Nov 08 2009

(rare and unsolicited) Advice for the Rookies….

Published by at 3:10 pm under Miscellaneous

One of the great things about living in a city is that there is never a lack of things to do.  One of the great things about living in Washington, DC is that there is never a lack of great FREE things to do.  JFK said of DC, “it’s a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.”  In spite of that, and the noticable lack of seasonal weather, it does have its high points.  Since the Smithsonian Institution recieves a federal subsidy, they are prohibited from charging admission fees to any of their museums.  I always thought this was compensation for locals after having to deal with hordes of tourists that smelled like sunscreen and had no particular direction when you wanted to visit the national mall.  However, about once every six months, when the weather was ripe for a long walk, you can take a trip wayyyy up Connecticut Avenue to the national zoo.  This was a perfect destination for locals because not only is it free, but it’s far enough away from downtown that most tourists can’t find it AND it’s such a long uphill walk that most parents are unwilling to push their strollers.

Obviously, the main attraction of this zoo is Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, the asian pandas.  Very few zoos in the world have pandas.  However, the exhibit I couldn’t keep away from was Luke and Lusaka, the African lions.  Luke was born in captivity in the fall of 2005, and has been displayed in Washington ever since.  Lusaka was a more recent addition.  Over the course of the next three years I was able to watch Luke’s de-evolution from King of the Jungle into zoo exhibit.

It was very obvious when he was young that Luke knew his place in the order of the jungle.  He was quite active and possessed a piercing roar from a young age.  Many of the trainers were apprehentious about entering the cage because he was quite unpredictable and liked to lash out, as young lions do.   The second time I saw him, I noticed a few bruises on his face.  I was told he has put his head down and run into the exhibit wall, thinking he could break free of it.  He also has a habit or coming fairly close to the edge of the viewing platform and roaring loudly enough to scare young children (and some unsuspecting adults).  This is why I liked him in the first place.  About a year later, on a return trip he appeared a little more reticent.  He walked, uncharacteristically, with his head down and did not fight to get out quite as much.  He still roared occasionally, but it lacked its awe inspiring volume and ferocity.   Finally, in 2008 in  my final trip before returning to North Carolina, I noticed that at only 3 years old, Luke looked defeated.  He lied around a good portion of the day with the other lions and did very little to frighten or entertain anyone.  It appeared as though he had accepted his role as a captive.

I did not think much about this until this time last year.  Such is the plight of a first year law student.  For those of us coming from the working world, we re-enter the world of academia having spent years accomplishing and building not 0nly a career, but a life.  Though we are cognitively aware of what is ahead of us, we fool ourselves into thinking that you can be built up without first being broken down.  In the initial months, we overlook the fact that we often don’t leave the law school until the sun goes down, and that we spend so much time reading that we lose track of the news and the world around us.  Days melt into each other until you don’t know which is which, only how many more until the weekend.  Studying and sleeping become so ritual that we only stop a few times mid semester to think, “man, this month has gone by quickly.”  The strain of a new schedule shakes you of your hold habits, hobbies, and more often than not, friends.  It is very easy to fall into colleagialrelationships with your classmates, and then realize you rarely see some of them outside of school.  Half way through the semester, you tend to accept a fate you spent the first several weeks trying to fight.  Other aspects of your personal life begin to suffer in the weeks preceding exams, for some, even hygiene goes out the window, as cognitive dissonance tells you that “it’s ok to show up to class in sweatpants.”  You become short tempered with your family and friends because you want to strangle the next person that asks, “How law school going?”  It’s a bad place.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, even so early in the academic career.  First, we’ve all been there.  Now, we’re all out of it.  Trust us, you’ll get there too.  Further, once you’ve hit what you consider rock bottom, the rebuilding begins.  Around the late spring of your first year, you realize you’re a lot smarter than you used to be.  When internship hunting season comes around, you have the opportunity to get out, and meet people; people who do things; productive members of society, like you used to be.  Hopefully, by this many months into the year you’ve also shed yourself of your corrosive drinking habits (to some degree) and regressive early 20s behavior.  Without notice, you’ve become an adult.  You actually enjoy spring break, instead of spending thanksgiving break in the library.  And when you reemerge in society people respect the sacrifice you have made to pursue a higher level of education.  Because out there, unlike in here, not everybody is in law school.  You can step back and look at yourself and see that you are building towards a new career.  In a spring semester where there are no quizzes and you have no idea where you stand, this is the sign that you are successful.  Anyone can get an education, it’s the social development that will make you a successful lawyer.  (Because, evidently, it doesn’t stick for everyone.) 

So hang in there, and be lucky.  Unlike the lion, your captivity has an end game.  Just don’t lose your roar in the process, it’s always good for a few chuckles.

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “(rare and unsolicited) Advice for the Rookies….”

  1. Eric Finkon 11 Nov 2009 at 8:10 am

    The timing of this post is fortuitous, coinciding as it did with the annual AALS Faculty Recruiting Conference in DC. As always, the conference was at the Wardman Park Hotel, right near the Zoo. While Matt’s observations are aimed at new law students, I think they could, with just a bit of tweaking, also apply to rookie law professors. Among other things, our species would also do well to remember that “not everybody is in law school”, and that, even among those who are, not everyone is, nor wants to be, a professor.

    We professors have our own difficult balancing acts: We are responsible for teaching (Dare I say “training”? Or would that smack too much of a “trade school” for some of my more hifalutin’ peers?) future practitioners. We are responsible for producing scholarship, much of which is of interest and consequence only to ourselves (and I don’t say that like it’s a bad thing). And we are responsible for serving our institutions through committee work, student advising, and other tasks. Beyond all this, we are members of broader communities — including but by no means limited to broader legal communities — to which we also have commitments and obligations.

    This is not, I hasten to say, a plea for understanding or sympathy from non-professors. On the contrary, it is a plea to the members of my own privileged guild: remember that, though it is partly about us, it isn’t all, or even mostly, about us. (I’m paraphrasing my favorite early Rabbi, Hillel, here). In everything we do, in every decision we make — about our own teaching, scholarship, & service; about the direction of the law school — we must always ask: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

  2. eurail passon 18 Nov 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Your intro holds true for most cities – but dallas – there literally is not much to do here unless you like to eat A LOt – then there is a smorgasboard of places to go and gorge yourself 🙂

  3. grovesmon 08 Dec 2009 at 10:38 pm

    First to eurail pass, I would like to say I am elated that people in Dallas are reading the blog. If you have social commentary on being in law school, feel free to e-mail me at, and I would be happy to set you up as an administator so that you can make your own posts.

    Professor Fink, funny YOU should mention the zoo, because coinciding with the committee’s visit was the poor dear that got into the lion’s den. I fear a similar result for some of the unsuspecting candidates.

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