling is real. But the cold downpour of new knowledge is still just a momentary privilege. I haven’t been here long enough to pass judgment on the experience, but so far, law school has not been a mere rest stop on the highway of real life, but rather an intersection where our diverse realities – in this poorly planned metaphor – collide.

In other words, come as you are. You’ll fit right in.