Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ch. 4: Orientation

Anita and her family had moved down to Las Vegas about a week before I did and settled into a small apartment complex a few blocks away from mine. During one of our many post-admissions conversations, I had persuaded her to attend Boyd with me, rather than to University of Michigan. Although "U of M" ranked higher, the tuition and living costs alone would have crippled her family's finances. Besides, Anita's husband worked for a company in Reno and could transfer to the Vegas branch, even earning a raise.

Attending Boyd with Anita had many advantages for me. We could carpool to school, quiz each other, and go to the store together to buy our casebooks.

We had received directions to buy our books in advance, considering our teachers expected us to complete our first assignments before the first day of class. I had diligently checked the online resources every day until the syllabi were posted. I had printed a spreadsheet listing my assigned books, and since Anita and I were scheduled to take the same classes except for legal writing, she could shop from my list. My roommate, Sue, had gone before us to purchase her books, because she was in section two.

Boyd students were randomly divided into two sections. All the section one students had the same teachers, books and classes. Section two students had different teachers and books, although all of us had to take the same five subjects during the first year. Students could more or less choose their classes based on their interests during the second year.

When Anita and I visited the UNLV bookstore, she could hardly contain her excitement.

“Oooh! Look at this one!” she squealed. She grabbed a deep-red Criminal Law book off the shelf, as if picking out a lollipop. It was insane she was having this much fun.

“Uh, huh,” I said. I smiled at her enthusiasm but didn’t feel the same way. “Should I buy the supplementals? I think I’m going to need them.”

“I won’t need them!” Anita said. She had never needed supplementals before. She could glean what the teacher wanted by listening and making educated guesses on exams. It worked better for her than any other person I had seen.

“You can borrow mine,” I said. “Just in case.” I stacked Glannon for Torts, Property, and The Redbook (an optional citation manual) on top of my growing pile of books on the floor. Soon I split the tower in two columns, so it wouldn’t topple over. Yippee.

I could barely carry my books to the cash register. They must have weighed 25 pounds. The girl at the checkout smiled.

“We’re law students,” I explained, a little out of breath.

“Ah!” she said, as if she had never seen a bunch of future OneLs (first year law students) purchasing truck loads of books before. I charged over $600 to my credit card and hauled the newfound burdens home.

Once there, I released my books from their cellophane wrappers and carefully placed them on the unvarnished pine shelf across from my bed. Each book’s spine was at least an inch wide. Gold lettering gleamed from the heavy, hardback covers.

Which class would I like the most? Torts? That was all about personal injury. I looked up the definition of a tort before (it had nothing to do with chocolate and more to do with a civil wrong). Property? Naw. Property bored me. My sister talked about real estate all the time, ever since she started taking those phony get-rich-quick real estate investing classes in Las Vegas. Snore. Maybe I would like Civil Procedure—it was all about rules. I liked rules, right? Eh. What about Criminal Law? I had never even seen an episode of “Law and Order.” No “CSI” for me. Those shows made me queasy. “Boston Legal” and “Ally McBeal” didn’t count. My Lawyering Process legal writing books looked down-to-earth. At least they had paperback covers. No fancy lettering. I had three of them, but they were half the size of the other monstrosities.

Color coding time. Traditionally, I took all of my notes on loose binder paper, so if I took too many notes, I could always transfer them to another binder. I already knew I took notes prolifically, so I had purchased two-inch binders for all five of my classes. All I had to do was print out labels for each binder and come up with colors for each subject.

Easy enough. My torts book had a deep brown cover, but when I thought of torts, I pictured people falling down and getting black-and-blues, which usually faded to a purplish hue after a few days. Torts = purple label. Done.

Crim Law (Criminal Law) should be orange, because prisoners wear orange jumpsuits. Property should be green, like lawns in front yards. Lawyering Process would be blue because that was my favorite color—and writing was my favorite subject. What was left now? Civ Pro (Civil Procedure). That would be red because rules were like stoplights preventing people from doing illegal things. Well, some people.

I explained this color scheme to Anita over the phone later that day.

“You’re absolutely crazy,” she said. She laughed for a long time and paused.

“I know,” I said. Gotta make the binders look pretty. It was the least I could do to honor my mom the artist.


