This article has been written by Riddhi Rajeshwar Swami and Srobona Ghosh Dastidar (Batch of 2022).
The first of the many pieces of unsolicited gyaan that I first received as soon as I stepped into law school was “Pass first trimester!” And, pray, what was the suggested modus operandi for that? “Study hard for Eco and History, and do not waste your time on scam courses *cough* Torts *cough*. The dichotomous idea of scam and legit courses is so ingrained in law school that it rears its ugly (but convenient) head very early on in the first trimester.
Twelve courses in and I’m already seeing the pattern that law school seems to follow and the complacency setting in. In a list of things that our quickly-forgotten school selves would be ashamed of, we’ve accepted that it’s okay to fall asleep in some classes or play Psychin others, that taking a senior’s project and paraphrasing it is just a part of the works and that to study anything other than the slideshows for some exams is just wasting time.
Oddly enough, while we learn the ‘ways to scam’ in the first week, it is in that same first week of law school that we are made to read Letter to a Young Law Student in which Corinne Cooper impresses upon us the idea that the skills we learn in law school will serve us well in later life. After the first few classes of Legal Methods, the reading sticks on in the minds of a few and is seldom thought of after the first trimester. For want of a less clichéd line, much like our treatment of Cooper’s piece, we don’t study the courses to learn, but to get the grades we want. The way we, aspiring lawyers (if it is ambitious enough to call ourselves that), study contracts or torts is appalling because these courses have actual application in our future and will have relevance while practicing law. But we made up fake case names and still got an A+, so we’ll be alright, right?
The sad thing is that this works, and everyone knows it. So does the contract law faculty, who in the closing remarks of his last class with us said, “I will see you again in the fifth year when you will need a sort of refreshers course in contract law.” I thought that was some sort of attempt at making a joke, but when I realised how little of contract law I had come away with after 120 hours of studying it, the humour was lost on me.
There is a system and logic to getting good grades in law school. You cannot entirely blame students for not putting in effort for courses in which studying slideshows is enough to get an O. It is logically prudent to do so. Some courses need us to memorise 20 cases, while others require substantial effort. It is only natural for us to spend more time on the latter in the competitive environment of law school.
Further, in every system of evaluation involving taking a test of some sort, students will develop a cheat-sheet over time. It is inherent in examinations for students to want to find the most efficient method of approaching a test – where learning to ‘take the test well’ (or ‘cracking the test’) comes at the cost of some of the actual learning the test aims to ensure in the first place. However how much of this learning we are in fact sacrificing is something that we need to think about. Additionally in law school, the way in which some faculty structure their courses especially allows for a course-specific method to be followed, which, after being honed by a few batches, results in a cheat-sheet for your O. Clearly, stuck in these two mutually reinforcing factors, being ‘good test takers’ pays off, and so those skills are what we pass on to incoming batches.
Since there is little change with respect to either – the manner of examination or the faculty – each July (although this may indeed prove to be ‘subject to correction’ this year), what is important is that we try not to forget what Corine Cooper was trying to tell us. Yes, it will undoubtedly be foolhardy not to pass on to our juniors the patterns and methods that have served us well. However
but while doing so, the attitude of apathy, which may not come with new students at the beginning of the first year but is certainly made apparent to them, shouldn’t be the thrust of an introduction to law school.
The attitude of taking comfort in a ready-made pattern to subjects has, in the way I’ve seen things, made space for ridiculing attempts at doing things differently. “Why on earth are you doing so much research for a project when you know the professor isn’t going to read it anyway?” is what can often be heard in aimless chit-chat on your way to dinner in the week before project submissions. An atmosphere encouraging of earnest effort in the actual courses of law school has been replaced with one which redirects effort and dedication to co-curricular activities, repeatedly made out to me to be the ‘only way I’ll actually learn law in law school’. When marking doesn’t show it, it is important to have an environment which does tell you that yes, there is some inherent value to making a project even if no one is going to read it, and that going a step further to look into something brought up in class will not be in vain.
One of the most insightful history classes we had was one where the teacher sat us down and for a whole hour put forward the frightening proposition that we are in law school to learn, and that we often forget this, so the onus is on us not to fall into the cycle.
After this third trimester, a settling lethargy indicated that perhaps we will fall into the rut of law school, learning and writing only what the seniors tell me a teacher wants all the way till the fourth year, from what has been said. For this reason we may never be excellent but only just scrape by, but somewhere down the line we’ve been convinced that that’s okay. While the fear of embracing the ‘law school state of mind’ looms, through my rose-tinted first year glasses, I hope I don’t end up doing what I spent a fair amount of time ranting about in this article. I hope I do all my “scam” 3rd year courses with as much dedication as I did my Torts project despite knowing it wouldn’t help my grades. I also hope that I feel the same way I did when I submitted my Torts project. Like I learnt something in law school.
But then again, I’m just a first year with lots of hope and rose-tinted glasses.