Who among us doesn’t love dwelling on student debt and competitive school rankings?
U.S. News & World Report is among the many institutions that releases an annual law school ranking list. The results, unsurprisingly, matter to law school students, alumni, and faculty. I know that many prospective students are currently receiving acceptances from many great law schools and will have to make final decisions in the coming months (and I hope they all choose BC Law). Surely, those students have to be looking at such ranking lists, and I don’t blame them. I certainly did when I made my decision. To the extent that rankings accurately capture a school’s merit, naturally we all want to be members of the best educational institution possible – and of course, there’s no doubt that prestige is a useful tool to have under your belt in many walks of life.
Just this time last year, amidst the upheaval and uncertainty that Covid-19 was just beginning to render on all of our lives, Dean Rougeau wrote to the BC Law community in order to address the U.S. News 2020 rankings, noting how competitive the scoring margins are among excellent law schools but nevertheless pledging BC’s commitment “to providing the very best legal education within our mission of educating lawyers for the greater good.” BC Law’s ranking (tied at #31) is something to take pride in, but there is something more going on here than that number captures. So much of the law school experience is driven by brutal, lifeless numbers: rankings, scholarships, LSAT scores, GPAs, final exam scores, bell curves, class rankings, class percentiles, and so on. It’s a bit reductionist. Whatever it is that sets BC Law apart is intangible, but I think it lives in that commitment to the greater good.
As this year’s 1Ls have surely discovered, and as future attendees of BC Law will come to realize, going to law school is a strange and special experience best tackled alongside friends and peers. Whether it’s cramming rules of civil procedure into your head, navigating the do’s and don’t’s of law firm networking events, or just figuring out where to find a good cup of coffee, one’s time at BC Law is easier and more fulfilling when you leverage the buddy system. As students, it is important to find and leverage a support system at the school. Friendly classmates are one; the BC Law administration and its prioritization of the health and wellness of the student body is another. In this blog, I’m considering a third support system: the people with whom we choose to live.
During the past spring semester, I authored a blog post about how I missed the free coffee served by the BC Law cafeteria during the final exam period. During my 1L fall semester, I relied on that free coffee like a car relies on gas or a legislative body relies on annoying words like “heretofore.” I may have broken even on my tuition costs with the way I consumed that free coffee during 1L finals.
Of course, I was missing the free on-campus coffee last spring because I was not, in fact, on campus. No one was, due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
During those early months, things were strange and unfamiliar. You could feel the tension in the air. No one quite knew how the virus would spread, how disruptive it would be, and how long it would rage. Here at BC Law, classes (rightfully, in my opinion) were shifted to pass/fail grading while students and professors acclimated to the remote learning format.
By the time this blog is posted, Halloween will have just passed and Election Day will be right around the corner. As I don’t want my hair to be completely grey or completely gone by the time I turn 26, in this post I am going to focus on the less frightening of the two.
This past Thursday, tax law extraordinaire Professor Oei kept the mood light by wearing a full-body Appa costume to remote-class in both the spirit of Halloween and also in light of the shared experience many of us had watching (or re-watching) Avatar: The Last Airbender when it was released on Netflix right at the start of the Covid-19 quarantine. “Appa” is a flying sky bison from the television show, pictured below, and if you needed that explained to you then (1) shame on you, but (2) go watch the show because you’re in for a real treat.
How could the Appa costume have possibly been tied into our discussion of statutory deductions for business and trade expenses in the Internal Revenue Code, you ask? With a little bit of creative lawyering, Professor Oei found a way.
We’re over a month into the fall semester here at BC Law, and things are falling into a new but familiar rhythm. Hopefully the 1Ls are feeling a little bit more on top of what law school entails now that they’re at the back-end of September. For us returning students, hopefully it feels like a return to some kind of normalcy and productivity.
But of course, this semester isn’t business as usual. We are all in a hybrid-learning model, with some classes online and some classes in-person. We track our health and take precautions like social distancing and wearing masks, all while spending most of our time bound in our homes for the sake of public health and safety. I am in a safe and secure place, so I can’t complain; especially considering all the uncertainty 1Ls must be experiencing as they start law school, and the challenges that students are facing from this economic decline, its impacts on the job market and recruiting, its implications for competitive grading among students, and the drudgery of social isolation. These days, I spend what feels like every hour of every day in my all-in-one bedroom/office/home gym/living room, just staring out a window waiting for a dog.
Studying for final exams in law school is stressful. The stakes are high, the hours are long, and the despair can…fester. I was generally aware of the pressure built into a grading system centered around distributive bell curves when I enrolled, but in my first week at Boston College the reality set in. Something terrible happened: I met my peers, and they were every kind of smart, impressive and terrifying. They were students coming from across the country and around the world, some from THOSE big name schools and others with remarkable professional experience.
Naturally I compared them to myself, the dumbest person I know. That was a bad move for my self-confidence, but sometimes you just have to keep moving forward. So, that’s what I did heading into finals season.
You’re a 1L sitting in class on the first day of the spring semester, reunited with your section members. Just one month ago, you had soul-bonded with the person next to you, spending 12 hours a day in study groups for weeks leading up to finals. You faced those exams together, you collectively convinced each other that it might not have gone as poorly as you thought, and then you wistfully bade each other farewell for whatever ski trip/Netflix binge awaited the other over Winter Break.
Contracts. Property. Civ Pro. Torts. Together, you and your dear friend stared into the outlining abyss and it stared back, and now you are making idle chit chat.
And you cannot remember their name for the life of you.
And it’s starting to show: “Hey…….. you.”
Nearly every time I’ve ever slept in my 22 years on this Earth, it has not been in a law school library. Enter: an email from the BC Law Library staff titled “The Sleep Pods have arrived!”
There are now sleep pods installed on the third floor of the library, a response to requests for a place to nap or zone out in order to refresh from our standard day-to-day cycle of reading cases, going to class, studying, outlining, and grubbing for the next opportunity to get free food.
We stay busy here at BC, and sure, sometimes we treat sleep as a luxury rather than a necessity. But then, sleeping doesn’t earn you any Lexis Points.
I was never really worried about getting cold called.
For one thing, my name, appearance, and general vibe are so monumentally uninteresting that I knew I’d be functionally anonymous to my professors. For another, I came to law school straight through from undergrad. My academic career has been uninterrupted since kindergarten. So when people started to hype up the pressure of cold calling, this long-standing historic educational tradition built on the learning philosophy of Socrates, a daunting gauntlet every 1L has to traverse, I may have been a little nervous. That is, until I found out cold calling just means getting called on in class. I’ve been getting called on in class for 17 years. No big deal.
But then I actually had my first cold call. The following is an account of my internal monologue at that moment:
I didn’t necessarily think law school would be boring. I swear I didn’t. But then, I didn’t necessarily think it would be funny either.
One of the natural barriers surely standing in the way of a law professor’s mission is what I have experienced as ‘the 1L jitters.’ Personally, I was very nervous about the start of law school, a new and defining chapter in my life. I was so nervous that I didn’t get much sleep for the first couple of days. Speaking with my fellow students, it’s pretty clear that I wasn’t the only one.
Now, you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to know that getting at least a couple hours of sleep per night might be important for the learning process, so there was going to be a problem if we didn’t all release some of that 1L jitter-tension quickly. And that’s what laughter is, right? Releasing tension. I’ve found the class content lends itself to humor surprisingly well, and it’s where the professors can excel.