August 17, 2006. 5:30 p.m. Anita and I had signed up for our very first library tour, the informal kick-off event of Orientation. I came armed with my trusty notepad –a palm-sized book from the Holiday Inn that I had found during my pre-move shuffle.

I kept to my notes and didn’t look up until we passed the law journals on the third floor, across the indoor skywalk leading to the “quiet area.”

“Law reviews!” I exclaimed, not meaning to sound so enthusiastic. Law reviews represented the height of scholastic success for any legal writer/theorist. Boyd had a collection of law reviews from every major law school in the nation, it seemed, including Harvard. If I earned good enough grades during my first year, I might qualify for the Law Review the next year. Students could either “write on” or earn high enough grades to qualify by default.

“Yes!” agreed the talkative lady. She must have thought I intended to direct my comment for her. I tried not to look too friendly. Law schools graded on a curve and perhaps I should be careful who I befriended. The competition at some law schools was cutthroat.

“Can we have a copy of your notes?” she asked.

“No.” I said rudely. “Take your own.” It wasn’t like me to be short, but for some reason, I felt defensive, and disappointed that the library tour really didn’t reveal any secrets to the legal world. Now I knew where the bathrooms were. Whoop de do.

“I get lost easily,” I said, trying to excuse my large quantities of notes. She didn’t seem to mind.

When the tour was over, I looked at Anita.

“That’s it?! They had to give us a whole tour just to show us the bathrooms? We could have found that out just by walking around.”

Either the Boyd staff was trying to be friendly and hospitable, or they thought we were stupid. Anita and I shrugged and descended the cascading, black-slate steps from the third floor library to the main double doors. The bathrooms on the first floor impressed me, at least. They had modern, trough-like basins for sinks with automatic faucets, accented by beautiful silvery fixtures.

During the rest of orientation week, Boyd’s entire administration and staff babied us. They held our hands through each little description of the school, and lavished us with multiple opportunities to get to know the teachers and our peers. Monday morning, half the Boyd students reported to the Alumni building so a professional photographer could take our pictures, enabling the teachers to recognize us and call on us by name.

I smiled pretty for the camera and continued on to the next event on the agenda—the dinner with the faculty. We were seated alphabetically, so I went through the buffet line and sought the “A” table.

Most everyone already had taken their places at the circular table. I sized up my competition. To my right sat an Indian girl named Ruma. Zoe sat across from me. She had waist-length brown hair and an artsy, purple shirt with stars on it. She must have weighed no more than one-hundred pounds and wore almost no makeup. Zoe told us she was a theater major and a Las Vegas native. To her right was Krissy, a brunette whose silvery eye shadow made her look like a club-hopper. She had an annoying valley-girl voice, and told us she came from Las Vegas. Next to Krissy was Tim, a tall, lanky, geology major with a pale face and thick, Arthur-Anteater glasses. His voice vaguely resembled Ben Stein’s in the Clear Eyes commercials. He would make a great tax lawyer, I mused.

Before long, Professor Sullivan, a legal writing professor, joined us, sitting between Ruma and me.

“How’s everyone doing?” she said in a squeaky, girlish voice, unexpected coming from her mature face. “I’m sure you’ve already introduced yourselves to each other, but would you mind saying your names again?”

We didn’t have much time to chat before the dean’s formal speech, but I managed to squeeze in that I had written my undergrad thesis on plain English and the law and was looking forward to Boyd’s writing program. I’d read it ranked third in the nation, partly due to Professor Sullivan’s expertise.

Dean Langford began speaking. Because our table rested so closely to the podium, I had to twist uncomfortably to look at him. He came off like a wizened attorney and businessman, from his posture and confidence. Dean Langford repeated a line we had heard before: “Look to your left; look to your right. One of you won’t make it through the first year. Law school is a privilege. You all should be proud you’re here.”

I strained my neck to the side and clapped politely after the speech closed, feeling like I didn’t belong in this room full of future lawyers. I wondered if anyone would notice the imposter amongst them, since my motives for attending law school had to do with decoding legalese, not just making money by practicing law.

