Bruce Gottlieb

Classes begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday, but we’ve been given modest amounts of reading over the weekend. I spent Monday morning falling asleep over 20 pages of my civil procedure textbook, much to my alarm.

One explanation is that I’m understandably tired today, having got very little sleep this weekend. This is the explanation I prefer. The alternative is that reading Professor Steven Yeazell on the matter of Penoyer vs. Neff (1877) is not what any human mind, or mine at least, was designed to do. In which case, it’s going to be a long three years. As it happens, I really do believe the first explanation–my friends and enemies have long agreed that the law would be a suitable match for my temperament.

Since last Wednesday I’ve been full-time employee of the Harvard Law School orientation process. Our class is divided up into groups of 15 One-Ls, which is what first-year students are called here. Each group gets a friendly second-year student (a Two-L) as a mentor and heads off on three days of touring the many libraries, classrooms, tunnels, and offices that make up the institution. All the week’s events are either well-intentioned or important–sometimes both–but I often found myself wishing that the hoo-hah would just end and classes begin.

The real purpose of the whole thing is social, of course. This reminds me of a very naughty line I ran across in Brideshead Revisited this weekend. Charles Ryder, an Oxford newbie, receives advice from his loathsome cousin: “You’ll find you spend your second year shaking off the undesirable friends you made in your first.”

Of course, the logical consequence is that in addition to shaking undesirables, everyone will be shaken by desirables as well. This well-understood fact gives the entire orientation process, I think, an odd, forced tone. It’s sort of like beginning a cocktail party that you know will last three years–longer really, since all 550 of us One-Ls will undoubtedly follow similar and intersecting career paths. At any rate, it’s fascinating to see how people react. Some find the courage and energy to throw themselves into the string of happy hours, ice cream socials, dean’s lunches, etc. … with unflagging optimism. Others of us more or less withdraw from the circuit until the dust settles.

Some early impressions: There’s a great line about a female novelist (Gertrude) in a Randall Jarrell novel (Pictures of an Institution): “For her there were two species: writers and people; and the writers were really people, and the people weren’t.” Though a bit over the top, I think this a more or less accurate view of how many successful professionals–writers, doctors, businessmen–think about themselves.

But not lawyers. Or at least not the soon-to-be lawyers I’ve met so far. Among the One-Ls, people are really people, and lawyers aren’t.

In other words, almost everyone I’ve asked would rather die first than end up a corporate lawyer. Yet the statistics show that some overwhelming percentage of us will do exactly that upon graduation (become corporate lawyers, that is).

Of course, it’s hard to muster pity for folks whose worst-case scenario is to live in a nice building on the Upper East Side and wear expensive suits. But, as a matter of logic, either we’re all lying when we talk about becoming public defenders, judges, and human rights advocates; or most of us are in for an unhappy surprise in three years. It will be interesting to see which it turns out to be, and when.

Monday afternoon I attended a cookout thrown for our section by our civil procedure professor. (The law school class is divided into four sections of around 140 people; you take all first-year classes with this group.) Professor Hay is young (mid-30s?) and has a reputation for being extremely kind to students–unusual enough at any law school, says the conventional wisdom, and extraordinary at this one.

It was held in a tent in a grassy area very near the cafeteria, and most of my fellow section members made an appearance. Perhaps this is because it is the last free food we’ll get from Harvard Law School for the rest of the year. Most of us looked a bit tired after a long weekend of meeting, greeting, and in most cases, drinking to excess. On the way home I stopped by the local stationer to buy spiral notebooks.