For many, the first day of law school can be overwhelming as it presents a new and unknown pathway through, what first appears to be, a maze of information. Over time, notably by even the second semester, the maze looks more manageable and no longer intimidates. By second year, the 2L student becomes adept at navigating the corners and anticipating the blind spots. In third year, the maze is organized and colour-coded and may even shine as the 3L starts storing knowledge and skills, almost squirrel-like, to be taken out, burnished and applied in the articling year.
This all sounds fine and even slightly poetic but when starting law school, you don’t want to wait for the happy ending, you want answers. Now. Sadly, unlike Douglas Adams and his massively metallic supercomputing thinker, Deep Thought, in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer is not simply 42. However, maybe we can learn something from that flight of fancy and slightly zany book. Law school, indeed the practice of law, is an adventure and like Arthur Dent, who turns out to be the ultimate hitch-hiker, what you take with you on this wild ride is what matters.
First, what you take with you is minimal. it is important to come as you are. Indeed, like Arthur Dent, a bathrobe, metaphorically, will do. There is no law school persona to put on. Law school can change you. It can develop a sense of self by challenging your preconceived notions and view of the world. To make the best of it, keep your mind open to new experiences and new ideas. Look at things differently. Remember law school is a safe place to try on theories and discover possibilities. You can and should be creative. Remember those pan-dimensional creatures, looking like white lab mice, in Hitchhikers’ Guide – the ones who created worlds? Yup, that can be you too.
At the same time, you need to be prepared. Ford Prefect, can offer a role model for the new law student in that regard. A towel is not just “an absorbent cloth or paper for wiping or drying.” It is a multi-purpose catch-all kind of item or your “go to” when you need just a little extra support. It is not to be thrown away as in “throw in the towel.” Success may be a state of mind but it can be tangible too, even the Bugblatter Beast of Traal knows that! Whether your “towel” is person, place or thing, don’t leave home without it.
Speaking of not leaving home without it, as this is my blog, I am going to make a pitch for the course I teach and as such is at the centre of the law school universe, and that is Criminal Law. What notto leave home without in criminal law is the Criminal Code. Yes, the Criminal Codeis my Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and rightly so. It is chock full of important information that no criminal lawyer can do without. In perusing its enumerable sections (there are 849, which does notadd up to 42, particularly when your realize there are 45 micro-sections between ss. 487 and 488), you will discover it is also in badly need of an update. Not just the Ford Prefect kind but substantive change. This is another important law school lesson that lawyers can and should be agents of change.
Another key to law school is collaboration but without forgoing individualization. That can sum up law school and even the practice of law. We are all in it together and we need to support and nurture each other. There is a collectiveness about law. However, we do not want group think like those waiting for the Great Prophet Zarquon at Milliways, the Restaurant At The End of the Universe. We want to interact with people and learn from others but in a manner that permits us to stay in our own space and our own thoughts where we critically analyze and reformulate our own ideas.
However, each one of us could use a confidante like Ford Prefect, who can be relied upon to occasionally say “Don’t Panic” when we mean to do just that. Or a Zaphod Beeblebrox, of the “two-heads are better than one” school of thought, who may have a huge ego but is all heart. Specifically, however, everyone needs a Trillian Astra; the brilliant colleague, who can figure things out even when you are still in Deep Space 9. It may be best to stay away from the Marvins, with their constant negativity and conspiracy theories, but then again, Marvin is loyal, waiting millions of years for his friends to pop up.
Finally, remember to have fun. It may be that you don’t realize it at the time, but enjoyment can be had by reading a really good case. Similarily, a really good argument can be entertaining. But most importantly, helping others, which essentially is what the law is all about, can be joyful. Yes, law school is about your development as a lawyer and finding your voice or unique personal identity. But it is also about taking the time to look outside of yourself and look to others who will benefit from your future knowledge and expertise. And here perhaps is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything: paying it forward by using your new found knowledge for good by helping those who are unable to help themselves by volunteering for probono activities, student legal services or a clinical project. Law school may be a journey through the universe and beyond, but it is also a magnificent self-discovery. So long and see you in the classroom!