Cold Called on Day One: Expectation Versus Reality

During law school orientation, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Daniel Lyons walked us through what we should expect from our first day. During this session, he showed us the infamous scene from Legally Blonde where Elle Woods experiences her first class. After we watched Woods get kicked out for not being prepared, he assured us that, while the movie gets some things right, it also gets some things wrong.

What did it get wrong, according to Dean Lyons? Our professors likely wouldn’t be as suave. Also, while they will call on you, they won’t pick on you with that degree of malice.

However, what it gets right is that there will be assignments before even the first day, and you will be expected to have done them. There also will be cold calling, probably not at first, but soon.

While this orientation session was surely meant to ease our anxieties mere days before we would begin a daunting academic adventure, it only made me more nervous. Experiencing anything like Woods’ first day seemed like a downright nightmare, and the only thing I didn’t have to worry about now was suave professors with outward malice? I started losing some sleep.

But after experiencing it firsthand — and living to tell the tale — I can assure you that the anticipation was far worse than the reality. 

The first day was pretty much like any other first day of school, except there was far more nervous energy in the air. We discussed our syllabi and what we should expect from the courses over the next few months. We also went over broad concepts of the law that we’d cover in more depth moving forward. In Torts, my professor even spent time talking about the importance of stress relief and some strategies to try throughout the semester.

However, the second day was, well, a regular day of law school. We’d been oriented enough and it was time to get right into it.

My second day began with Torts, and my professor gave us the surprising news that she wouldn’t be cold calling people this semester. Turns out she’d rather give us the heads up and have us be prepared than have us all suffer from the embarrassment — both first and secondhand — of being asked questions we just don’t know the answers to. From here on out, she would be telling us which class we would be on-call for so we could take the best notes possible and be ready.

But she would cold call five of us today.

This was it. The room collectively held its breath. The student next to me whispered that we all had a six percent chance of being called on. 

She read the five names, and one of them informed her that he wasn’t quite ready. No problem, she said, I’ll just call on the substitute.

“Tess Halpern?”

My six percent chance had turned to seven and that was enough. I gathered my belongings and headed to the front of the class with the four other guinea pigs. And who of the five was asked the very first question? You guessed it.

The question was on the definition of corrective justice — a concept that’s considered one of the three main purposes of tort law. I agreed to answer the question against my better judgement, and looked down at my notes from the reading I had done the night before. Right in front of me was the answer: “Corrective Justice: Citizens look to their governments for justice (Aristotle: If A wrongfully harms B, A should compensate B in an amount equal to the harm done).”

In a voice that I hope wasn’t shaky, I read those words essentially verbatim to the class. While I now wish I had paraphrased a bit to show that I understood what I was saying, I got the answer right. She elaborated on the definition I provided and moved on to the next person.

The rest of the class was pretty much a blur. I was called on once more to expand upon a point one of my peers made, since apparently I was nodding vigorously as he was talking. Maybe it was a new nervous tick? I don’t know, but I was able to say something that seemed relevant and informative enough, and the class ended without any more excitement.

After watching the Legally Blonde clip, my worst fear was being the first to be called on in class — a fear that was realized on only my second day. But after experiencing it, and being prepared for the moment, I can honestly say it wasn’t so bad. A few days later, I was incidentally the first person to be cold called in my Law Practice class, and the experience was just as survivable. When there was a small detail I couldn’t remember and didn’t have in my notes, I can say with confidence that no one really cared, including my professor. 

As I progress through law school, I know there will be much more anticipatory anxiety to come. But anticipation only goes away when you actually do the thing. Had I asked for a substitute in that first Torts class, I might still be nervous about that cold call that’ll eventually come knocking. By taking advantage of the opportunity that came, even when it came a bit early for comfort, I could let those nerves go.

For now, at least.

Tess Halpern is a first-year student and brand new Impact blogger. Contact her at

4 thoughts on “Cold Called on Day One: Expectation Versus Reality

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