Orientation week was comprised of several social-bonding experiments, like a mock class the teachers put on to demonstrate what not to do in class (instant messaging your friends, leaving your cell phone on, slamming the door when you exit to go to the bathroom, or, the biggie: going on longwinded narratives about your personal life and how it may or may not relate to the case at hand). To top it all off, we had to reunite with our tablemates for a scavenger hunt to win a lunch with the Nevada Supreme Court Justices. The scavenger hunt survey contained some objective questions like “What is the maximum occupancy in Room 101?” and other questions Krissy claimed had to be trick questions, like the ones on the LSAT. One of the questions asked us to come up with a school slogan using the first letter of the first names of each Nevada Supreme Court Justice. And finally, the stumper—look up Boyd’s student handbook and write down the absentee policy.

Our group had already tried to download the student handbook on one of the library computers, but for some reason, we couldn’t access it.

“Maybe it’s a trick question,” Krissy repeated, as if it was impossible that one computer in the library may not be functioning properly.

“It’s not a trick question” I retorted. “We could ask one of the librarians to help us, or find a paper copy of the handbook, or look for a computer that works.”

“I think it’s a trick question,” she insisted. This coming from a girl who had suggested that our school motto might have something to do with beer and skittles because two of the letters were “B” and “S.” Our group sat defeated, circled around a table in the break room.

“Nobody thinks my jokes are funny. I have no friends,” Krissy said.

I rolled my eyes. “I’m going to go ask someone how we can get a paper copy of the handbook,” I said. I left the table, finding it suddenly unbearably irritating to be in the same room with Krissy. I didn’t exhibit the sun-shiniest of moods. No one in my group followed.

“Why doesn’t she like me?” I could see Krissy mouthing to the others, as I looked through the circular window in the door. Everyone seemed shocked I had left the room. I paced a few minutes outside before regaining my composure and deciding to go back to my group. Even if I hunted down the answer, I wouldn’t be participating in the stupid team-building exercise. We ultimately settled on a school motto based on Tim’s suggestions (something to do with the Adversarial Judicial System Always Winning the Best Result). We decided to leave the handbook question blank. Guess we weren’t winning the luncheon with the Nevada Supreme Court Justices. The group decided I should be the one to record all of our answers on the copy we turned in. I was glad to just get rid of the darn paper. At least Zoe, who suffered from a rotten cold that week, had gone out of her way to find out the maximum room occupancy of Room 101. Krissy had heard someone from another group say the room was locked, so she concluded the question impossible to answer. Turns out all Zoe had to do was look at the sign outside the door.

Orientation week culminated in Professor Merek Czarnecki’s second lecture about what to expect on a law school exam. He led Boyd’s Academic Services Department, CASE. Merek’s speaking style proved eccentric—during the first lecture earlier in the week, he’d opened his PowerPoint presentation with a story about running from a bear—complete with flailing arm gestures and a scream. I forgot the relevance, other than that law school induced panic. Somewhere in his introduction he had also made a very convincing argument that the first seven bars of “Ice, Ice Baby” –Ding ding dinga- ding ding dig-ding—were actually not copyright infringement of another similar song because the last two notes were different. For a skinny Polish guy, he had more energy than any person I had seen. Merek told us he taught Torts, and in his practicing years as an attorney, had even made old ladies cry on the stand. We could see why. All goofiness aside, he terrified us. Sure, he made fun of his unpronounceable last name, but once he launched into the real serious stuff, such as what it takes to write a convincing test answer, we forgot about his antics. Merek lit into a surfer dude student who was brave enough to engage in the Socratic Method Q&A. Merek pressed until he stumped just about everyone. At the end of the lecture, Merek gave us a sample exam question, with five minutes to write out our answer. He offered to grade our one-page written answers to the hypothetical. Turning in the assignment was optional. I started writing out my answer, but ran out of time and decided not to turn it in because I figured I was a good writer and could follow the format he presented in the lecture (cite the rule of law, and back it up with relevant case law precedent, referring analogous facts to the facts in the hypothetical, etc). Anita scrawled out several paragraphs and turned in her paper. The professor had promised he’d return the graded papers in our boxes (similar to cubbies in kindergarten).

Merek’s lecture had a sobering effect on the students. Everyone exited quietly.

“I’m scared,” my roommate, Sue, said as we filed out the door.

“I am too,” I said. All hand holding and babying aside, we had finally glimpsed the rigors of law school—and it wasn’t pretty.