The first step was going to pick up my student ID, and even that required a pep talk. I can totally do this. I knew exactly where I was supposed to go but I still checked the address seven times once I got off the train. I was sure that this whole law school thing would be a series of failures that would end with me deeply in debt and back at my job as an administrative assistant.
As I approached the elevator, I spotted two other 1Ls. To me, they looked brilliant. Look at those erudite faces– I think I can see their brains through their skulls. I could picture both of them crossing the stage in three short years to deliver a valedictory speech. I hoped I would make it to graduation without flunking out to run a Quiznos franchise.
I got my ID. I’d hoped I would look professional, like someone destined to be a great lawyer. When I looked at my tiny face in that little square, I thought I looked like a love child of Harry Potter and Shirley Feeney. Well, this isn’t about looks, I thought, as I shoved the ID to the back of my wallet behind my driver’s license, which wasn’t much better, except if I squinted I looked like Demi Moore in Ghost in that picture. (By squint, I meant close my eyes and hum that Righteous Brothers’ song.)
The second step was the writing test. We were all corralled into large lecture halls the Saturday before school started. Large sheets of pink legal-sized papers were passed out. I took extra just in case there was a math component, and I needed scratch paper. The assignment was to compare two fictitious legal systems. I stared at the directions so long that they no longer looked like letters in the English language. Sweat beaded on my temples as I thought about the repercussions of failing the intro writing assessment.
Before I’d written a word, other new law students were turning in their assignments and heading out into the August sunshine.
Write something, I commanded. So, I did. I wrote two pages of analysis that I thought was good enough to land me in the middle of the pack of 170 law students. I was the second to last student to finish the exercise– the guy who finished after me was never seen again.
The following Monday was the first day of school. My hand cramped during Torts as I scrambled to write Every. Single. Word. that the professor said. The movement of my hand across the paper distracted me from thinking about how I was probably going to fail out of law school because who did I think I was trying to be a lawyer? I was still writing the holding of Summers v. Tice when everything went quiet. I looked up and the director of the writing program had come to make an announcement. “Check your mailbox for the results of your writing assignment. Those of you who have been flagged as ‘struggling writers’ are required to attend writing clinics for the next three Saturdays,” she explained.
After class, I stalled so no one would see me check my mailbox. I stuck my hand into my mail folder without looking at it. I stuffed the papers into my backpack. I watched other students joking about the “Saturday school,” laughing about how humiliating it would be to have to do that. “I’m pretty sure that’s for ESL students,” a jock with a red Indiana sweatshirt sneered.
Public transportation offered the perfect cloak of anonymity. I sat next to a man who seemed like his most recent contact with running water was before I’d taken the LSAT; he was in no position to judge me for choking on the writing test.
At the Belmont stop I was ready to look. I saw the note first: “Please plan to attend the writing clinic.”
I stared at the words so long I almost missed my stop. A lawyer who can’t write— this is going to be a disaster.
It was months before I understood what the real disaster was: the feeling that I didn’t deserve to be there– that persistent belief that I didn’t belong, couldn’t do it, and wouldn’t succeed. But I did. And it wasn’t a disaster at all. It was the start of my career.