By Bhavna Jha
Five years ago, I entered law school, full of hopes and dreams and aspirations and, well, naïveté.
Over the years, I learned the following lessons, either from my experiences or observation, which I wish to, now, hand you down.
Take my advice seriously. It will make law school a ride that much better for you.
I just hope you find my arguments convincing enough.
Rule Number 1: Be nice to everybody, as far as possible, OR “The Evolution Revolution”.
Law school isn’t going to last you two years or three. You’re going in for the long haul. Five years give you a lot of scope for repeatedly chancing upon people who you have had petty squats with. That will make you want to bang either your head or theirs against the wall repeatedly till you can manage to make them, or yourself, disappear.
Avoid conflict as far as possible. If you do manage to make an enemy or two, remember, you aren’t Harry Potter and nobody is Malfoy. Nine times out of ten, the person you just came to blows with is, underneath all that pomposity and arrogance, a decent enough fellow, merely misguided, just like you are.
Your friend circle will evolve (which is just a euphemism for “your friends are temporary”). Chances are, you’ll leave law school with exactly 2 or 3 people in your life’s inner circle who’ve stayed in that circle throughout. You don’t know who they are. Play safe for the first month or two before you pick loyalties in a fight between friends. Play conciliator instead of instigator. They’ll all thank you for it. When you look back, so will you.
You will evolve because law school will push you out of your comfort zone. Also, law-schoolers are more often than not critical, argumentative, observant people, and they are good with words: the best weapon to pulverize a person. So when people who you haven’t spoken to in 3 years will suddenly materialize in your final year who seem to “get you” by instinct, you want to not have to overcome an embarrassing memory from 3 years ago when you were totally bitchy about/ to them.
Rule No. 2: Share your notes, for free. Also, firstly, take notes.
The classic argument against sharing of notes you take in class is: why should someone else benefit from hard work that they didn’t put in? Fair enough, I suppose. It’s the classic capitalist argument too. Ayn Rand would be proud, beyond doubt. Don’t note my derision, there isn’t any.
The argument for sharing of notes is much less sound. In fact, I have none, apart from that it shall earn you a lot of good karma, and that’s tough to earn in law school, or even in a legal career, ’cause your job involves being a bitch to the opposite party, the world at large, or to students who have to read your 1000 page judgment for a consti law class.
I do have arguments for the harmlessness of sharing your notes.
It won’t make you less smart. The possession of information, you’ll all learn soon enough in an Intellectual Property Rights class near you, is different from possessing other kinds of property. It’s not by nature exclusive; which means that I can download a song from your hard drive to mine and you still get to keep the song on your hard drive.
You will be able to, in good conscience, take notes from your batch mates to make up for classes you missed or slept off in.
Barter doesn’t work well with non-exclusive commodities. Your safeguarded copy of notes, bestowed like favours upon friends, shall be as ubiquitous as pirated Windows 7 OS.
The people who score well, will do so regardless of whether you share your notes. Scoring well in exams is a skill form in itself, but more about that later. For now, just know that your notes won’t change the top 20 in the rank list by much. Your notes will only affect the bottom 40, and give them a chance to pass a paper which they would otherwise have not. If that won’t get you good karma, I don’t know what will.
A batch that feeds off each other also supports each other in times of crisis. No one in my batch, for instance, has ever faced a lack of volunteers to teach them the course the night before the exam. Equally importantly, rarely has anyone had to face The Powers That Be alone in the face of blatant disfavor shown by teachers or the administration. We also had great turn outs in inter-batch sporting events, which we attributed to the words: batch spirit.
Batch spirit is important for a relatively happy 5 years in law school. Cultivate it.
Rule No. 3: Nothing beats the administration like the written word.
When they said that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”, they were living in an era without paper, or information technology, I’m assuming. Because nothing pokes like words do. I’m not talking about feelings here.
Whenever you want to get something done, in earnest, write about it, petition for it; leave a paper trail of your demands, requests, requirements. Whether you seek a copy of your transcripts, a letter of bona fideproof certificate, the use of the Moot Court Hall for a day, or an evasive meeting with the Vice Chancellor of your institution, write a letter of request. Because you’re young and I’m old, I think you will understand me when I say things like ‘if you can prove it you can groove it’.
