May 9, 2011 § Leave a comment
If you didn’t already know this about me… I love reflecting. Love it. I love dwelling in thought, over analyzing that thought, and reflecting on that thought. There was no better time for dwelling and reflecting than at an event like commencement from law school. This weekend was graduation and honestly, it was absolutely lovely. Perhaps this was because my undergrad graduation was so meaningless to me. I graduated a few months early in December when graduation really felt like a whole lot of nothing. This time around it was entirely different – it felt meaningful, it felt special, and it definitely felt like I was commencing something.
The ceremony started off with a sweet speech by our Dean commemorating the life of one of the most incredible professors at our school who happened to have passed away this past January. Professor Baude was my very first, very intimidating, very impressive law school professor. From the first day of stepping into criminal law – I was both scared and entirely in awe of him. A small part of me may have been nervous because he had a sleepy left eye (or it could have been his right). All I know is that eye gave you the illusion that at any given point, he could be, and was most likely looking at you. Staring at you. Daring you to respond to his taunting questions. We all walked into that room the first day of law school thinking we all knew something – ready to show off the intelligence that someone (some admissions fellow) must have seen in us. Professor Baude showed us that we really had was so much to learn – about the law, and about ourselves. Mostly, Baude was intimidating because he was a genius. Not only was he brilliant in his legal analysis, perfect in his grammatical speech, but he had a dashing, wicked since of humor that made the law seem alive. In teaching Constitutional Law, he is quoted to have said “everyone assumes that because I’m a constitutional law professor that I love the constitution . . . Does an oncologist love cancer?” He hated suck ups, he disliked people who read ahead for the sake of reading ahead, but he loved curiosity, and he wanted to instill a sense of wonder, amazement, and respect in his students.
He did so much more.
So as I reflect on Pat Baude. As I reflect on how much he intimidated me, inspired me, really taught me to see the complexity of every situation. I reflect on what law school was to me.
Law school was an adventure – a mental, emotional, and even physical adventure. It was a mental adventure in the sense that for the first time, school was hard – really hard. One reason law school was academically challenging is because of the way the grading system is set up. In undergrad, it seemed like as long as you studied enough and put in enough hours, you were bound to succeed and get an A in class. In law school, it wasn’t like that because you are graded on a curve against your fellow ambitious, overachieving, Type A students. Exams were written so that they were essay exams with no one right answer. Doing well on an exam (and thus in the class) was more dependent upon how well you can explain the law, and how well you can apply it to a set of arbitrary and strange circumstances the teacher has created – compared to how well everyone else did. Oddly enough one of my best grades in law school was in my Torts class. I hated that class and felt like I knew the material the least compared to the other classes I was taking that semester, yet I happened to do the best because I issue spotted and applied the law the best compared to the other students in that class who presumably knew less than I did.
Aside from exams and the way grades are dished out, another reason law school is difficult is that the whole point of school is to teach you to think and process in ways most people don’t. One of my most challenging classes was actually Criminal Procedure taught by another incredible man: Professor Hoffman. Hoffman was impressive partly because he would casually throw out comments about his time spent clerking at the Supreme Court; there is a certain reverence for anyone who has worked for esteemed justices like Rehnquist. He would dish out anecdotes about the bench, always impersonating Justice Scalia and how he “hears the constitution.” He was also impressive because no matter how much I prepared for class, how much I prepared for his questions – knowing the law was not enough. He showed me that law school was more about knowing how to apply the law. He always wanted to focus on the nuanced details, the distinctions, the patterns that I could never catch. My favorite topic was “incorporation,” and I still remember the Duncan Test, which was the test for determining whether a right guaranteed by the 5th and 6th amendment (with respect to federal criminal procedure) is also protected in state proceedings through the 14th amendment. (I didn’t need to even look at old notes because of the countless hours I stayed up drilling that in my head.) Yet the point of class was to show us that learning the test is only one part of learning the law – the other part is learning to argue, articulate, reason whether a right was incorporated or not. Did the right pass the test or did it not? Rarely was there a clear answer.
It was a mental adventure because of the breadth and depth of subjects I was exposed to. Law really is the fabric of a society. It is the sum of the policies that we care about, the moral codes we try to observe, the goals we have as a collective . We want to foster creativity and innovation so our intellectual property rights expire after sometime. No one is granted a patent over their idea indefinitely. We want to encourage investment and small businesses – which is why if you invest in small businesses (with other caveats), you can get ordinary loss up to a certain amount instead of capital loss on your taxes. We want to punish criminals that intentionally harm others – which is why mens rea is usually a crucial component of felony sentences. There are also failures in the law that don’t make sense. There are times when the law doesn’t come in to help the victim and gets the defense off – scotch free. There is a frustration and tension in the law with what it tries to achieve and how it manages to fail a few times too many. It is that frustration and tension which makes the study of law feel so important, and so honorable.
Law school was also the emotional roller coaster of a life time – rolled up and compressed into three short years. I was lucky enough to have fallen in love my first year of law school. I had been in like many times, and probably will always have a tendency to fall in like – but love was a wholly different feeling. It’s all consuming – just the way that reading supreme court opinions can be, just the way that researching cases on Westlaw can be, just the way that trying to write a research paper on international insolvency can be. I was also lucky enough to grow up and realize that you can fall in love more than once – and that life is not the fairy tale you always imagined, and sometimes that is a good thing. It seems like fairy tales mean that you have one adventure and one happy ending when real life is a complex array of adventures, meeting strangers, identifying with people, and sometimes moving forward in directions you never planned. Law school showed me that life is lived out in the middle parts of a one’s book – the beginnings are already written, the end will be there for you to discover – but the fun parts are in the middle chapters, when you worry whether or not that happy ending will be there. Amidst all the worrying I realized that the happy endings are in there – tossed in between all the heart ache and difficult choices, strewn about for you to discover as you just life happen to you.
What was the past three years? Simply? It was some of the best and worst times of my life. More complexed? It was meeting one of my best girl friends my first day in class with Pat Baude; it was weekends battling through undergrads trying to get a $2 drink on a Tuesday because we were all slightly poor and way in debt; it was carving pumpkins, drinking cider, and watching leaves fall for the first time; it was taking spontaneous trips to keep up with my New York friends; it was drinking way too much diet mountain dew from the gas station at 75 cents a pop; it was tailgates playing corn hole and beer pong because the IU football team sucks; it was spending 10 hours in the library and feeling like it was an easy day; it was going to Pita Pit for lunch, then going to Dagwoods, then repeating all of that all over againt; it was looking at people refresh their computer screens the first day back from winter break ever 15 minutes checking for grades being posted; it was seeing gossip and the rumor mill at it’s worst; it was going to Hong Kong and traveling around asia for 7 months; it was studying law in an entire different part of the world and realizing i understood it; it was taking a 5 hour take home exam and having my computer crash 3.5 hours through; it was rainy days, sunny days, all kinds of days spent in doors in the dungeon; it was awkward law students and even more awkward law professors.
So thank you law school – thank you Indiana for 3 hard to express years. I’m very ready to move on, but you will be missed.