I remember very clearly my first day of law school. I was so, so confused. As I recount in my essay, “From Being One L to Teaching One L” (which will be published in an updated edition of the classic “One L”), I didn’t even know what One L meant during the orientation:
When I applied to law school, I knew next-to-nothing about law school. I really walked into it blind—I would say legally blond, but I am brunette. I had no friends or family members who were attorneys. The only political science class I had ever taken was in high school—and I distinctly remember mistakenly writing on an exam that Thomas Jefferson, and not James Madison, wrote the Constitution. I didn’t know what a tort was. I had no idea what the Socratic Method was. I didn’t know what Law Review was. I didn’t know what “clerking” was. At orientation there were thirteen tables, to represent each Circuit Court of Appeals. I didn’t know what a “Circuit” was.
When I started briefing cases, I would always take note to write down the Judge’s name. Though, I did find one oddity: all of the Judges had a first initial of “J.” “Such a coincidence,” I wondered. And what about “C.J.” I wondered? Curious initials for a Judge. It took me a solid month before I realized the “J” stood for Judge. Even then, when several names were listed, followed by J.J. after the last Judge, I figured that meant “Junior Judge” and they were listed in order of seniority, with the newest Judge last.
I had never read or heard of Scott Turow’s classic, One L. For that matter, I didn’t even know what One L meant. During orientation, someone asked if I was a 1L. I gazed back, and inquired what that was?
It is with this backdrop that I was honored today to give a 75-minute “mock class” to the incoming 1Ls who start class tomorrow. My goal was to explain, from top to bottom, what law school is, what reading a case means, what is expected of them in class, and how to take notes and prepare for exams. In other words, I told them all of the things I wish someone had told me during orientation. And I made sure to explain that “J.” following a judge’s name meant Judge, not their first initial (as I had thought).
Here is the video of that class. The first 30 minutes or so are me talking about what they need to know to succeed as law students. During the last 45 minutes I walk through Pierson v. Post, not to teach them about property law (though I hope they learned some), but instead to highlight how they should read a case. From simple stuff (translating the information from the caption into the procedural posture) to more complicated stuff (parsing out the holding in a single sentence, notwithstanding the many exceptions), to stuff that is hard for students to do (explain why a position they disagree with is right). I hope they learned something from it. Looking at their faces brought me right to GMU orientation.
If you have any friends starting law school, please share this video with them.