About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

One-L by Scott Turow (1977) - Guest Post by Michael Selnes

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 University of Calgary, 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.


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.  Turow 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.

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.


  1. Bill - Thanks for hosting Michael.

    Michael - Thanks for this thoughtful, interesting and insightful look at 1L. I'm less familiar with law school than I am with other graduate programs so it was very helpful to me to get your perspective. I've found that other graduate programs have also become not only less formal and less Soctratic but also more pragmatic. I'm glad that in a lot of ways Turow captures what it's like to be a first-year law student.

  2. Great idea Bill and a good post as well. All the best to you both.

  3. Lovely guest post. It really enhances the experience of reading the review, that it is by someone who is in the same situation (albeit some time later). I am glad to read about the gender balance but the "higher echelon" issue is the same, still, in many professions, sadly (certainly in the one I know about, scientific research).

  4. Margot, Jose Ignacio and Maxine: Thank you for commenting on Micahel's post and kind words.

  5. Thanks for your kind words Margot, Jose and Maxine. It is defintely an interesting book and I enjoyed reading it in the context of actually being a 1L. I am currently a summer law student at a large national firm and it would be interesting to see if someone ever decided to write an autobiographical opionion about this (Grisham has written a few, but not in the same sense). I am also excited to head back to school and experience being a 2L. Law school is a journey and I am looking forward to the next step!