BY Christopher rosana
As Maester Qyburn said in A Feast of Crows, ‘Knowing is the nature of my service’, I believed law school was the place my inquisitive mind would find solace and my argumentative self would find refuge. I was there to learn and then I realized that the law was a new language. Law school started with me groping for the meaning of words. Things were not making sense and I was, for a time, ‘seeing darkly as in a mirror’ as Paul quipped in his epistles of old.
Scott Turow narrates, with gripping intensity, the rigors of first year Harvard Law School. He captures the general experience of first years in law schools around the world. It elicits the nostalgia of sitting in class and listening to contract law. It reminds you about the very first time you had to grapple with the three Shibboleths of contract law: offer, acceptance and consideration. It paints a picture that some of us know all too well – the experience of listening for hours while comprehension takes a stroll. You come to law school believing that you are the best mind that ever was till you find that words do not mean what you think they do within the law.
Law school should not become the graveyard of sympathy and compassion. The concepts are taught with little attention to the fact that ‘plaintiff’ and ‘defendant’ actually refers to real human beings with names. Gradually, the naïve student who walked into law school becomes unfeeling since all that matters is winning the case, and crafting the best argument. It serves no noble purpose for students to become excellent debaters if there is no shred of humanity left in them. We join law school trying to disprove the veracity of lawyer jokes but we learn enough just to end up proving them.
In the first year of law school there is an unseen compulsion for competition and the desire to set oneself apart as the best. Students immerse themselves in the recesses of the library, read long hours, hoard books that others might need, all in a bid to keep to the top of everyone. Most of the people going to law school are people who are accustomed to being the best in their previous classes. Law school compels them to reassert their past glory once they realize the language of the law is not bending to their will.
Like Turow’s Harvard class, students in their first year of law school strive for incessant group discussions and the attendant betrayals of some students secretly retaining memberships in other ‘rival’ groups. It is outright war, lines are drawn and shots are fired in class where everyone seeks to give the longest most reasoned answer. The casualties are those of us who still haven’t grasped some of the words being thrown around.
The ugly underbelly of the legal profession, however, is shown in a Freudian reference of the struggle between fathers and sons. The dominant figure subjugates the weaker through control and the weaker figures eventually grow to become like the dominating figure. Turow writes: In a way, those patterns of envy and subjugation are repeated throughout the legal world, with the old men always standing on the shoulders of the young ones. Law review members do cite-checks for professors’ articles; clerks write opinions to which judges put their names; law firm associates slave over the most tedious aspects of the partners’ cases. It all continues until one day you suddenly are a professor, a judge, or a partner – doing what was done to you.