The following post is my first guest post and was written by my younger son, Michael. I had wanted to read One-L by Scott Turow (1977) for a long time. When I decided to read it this year I thought another perspective would be interesting. I asked Michael, who was just finishing 1st year law at the
, if he would read the book and provide a review. I am very glad he accepted my proposal. On Friday I will provide my review of the book. I look forward to feedback from blog readers, especially on Michael’s review. University of Calgary
One-L by Scott Turow (1977) - “I am a law student in my first year at the law, and there are many moments when I am simply a mess.” This statement, while over dramatic and grandiose, in many ways encapsulates a sentiment that all first year law students feel at least once during the roller coaster that is being a 1L (the acronym for a first year law student).
After a couple of months of reflection upon my experience of a 1L, I would edit this simple statement to say “I am a law student in my first year at the law, and there are many moments when I am simply a mess, but many more when I am having the time of my life”. While I thoroughly enjoyed Turow’s take on being a 1L at Harvard, I did find he partook too extensively one of the national sports of law school; feeling sorry for yourself. There is no doubt that the pressure is at times immense, the work difficult and the tests daunting, but one should not lose perspective about where they really are. Law school is a wicked opportunity to meet other intelligent and engaging people, to challenge ones self and have one last kick at the academic can before being thrust full throttle into the real world.
That said, I imagine without a doubt Harvard Law in the 70’s was a much more intimidating environment to engage the law that U of C is today. Law schools, which are inherently conservative intuitions, have adapted with modern pedagogical methods and for the most part gone is the dreaded Socratic method, high fail rates and overall mental anguish that used to characterize legal studies. It is because of this shift that the theme of the book, “meeting my enemy” is slightly less poignant today than it was 30+ years ago, but regardless the sentiment still exists.
I can still remember the Dean speaking to us on the first day about how from this day forward we will think differently. We will think like lawyers. I didn’t know what he meant at the time, but I do now. Like Turow, while learning to love and hate the law I was inevitably shaped by it. Whether it is meeting your enemy, or simply resigning yourself to the fate that there will always be a prof who catches you unprepared, a classmate who understood something better or an issue left unspotted, the first year of law is an incredibly visceral experience that can only be fully appreciated by those who “survive” it. His ability to capture this is perhaps what I enjoyed most about the book.
uniquely put into words the daily grind that all law students learn to endure after the new shine of the law wears off and 7 months of grueling case summaries endure. Turow
For me as a 1L reading this book I was intrigued by how much still is the same. The utter confusion one feels when they first attempt to brief a case, and spend 3 hours of meticulous reading, re-reading and summarizing only to realize they missed the ratio (the crux of the case, the reason you are reading it). The dread of the Socratic method and the sheer terror it inspires (I can still remember the first time I was humiliated in front of my classmates and how much it motivated me to be on top of the cases going forward. No-one will ever “enjoy” the Socratic method, but it sure is a powerful incentive to actually read the case.) The constant jockeying for position, competition and comparisons that drive students crazy (perhaps even worse now as many students feel the pressure and need to start applying for work before they have even learned to brief a case). The intimacy with your classmates (when you spend 5 hours a day, everyday with the same 30 people you get to know their quirks, mannerisms, gifts and flaws). And finally, the anxiety of final exams (there is nothing like a final worth between 70%-100% of your final mark, a mark which most employers will use to separate you from your classmates).
In spite of these similarities I would be loath to not point out some differences. When he was writing, there was still a large gender imbalance and women were struggling to break down the glass doors of the law school. Today, men tend to be the minority in most of their classes (albeit a very slight minority) but unfortunately this has not translated to the upper echelons of law firm partnership. Competition at law school will always be fierce, but I surprisingly found law to be more collegial than any of my undergrad programs. Notes were shared without question, study groups did not hoard materials and people genuinely wanted to see each other succeed (although this might be a product of the fact that 99% of us will land decent jobs out of law school, a fate not shared by many of our American counterparts). Finally, much of the formality has worn off. Profs do not carry the gravitas they once did (I doubt even at Harvard). In keeping with more modern pedagogical methods students and profs interact more as equals, a situation in my opinion that works to all of our advantage.
All in all, I enjoyed this book immensely. Even if Turow preached a bit too much, and felt a little too sorry for himself, he deftly captured the emotion and experience of being a 1L and in doing so likely helped shape the perspective of generations of future students.