“How Is That NOT Hearsay?” and Other Ways to Think Like a Lawyer

There are few things cooler for an 11-year-old kid than getting to stay up later than your siblings to watch an R-rated movie, so I vividly remember hopping on the couch with my dad to watch Crimson Tide in 1995. I clung to a pillow with wide-eyed excitement as the USS ALABAMA and a Russian submarine fired torpedoes at each other while Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman squared off with a nuclear war on the line.

At the movie’s tense climax, my dad, a Navy veteran, turned to me dead serious and said, “That guy’s wearing the wrong collar devices.”

My first reaction was “stop talking during the movie so I can see if the submarine sinks,” but my next thought was “how can he possibly know that?” I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but my dad’s time in the Navy had left him with attention to detail that he couldn’t turn off.  It was impossible for him to watch the movie without critiquing the uniforms, lingo, and behavior of the sailors after it had been so ingrained in him by his supervisors and experience.

That’s what 1L does to BC Law students.

I spent my summer in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and had the opportunity to go to court almost every week. I sat in on criminal trials and hearings ranging from drug possession to first-degree murder, proceedings that would have left me curious and entertained a year ago. Instead, I sat there subconsciously screaming, “Why isn’t he objecting? Why would she put that witness first? How is that NOT hearsay? That guy’s wearing the wrong collar devices.” One year of law school had turned me into my dad watching a movie about the Navy.

Although the first-year curriculum is essentially the same at every law school, my professors and experience at BC gave me the background and insight to have a stronger attention to detail in the courtroom. The school’s focus on practical, experiential learning forces you to look beyond your casebook and develop sound legal theories that you can articulate and defend. It might be daunting during a cold call in class, but it’s incredibly fulfilling to sit in a courtroom after a year of courses and finally feel like it’s clicking.

Law schools like to tell you that they’ll teach you to “think like a lawyer.” BC actually means it.

Worst case scenario, they’ll still teach you to think like a Navy veteran watching Crimson Tide.  

Brendan McKinnon is a 2L who is settling into life as a law student and new dad. He’s also a former Coast Guard Lieutenant who spent ten years chasing drug smugglers on the high seas. Email him at mckinnba@bc.edu.   

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