Thursday, December 4, 2014

What is Law School like? It's kind of like the Hunger Games...

I am on the cusp of finishing my 7th semester of law school.  For a full time student, that would mean I was done and waiting for someone to confirm my diploma so I could get on with this whole "being a lawyer" thing.  I however, am a part-time student and have 4 more semesters to go before that whole "being a lawyer thing" kicks in.

People ask me all the time what it's like, or just shake their heads in amazement when I tell them what I do, but I don't know that anyone outside of my law-school friends, and other lawyers really understand.  Being a part-time law student is maybe the most difficult thing I have ever attempted.

Let me explain:

First off, I have my "normal" life.  I have a full time career teaching middle/high school English (this is my 10th year), as well as a family and friends.  My husband and I have been married almost four years; I've actually been in law school for most of our marriage & it won't be until we've been together a full decade that time will start to balance out.  Nonetheless - like many of my classmates, I don't have children.  I do have a step-daughter in college and we are getting ready to embark on our foster-care journey, but until now, I've done this without having to share my time with anyone other than my husband.

I do have friends, but I'm not a great friend... more about that later.

My job, career rather, takes up 50+ hours per week.  Between teaching classes, writing/answering emails, lesson plans, grading, and all of the other nonsense that I'm responsible for, I think 50 hours per week is a fair estimate.  That doesn't include my drive time to/from work because I don't think it's fair to include that.  A lot of people have an irritatingly long commute.  I hate driving.  I hate it a lot.  But, that's part of what I signed up for.  People argue all the time about how teachers don't do any "real" work, how they just "babysit"... blah blah blah.  Largely, I ignore those people.  My job is hard.  Any teacher that tells you otherwise is doing a terrible job.

Ok, so on top of this job thing, I go to school.  Believe it or not, law professors actually expect you to show up to class most, if not all, of the time.  I'm in a better place now, where my schedule is slightly more flexible, but for my first two years, I was in class Monday-Thursday 6pm-9 or 10pm.  I would spend about 15 hours a week at UNLV sitting in a classroom - approximately 11 hours per week "learning", plus another hour or so per day finding parking (ha!), chatting with friends, going to club meetings and other "stuff".

For the most part, law school uses the socratic method, wherein students have read the material ahead of time and professors spend the class period discussing the details of the material and trying to tell us what we were supposed to get out of it.  "The Paper Chase", while an incredibly scary and extreme example, is pretty accurate as to what law school classes look like.  Mike made me watch it for the very first time the night before my first law class.  I'm still kind of upset by it.  Also, I hate property.

Oh, wait... that means we're all supposed to do the readings outside of class.  Figure 100-150 pages per week, give or take.  Most people that like to read look at that number and say "hey, no problem!  I love to read, I can knock that out in an hour or two."  No, you can't.  No one can.  Pull up a random Supreme Court case - ideally a very boring one about things like jurisdiction or environmental statutes.  Reading these cases, while taking notes is tedious, and at times, completely mind-numbing. At my best, I can read about 30 pages per hour... and I read incredibly quickly (about 500 words per minute when I'm reading something fun and interesting).  So, reading, plus notes, plus the occasional review session... figure another 10 hours per week.

Keeping track?  That's 50 hours per week for work and 25 hours per week for school.  Most of the year, that leaves me 93 hours a week to drive all those places I need to go, eat, sleep, watch some TV and spend time with my husband.  Granted, I can multi-task.  But, once we factor in the sleeping and the driving, I'm down to about 25 really good hours per week... or about 1 hour per night on weekdays, 4 hours on Friday and 7 or 8 hours each on Saturday and Sunday.

But wait, there's finals.... most of the year it's a fine balancing act.  I don't completely ignore any aspect of my life, but no one gets a lot of attention.  This is why I'm a horrible friend.  My personal relationships are in sort of a triage situation.  I make sure my husband gets enough time first, then my family, then my friends get to scrape up what little time is left.  I'm ashamed to admit I can probably count on one hand the number of hours I spend with friends every month...

But during two magical times a year, there are final exams.

Law school final exams are like the Hunger Games.  Your grade for the entire semester is based on one exam on one day... and it isn't even based on how well you do... it's based on how well you do compared to the other people in the room.  You pray that somehow, half of your classmates get the flu and start violently vomiting so they have to leave.... because that makes YOUR grade better.

So, what do we all do before we enter the arena?  We train.  We study like we have never studied before.  We review every word of our notes multiple times, we make up possible exam questions based on weird things the professor once mentioned in passing + insane stuff we have seen on the internet.  I would study 5-7 hours a day for some of my exams.  I'd study by myself and with my study group.  We would study in person, online, over text.  Everything.

Essentially, before exam season, we wish our loved ones goodbye and tell them the date of our last exam.  Social media goes kind-of dark (no one completely gives up Facebook), we set our DVRs for every show we like and plunge head first into the abyss, hoping we live to see the other side.  I will typically tell my boss when exam period is starting and explain that I'm going to be doing the bare minimum for the next couple of weeks (this year, my students are doing a writing project for 3 weeks), but I'll make it up to him when I'm done.

This year, I only had one exam.  Bankruptcy.  Even the thought of it makes me cry.  It was incredibly difficult and I didn't know nearly enough about Bankruptcy.  So, we're not going to talk about that anymore.

In addition to that one exam, I have to write 3 papers.  Two of them are essentially the same thing, so we'll call it 2 papers.  Again, two papers... no big deal.  In my academic career, I write hundreds of pages.  Remember those boring court cases I pointed out earlier?  Now imagine writing a paper emulating that style.  Very, very boring.  And I've got to come up with 75 pages worth of it...

Instead, I blog.  :)


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