July 2009

Law school is like training wheels for law practice. I don’t mean that they teach you the law or teach you how to practice law or anything like that. What I mean is that they teach you how to handle your alcohol so that you can be a functioning Big Law attorney. Or, at least, that’s what I’ve been told by my elders.

In undergrad, I briefly dated a 1L at my undergrad’s law school. He would take a shot of J├Ąger almost every night before bed, just so he could sleep. Often, he wouldn’t have time for dinner or movies with me, but he would invariably call me from a bar, drunk, at least two or three times a week, even during Appellate Brief week. Last I heard, he’s a successful attorney, so there must be something to it.

The law school actually encourages our drinking, having student organization sponsored “Bar Reviews” every Thursday and having weekly on-campus beer and hors d’oeuvres events after class. Not that I’m complaining. Not in the least. I absolutely love being able to leave Con Law, skip across the lawn and talk Evidence while drinking a foamy PBR. (Slight sarcasm there… I think they serve Miller Lite or something. But it’s always foamy, I don’t know why.) And then beginning in December, law firms start inviting students to cocktail meet-and-greets where we all awkwardly stand around (for the first bit anyway, until you’ve had enough wine to stop feeling awkward) asking “So… what attracted you to such-and-such firm? Oh really? That’s interesting. Please remember me when it comes time to hire summer associates! *wink*”

What I was told by 2- and 3Ls during my first week here was that the school sponsors these events so we can build up our tolerance, so we don’t make idiots of ourselves at cocktail receptions. Later, we need to have a tolerance for alcohol so we can be functioning alcoholics, working our asses off during the day (and some nights too) and drinking our asses off at night without worrying about hangovers (you know, so we can be productive the next day). In order to finish law school, you have to give $150k and your liver.

I don’t know how well I’m doing at this part of law school, though. Last night, I got ridiculously loopy on three beers. And I woke up with a hangover.

Remember back in the day, you’d leave school on a Friday and not think about it again until you went back on Monday? I remember being bored in the summers, so bored because I had absolutely nothing to do, nothing to think about, nothing to worry over.

What I wouldn’t give to be bored.

Summer exams are done, but within the next week, I have a 15 page paper to write about a land use problem, I have to write a settlement agreement, I have to schedule two mock interviews and I have to begin sending out resumes to firms who are not attending early interview week.

As soon as that’s done, I have to start researching the firms I’ll be interviewing with for EIW, memorizing main clients, big issues they’re working on, background on the interviewers and start figuring out questions I need to ask them. What should I ask? What should I volunteer? I’m not sure. I imagine that working at any firm is just about identical to working at any other firm – the only differences I’m really concerned with are the people I’ll be working with. The people can make or break a job, but I’m not going to pretend that as a summer or a first year associate, I’ll be able to hand pick my projects. I’ll sit in a room doing document review for hundreds of hours a week. My only hope is that when I go out to happy hour with my coworkers, we actually get along.

Then classes start the Monday after EIW, and I have to worry about writing papers and hoping I get callback interviews and ADR team tryouts and the list just goes on and on and on. Even when I’m on “vacation” I can’t actually vacation, because I’m so preoccupied with what I have to do next and what I should be doing now.

There is always something hanging over my head.

One of the biggest problems I have had since being in law school is not properly managing my stress levels. I have a very bad habit of procrastinating until everything seems so overwhelming that it sends me spiraling into panic attacks. This, my friends, is a Bad Idea. Another result of my procrastination is that I never really know that I’m stressed until I start to show some pretty severe physical symptoms.

I think when normal people get stressed, maybe they get a little extra snappish, you know, have a shorter fuse in general. When I get stressed, I don’t even notice… until I start waking up with blinding headaches from clenching my jaw all night. Another thing I do is have trouble breathing. It’s really hard to explain. I will hold my breath without even noticing I’m doing it. Other times, I breathe in, breathe in, breathe in… without letting it out, until I’m dizzy. It’s almost a physical compulsion, not something I can help, and I don’t usually notice I’m doing it at all. It gets much, much worse when I’m stressed.

While typing this, I’ve already caught myself clenching my jaw and forced myself to relax it three times.

I’ve been spending time trying to learn relaxation techniques, but so far they’ve been unhelpful. Yoga takes up time and ends up being just another obligation weighing on my mind (not to mention that I still end up clenching my jaw and holding my breath (I know, I know, during YOGA)). Meditation is the same way, I have a hard time forcing myself to relax enough to breathe like a normal person and I find myself worrying so much about the time it’s taking up that it just makes me even more stressed.

So far the only thing I’ve found that works is to lay in the bed with my fat puppy, rest my head against her side and pace my breaths with hers. It’s usually what ends up helping me fall asleep at night. I think I might start trying vigorous exercise. Maybe running. I figure I’ll be concentrating too hard on not dying to hold my breath.

Law school itself is a headache. I constantly have so many things to think about and so many things I need to do/learn/read/research, that I find myself clenching my jaw quite often, which leads to splitting headaches. It’s bad enough already, so when a classmate gives me an even worse headache, I must seriously use all of my willpower not to go fucking apeshit and start screaming at them.

One classmate of mine wears a fragrance that bothers me so much, that as soon as he comes near me, I have a hard time not crying and vomiting because of the pain in my head. Unfortunately for me, this person happens to sit near me in every class we have together. I’ve tried subtle hints, I’ve tried leaning as far away from him as I can, I’ve even tried simultaneously chewing gum and rubbing essential oils under my nose so I can’t smell him. Once I outright told him that I get headaches when I sit near him because of his smell. It. Just. Doesn’t. Work. He still chooses to sit by me and wears whatever godforsaken scent that is. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m almost having Pavlovian responses just thinking about sitting near him.