Rule No. 4: Don’t go to the newspapers unless you lack a proper channel of communication with the administration.
Going to the media is your ultimate threat. Use it as a bait to negotiate. Use it after you threaten to write to the Chancellor and that comes to naught. If they lose the name, they’ve already lost the game, but then, so will have you. If the emerging online Fourth Estate won’t be responsible or discerning about what they publish, you should be responsible about what information you give them.
Rule No. 5: Enjoy long courtships.
This rule probably, on the face of it, sucks for the guys, you think. But who says the wooees need only be the women. I’m certain several women wooers exist out there, especially in the unconventional atmospheres that law schools are. Any way. This is pointless advice to all of you hormonally charged young kids out there: enjoy long courtships. Falling for someone is a journey you keep going deeper and deeper into, and love does make you blind.
Keep your eyes open as far as possible and let your mind guide your compatibility. Contrary to how you’re feeling after spending 3 weeks of breakfasts, teas and dinners with her, the girl you think is super cute but can’t abide talking to may not be the woman of your dreams (and vice versa). Law school is long, and as small as a tiny hamlet. Any way. Why am I bothering? You’re not going to take my advice about this.
Rule No. 6: Do unto your juniors as you would have your seniors do unto you, and vice versa.
Be nice. Be friendly. Be a sport. Know your limits. Be respectful. Learn to accept and refuse courteously. No one has anything personally against you, until you give them a reason to.
Rule No. 7: Talk to people.
The more people you talk to, especially the more seniors you talk to, the more you will see reasons as to why you belong there (if you have any doubts that you don’t). You not only belong in it, you’ll thrive in it if you believe you do. You’ll also eventually realize that except for, like 10% of your batch, no one else really knows where they are headed, what they truly believe in or love doing, or even why they are in law school. You don’t have to know the answers to any or all of those.
You are here to find the answers to these questions, though, in truth, you are here to find the right questions to ask yourself. Don’t worry. Law school has space for everybody, including the non-conformists, and the voices of dissent.
Rule No. 8: Plagiarism is not cool.
Not plagiarizing is very easy. You see, when I came to law school and was too independent to seek advice from my seniors (the idiot I was), I didn’t realize that when they call for “original” work, they don’t mean that you come up with new ground-breaking research ideas. Neither does “substantiating your claims” means that you must copy the words said by two-three other people which, you are now building on. Don’t follow a process of stating A + B to prove in your own words the explanation C + D, given E + F conditions.
Plagiarism is stating what A + B said in A and B’s own words. Don’t do that. Give the blokes due credit for what you have just said in your own words which they had said before. Use footnotes to do so. Think of them as little footmen carrying your project, the Queen’s, carriage on their backs. The more footmen you have, and the stronger they are, the more comfortable the Queen’s journey will be.
Rule No. 9: Examinations are not a test of hard work or knowledge alone. Examinations are a test of how good you are at writing examinations.
Honestly. Find out from teachers how they expect the answers to be structured, much before you have to write the exam. Get your hands on best-scoring past-papers corrected by the teacher in question. Get your hands on what sort of questions the teacher sets. Answer according to the teacher’s expectations. Note important phrases that they emphasize on, which they probably are on the look-out for. Don’t try to substitute such phrases with your own language. Plagiarism is something you don’t have to worry about in subjective, written, closed-book examinations.
Open-book exams are a totally different ball-game and totally depend on your teachers’ ability to screw you over. Concept-driven teachers/ subjects will require your thoroughness with the course. Fact-driven teachers/ subjects will not set good open-book exams.
Rule No. 10: Do law school the way you want to.
No matter what you do, or how you do it, you’ll come away chock-a-block with memories. You’ll hate a whole chunk of them, but that’s what “builds character”. You’ll hopefully come away all right by the end of it. Though, it probably won’t ever really end. Adapting what Bill Watterson (the creator of the amazing Calvin and Hobbes) said about his own college, Kenyon: five years at a law school is a rich meal, so it should be no surprise that your brains will probably burp up law school for a long time. Enjoy the course!