Scott Turow wends his way through his first year at Harvard Law School. He chronicles his daily life and those of his classmates as well. He begins with the first week of class -- the honeymoon period. The pace picks up through the fall semester as the race is on to see who can get the best... read more (warning: may contain spoilers)
Scott Turow wends his way through his first year at Harvard Law School. He chronicles his daily life and those of his classmates as well. He begins with the first week of class -- the honeymoon period. The pace picks up through the fall semester as the race is on to see who can get the best grades thereby making Law Review and getting jobs with big, prestigious law firms.
As the second semester begins, the previous terms finals are taken. Students respond to this in a variety of ways. Friendships become strained and the quest to be the top becomes a "me against them" fight against time. Turow wraps up the book with a brief summary of his reflections on his first year of law school.
“<W>hen I walk into the central building I can feel my stomach clench. For the next five days I will assume that I am somewhat less intelligent than anyone around me. At most moments I'll suspect that the privilege I enjoy was conferred as some kind of peculiar hoax. I will be certain that no matter what I do, I will not do it well enough; and when I fail, I know that I will burn with shame.”
“All your life you've been good in school. All your life it's been something you could count on. You know that it's a privlege to be here. You've studied hours on a case that is a half page long. ... You couldn't be more prepared. And when you get to class that demigod who knows all the answers finds another student to say things you never could have. Clearer statements, more precise. And worse--far worse--notions, concepts, whole constellations of ideas that never turned inside your head.”
“For many of the members of Section 2, their first week as full-fledged law students had not been a period of exhilaration anything like the one I had gone through. A number--even most--seemed to have found it sheer oppression. The work, the pressure, the gnawing uncertainty had been too much. During the week, I had heard complaints of insomnia, fatigue, stomach trouble, crying bouts, inflated consumption of food, liquor, cigarettes.”
“...<A> classmate ... told me she already hated law school. When I asked her why, she said, "Because the people are so aggressive."”
“I heard similar comments, all to the effect that they were being limited, harmed, by the education, forced to substitute dry reason for emotion, to cultivate opinions which were "rational" but which had no roots in the experience, the life they'd had before. They were being cut away from themselves.”
“The stuff <legal talk> is still in my head all the time, although at moments I wonder if that absorption isn't a little dangerous or crazy. The other day I ordered a hamburger and sat a few minutes earnestly puzzling over whether a contract had been formed and what the damages would be if I reneged. Would the restaurant be entitled to the reasonable value of the hamburger, or their full profit?”
“...only raw intelligence and perserverance, both of extraordinary degree, were the sole means of success. Increasingly, I'd become certain that I was short on both counts. I was too exhausted to become a twenty-hour-a-day person, and too slow with the rest of my work to get to outside sources in the twelve to fourteen hours I studied each day. And compared to <other> people ...., I had nothing worth saying in class. I made mistakes, in fact, silly blunders. If lucky, I was mediocre. And my conviction of my mediocrity was sour and unhappy. I had given up a good career, some security and distinction, to be swallowed in the horde, to confront intelligence which overshadowed by own. The shame at what I'd lost and was incapable of doing had become acute...”
“I had never before failed an exam. That it would have no bearing on my grade did not matter. I had been confirmed in my suspicion that I was a ludicrous, miserable, unworthy failure. The disgrace turned inside me like a fierce, fiery wheel. The world as I saw it was people only by those whom I'd disappointed and hurt: <professors>, my friends, my parents, my wife.”
“My inclination is to <tell people> that <the law school> is not a human place, and yet I know that what's difficult there is that everyone is so full of feeling, all of us tortured by our little agonies of doubt and incomprehension and concern.”
“All along, 2Ls and 3Ls had told me that I'd never been through anything like a law exam, and they were right. But that did nothing to enhance my respect for the tests. I felt insulted by them--there's no other way to put it. ... <I>nstead they had been intellectual quick-draw contests, frantic exercises that seem to place no premium on the sustained insight and imagination which I most admired in others. ... Most of my classmates seemed to share my feelings. People were incredulous now that these peculiar, limited instruments would be the sole basis for our grades. Reports of the haphazard way professors marked finals ... only heightened the sense of injustice and frustration.”
“At Harvard Law school it is just so damn hard to keep a ssense of perspective from slipping into exhausted cynicism. In the wake of the exams, I still feel the impulse to give the whole joint the finger. ... Before I came to law school, there were even times when I thought of myself as an intellectual.”
“It is those of us compulsively pursuing some vague idea of distinction who are most likely to aspire to ... Law School, and for us the year is going to take its toll. In a funny way, I think law schools as institutions attract the people least suited to them at the start. We are men and women drawn to the study of rules, people with a native taste for order. The first year, when we do not know the language or how well we are doing, when professors seem only to be posing riddles every day, is bound to throw us for a loop. ...So we come vulnerable, and the place does little to protect us from ourselves.There were people who managed the year with more grace than I did; others less. But all the conversations I have had with my law school friends over the summer, have returned, almost obsessively, to the year past and the question of exactly what it was that happened to us. Something exalted. Something fearful.”
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