Luckily, we don’t have any classes together next year, but I can bet that there will be plenty of other classmates who just don’t understand that strong fragrances have no place in the classroom. Maybe if I give into the pain and just start vomiting and crying every time they come near, at least none of them will ever want to sit by me.

A prayer for judgment isn’t what it sounds like.

Or maybe it is, I don’t know. I imagine a supplicant on his knees, hands stretching toward whomever is doing the judging. Instead, it’s a way of postponing sentencing in traffic violations in North and South Carolina. You go to court and instead of making a guilty or innocent plea, ask for a prayer for judgment. If it’s granted, you aren’t sentenced, but if you commit a similar offense within a certain time period after, you are automatically sentenced for both offenses. Or something like that, I’m not quite clear on it.

On a recent East Coast road trip, I was passing through North Carolina and didn’t notice a speed limit change. Apparently it’s a common spot for that, as there was an officer waiting to ticket me immediately after the sign. He stopped me, we chatted a little bit, he gave me a ticket for 20 over. He was a nice sort, really, just doing his job and all that. It turns out a 20 over offense is automatically given a court date in NC, and I live quite far away. I should have known better than to ask what he recommended I do about the ticket. He suggested that I wait until the week of my court date and call the clerk’s office to request a prayer for judgment. I really should have known better.

In the pre-law school days, I got a speeding ticket or two, but where I lived before, you were able to resolve most things over the phone. There were no automatic court dates (showing up to court for a traffic ticket? absurd, unless you were contesting it!) Really. Should have known better.

This morning, I called the clerk. I explained my situation (live quite far away, have summer exams and interviews, cannot possibly show up for court date) and asked if she could help me. When she took my citation number, she let out an audible gasp. This was my first sign that I shouldn’t have listened to the officer. It turns out they cannot do anything over the phone. They can’t even continue the court date so I can show up later. I would have to show up in person to tell them that I cannot be there.

Or else, have someone else show up for me.

I guess today is a milestone for me. Today is the first time I ever hired an attorney. It feels ridiculous even to admit that I had to do this, as it’s something I could have handled completely on my own. You know, if I didn’t have an exam in four days. I don’t even remember the name of the damn attorney’s office, absurd, right? So now, my attorney (hehe… “MY attorney”) will be showing up to the clerk’s office this week to let them know that I cannot be there, that it needs to be continued, and then will show up again in a month to request a prayer for judgment. All for more money than I can afford, but less money than it would take for me to get there myself.

My fat little dog is sleeping on her back, on the bed beside me, tummy soft, all four legs pointed at the sky. She’s snoring a little, and when I shift my weight on the bed, she stretches and yawns a few times before falling back to sleep. Sweet, peaceful, soft.

I never relax anymore.

I’ve never been much for studying. I think it comes from being naturally brilliant (ha). In grade school, high school, university… I never paid much attention to homework or assignments, and by the time I reached grad school, had stopped going to class entirely. Why bother? I already knew all the stuff, I didn’t need to study. Maybe in a math or science class, I would pull one all-nighter before the exam (and promptly forget it as soon as it was over) but I never did much more than that.

In law school, people spend hours every day reading assignments, re-reading notes, meeting classmates for study groups, reading treatises or Emanuel’s, and outlining, outlining, outlining.

I have to confess here. I’ve never met with a study group. I probably read no more than a handful of assignments every semester. And (perhaps worst of all) I have never once created my own outline. In exams, I’ve used outlines others have created and done well enough, but I could probably blow law school out of the water if I would just “apply myself” more.

That’s always been a problem for me. Sometimes I hope that I have exceptionally smart kids, because so many more avenues are open to those who are… well, I guess those who have the capacity to learn quickly. Other times I hope my kids are average. Mediocre isn’t necessarily a bad word (though it is in law school). Friends of mine who don’t have super natural book-learning abilities have more of a work ethic than I or my siblings ever did. I learned that I could get A’s by coasting, and now it’s costing me. Maybe I hope that my kids will learn that hard work, not brains, is what gets one ahead in life.

Enough about my imaginary kids.

Summer exam season is coming up. So far this semester, I’ve read more assignments than I usually do, so I’m ahead (of my usual) there but I haven’t even begun to organize my notes. I think I may try to outline, but never having really studied before, I don’t know how.

Like I said, without all of this, I do well enough… but I’d rather do great.

I have such a worry about how much to divulge and how much to keep secret. Too much and I’ll be far more readily identifiable than I’d like; too little and I won’t be able to connect to anyone who happens to stumble here.

Should I disclose that my roommate is moving out to allow my boyfriend to move in? Probably so, because the boyfriend-moving-in is a huge part of my life and I’m sure to write about it at some point. But a huge amount of my daily stresses come from petty complaints about my (soon-to-be-ex) roommate – what if she finds this, figures out it’s me and is upset?

What about my daily activities? I’d rather not spill the beans on where I’m living, because it would be a short trip from there to which law school I attend. I’d hate for the things I write here to be studied and judged by future colleagues or employers. It’s not unprecedented and it’s almost always harmful. So while I can probably talk about the farmer’s market I go to on the weekends (after all, what city doesn’t have a farmer’s market… and more importantly, who would want to live there?!) I probably shouldn’t talk about local festivals or once-a-year events that go on here.

And then there are teeny personal details. So much of my life is my family, my dog, my cultural background, where I grew up and where I (and my boyfriend/future-fiance?) want to go when I’m out of school. But those are all the things that will point directly at me!

I suppose will have to walk a fine line between being secretive and communicative.

This may be a problem, as I am probably the worst person in the world at keeping my own secrets.

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