The Legal Hero(ine)’s Journey: Part Three

Second Stage: The Supreme Ordeal (1L Year)

The Ascent: Semester Two

It is perhaps not inaccurate to describe the first semester of law school like the entry of daring questers into dangerous foreign territory. Eyes are on them. Times are tough. Though great trials lay behind, new challenges arise (think “Luke destroys the Death Star” but then the “Empire strikes back!”). This is not unlike the law student’s emergence into the second semester of law school. You know the lingo. You can brief a case. You’ve endured one round of finals. Yet just as the towering peaks of Mount Doom only loom larger as you approach them, so the specter of spring final exams and the Law Review’s writing competition stand ready to challenge you at the end of the year.

frodo doomSome among the fellowship voice concern and suggest a return home, a retreat. But the true hero(ine) refuses. The Refusal of the Return signifies the willingness of an adventurer to press on, despite previous failures or losses. This resolve foreshadows The Ascent, the third stage of the hero(ine)’s journey. The developing adventurer (like a law student), understands that much is to be gained by determination and steadfastness. Sure, Frodo lost a finger and probably suffered some irreversible psychological trauma. But he and everyone else would have been a lot worse off had he turned back.

Time passes, however, and local custom becomes familiar. The adventurer learns the local language. He draws his friends close and they shares their secrets. Even during tough times, there is Rescue from Without. So it is with 1L, where developing a good study group and finding people to talk over doctrine with can be a necessity in order to prepare for what lies ahead. Times the 1L has to miss class for a doctor’s appointment or death in the family are made just a little less stressful by a friend’s willingness to share their notes or talk through some missed cases. “What did the professor seem to focus on when I was out? “How far did we get through the content?”

A strong group of friends is key, but all adventurers along the hero(ine)’s journey have a Dark Night of the Soul. Despite the distance they’ve come from home, despite refusing to return, despite gathering close friends around them, they still meet challenges that make them question their ability to succeed. In the final Harry Potter novel, Ron experiences this moment while traveling in the woods with Harry, laying low, missing Hermione. He leaves Harry’s company after arguing and gives up the fight.

Ron has lost it.

Ron has lost it.

I can’t say I personally had one of these this semester. There were times, however, when I definitely felt that, despite all I’d learned so far, there were still concepts and cases that I simply couldn’t completely wrap my head around. Some things clicked. Others eluded me. The point is, however, that Ron comes back after his dark night of the soul and saves Harry. Similarly, even when I failed to master a concept the first time around, I would usually feel more confident after batting it around with my friends or asking to see someone’s notes. (Going to office hours can be incredibly helpful, too).

The final episode of The Ascent is the adventurer’s Sacrifice. This is not almost a negative moment. It merely demonstrates that a hero(ine) is now prepared to give up what they once feared losing more than ever. Luke loses his hand to Vader. Harry drops out of Hogwarts. Frodo loses his finger to Gollum in the heart of Mount Doom. As grisly as these literary examples may be, the 1L’s “sacrifice” is often just a shift in mindset, a willingness to make time for hard work. For me, this culminated in the nearly three weeks of time we had to study for an take our final exams, followed by the week we had for the Law Review’s writing competition. Whereas studying for exams the first go around had seemed like a mad scramble, this time I understand how best to prepare.

The hero(ine’s) journey has a Third Stage: Unification. I cannot, presently, write about it, because I haven’t lived it yet! But to avoid leaving you hanging, it typically culminates in the adventurer becoming the Master of Two Worlds. This is an appropriate metaphor for what the first year of law school makes you. Perhaps not a “master” of the legal and non-legal worlds, but certainly a gifted apprentice ready to delve more deeply into both.

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