The night before my first final exam every semester in law school, I’d pop in my Rocky DVD, fast forward to the point where Rocky goes to the arena the night before, and watch through to the end. The movie reinforced my approach to law school exams.
“I can’t beat him.” But if you can go the distance, if you can still be standing by the time the exam is over, then you’ve achieved your own personal victory.
Of course, there are winners and loser every finals period. The damn things are graded on a curve. Today, we’ve got a law professor who took the time to tell his students how to “win” his upcoming evidence exam — just some standard exam tips, plus an explanation of what he particularly looks for.
Sounds nice enough? Well, not for one 3L. This student took the opportunity to post some kind of hippie screed as if law students are supposed to get together and sing kumbaya and reject competition or something.
In other words, this law student thinks law school is a damn show, she doesn’t know it’s a damn fight…
Our professor hails from UNC Law School. We don’t have his name, but we have the email he sent to the full class:
If you want to know how to win this exam in a class full of terrific students: You gain the most points and differentiate yourself by how thoughtful your responses are in terms of fitting the facts and the law together and how well you are able to engage in the back and forth between competing perspective (plaintiff / defense or prosecutor / defense). If you think there is more than one good argument (i.e. multiple rules apply), then tell me which ones and weight them for me. Do not tell me that two rules could apply, but you find rule #1 dispositive and so you aren’t going to consider rule #2. If it is plausible / debatable / colorable, I want to hear about it. If it is not plausible given the facts I give you, I don’t want to hear about it. If you aren’t sure, then I would err on the side of telling me. I won’t deduct points if I think you are wrong about it being a debatable issue, but I won’t give you points either.
That’s actually kind of helpful advice. But it’s advice that one UNC 3L seemed to take the wrong way. She posted her response on the class website, where the helpful professor could also see:
In Re: to Professor X’s email about the final stating “If you want to know how to win this exam in a class full of terrific students…”
As a 3L, and one of the ‘older’ students in the class, and as a dual degree student who has been here 4 years instead of three, let me share a nugget of wisdom with ya’ll:
A class, a test, your education— these are NOT things you should be aspiring to ‘win’ (as in you want to ‘beat’ the other students).
You want to do well, and that is admirable. And yes, we are graded on a curve so, unfortunately, there is an element of competition when it comes to our grades (though I feel that system is inherently flawed for a variety of reasons).
What are you, French? You might not want to fight, you might think the system is “inherently flawed,” but you do get that it’s the system, right? There will be winners, there will be losers, and some students will beat others.
But I say to you, gunner 2Ls: you cannot WIN law school. You can only do the best that you can do. If you aspire to learn as much as you can and then apply what you learn to meet your needs and goals, you win. Someone else’s ‘success’ does not diminish your own, and someone else’s ‘failure’ absolutely does not make you a ‘better’ person.
You might think that if you make the top 10% of your class, and are on journals, and score that big law firm job pulling in six figures right after graduation, that you have ‘won.’ You are wrong.
I cannot tell you how many students I know who have ‘won’ law school by that standard and then gone on to HATE their lives. Many develop serious emotional problems from the stress, and eventually renounce the law entirely as their profession. You can read about this in countless articles and blogs, but I am telling you what I have PERSONALLY seen from former classmates and family friends.
Whatever. I cannot tell you how many students I know who have ‘lost’ law school by that standard, and then gone on to HATE their lives. Luckily, whether or not somebody moves on from law school to enjoy or hate the rest of their lives is kind of irrelevant to the question presented.
I knew a guy in high school: he was good-looking and popular. He banged the cutest girls in school while I was jerking off and memorizing Big Lebowski quotes. He got a full scholarship to a good school while I went into massive debt to go to college. I’ve never tried to locate him on Facebook, because either now he’s fat and miserable OR he’s still happy and successful. Either way, I don’t need that information. Point is… he freaking WON high school.
And also, for the record, being a great law student doesn’t mean you will be a great attorney. There are plenty of great law students who fail miserably in practice. Similarly, being a bad law student doesn’t mean you will be a bad attorney. There are plenty of ‘C’ students who go on to be judges. And choosing NOT to practice law after you graduate does not mean you have ‘wasted’ your time or ‘failed.’ Nothing in life is that black and white.
This is not a game of ping-pong. You don’t “win.” This is your education- you do the best that you can and then you take what you learn and use it to make a life. It’s a tool in your tool belt, a punch in your ticket to get you where you want to go.
If you were to die over the summer (and yes, you could die this summer. Hell, you could die tomorrow) would your final regret be not making an A in evidence? If your answer is yes, I genuinely feel sorry for you.
Okay, I think I need to go back over my notes from the mental health panel and see if I can identify what kind of borderline personality we’re dealing with here.
IF I died tomorrow, my final regret would be reading this entire email:
So, basically, if you are hoping to ‘win’ this test or this class or this experience: chill the f*ck out. Seriously, I can’t emphasize this enough. Do some yoga, have a martini, take a walk outside, spend time with your loved ones. Just chill the f*ck out.
Because there is SO much more to life than law school, and so much more to being a successful in life, and in law, than ‘winning’.
Sounds like a loser.
You can read the full email on the next page. Sometimes being successful involves knowing when it is time to chill out, and when it is time to compete.