Barely Legally

Confessions of a Moot Court Bailiff

Law School Culture #1

I’ve never actually seen The Paper Chase. After your first year of law school, your friends from your former life will want to see it with you, so you can explain about the time you were stuck in the 1950s and something crazy happened to you. Or something. I told you, I didn’t see it. So if this is redundant, please feel free to skip this post.

Law school is steeped in tradition. It’s generally unchanged for hundreds, if not thousands of years. You don’t show up to class to learn the law: you show up to class to learn how some very smart people came up with the law. Like watching a Grand Master play chess, you’re not trying to memorize the game that he plays; you’re trying to figure out why he moves the way he moves. There are individual principles at work: sacrifice a knight to capture a bishop, sacrifice a bishop to capture a rook, and so on.

sidebar: That’s probably a horrible analogy. I know virtually nothing about chess beyond how the pieces move and that I’m not supposed to yell “king me!” when I get one of my pieces to my opponent’s back row. Let’s just imagine that I’ve written out some profound chess strategy that would make Deep Blue look about as brilliant as a TI-86 with a cracked display.

This methodology of dissecting the law has apparently not changed in thousands, if not millions of years. One of the other big traditions is that professors call students by their last names: Mr. McDonald and Ms. Kim and so on. A precious minority have made the move to a first-name basis with students, but frankly, it’s so much cooler to throw around Mr. and Ms. all the time.

We as students are not immune to the lure of needless formality, either. I greatly enjoy calling acquaintances by their last name, sometimes out of necessity until I know their first name. It’s quaint. Much like my practice of using the word “howdy” to greet people, I find joy in outmoded customs.

Hell, I spent a full year with 120 of these people, and there are many that I still know on a last name basis only; I know her as Ms. Connolly, and nothing else. Somehow, I think it would be less odd to just know your fellow students by face only, and not have to ask in November, “Mr. Singer, what’s your first name again?” At least when Mr. Singer is 22 and punctuates the majority of his sentences with “bro.”

One exception to this unspoken rule seems appropriate to mention. The most brilliant student in my class is one Ms. Gatsby. My friends and I are certain that she is destined for such greatness that in private conversations, we refer to her as Justice Gatsby. I notified her of her nomination and subsequent confirmation, and she was greatly pleased, humble though she is. More on her later, I’m certain, as she has figured in precisely one of my law school tales to date.