Notes from the (Finals) Underground

600full-notes-from-underground-cover“Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering, and that is a fact. There is no need to appeal to universal history to prove that; only ask yourself, if you are a man and have lived at all. As far as my personal opinion is concerned, to care only for well-being seems to me positively ill-bred. Whether it’s good or bad, it is sometimes very pleasant, too, to smash things.”   –Fyodor Dostoevsky

I did not actually read the above book, but I figured that, in the spirit of finals, citing some canonized text and trying to say something intelligent about it might, if not improve my GPA, provide a window for the reader into the misery of law school finals. I also thought that a quote from a Russian novelist, especially one extolling the virtues of self-inflicted suffering, would be fitting for this task.

For my Professional Responsibility Class, I recently read an article that bleakly describes lawyers, at least those who work at big law firms, as some of the unhappiest and unhealthiest professionals in America. The article cites a study finding that out of 104 professions, lawyers have the highest statistical rate of depression, followed by pre-kindergarten and special education teachers and secretaries. Under the section of the article titled the “Well-Being of Lawyers,” the sub-sections include Depression, Anxiety and Other Mental Illnesses, Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Divorce, Suicide, and Physical Health.

I’m not kidding.

The article does have a sometimes humorous tone, and the point of the author (who was a plaintiff’s lawyer for Exxon-Valdez, but walked away from his share of the $5 billion judgment to leave big firm practice) is that lawyers can find happiness and health amidst an otherwise stressful profession. But, it does cause alarm for those who are coming up the pipeline to become lawyers and would gladly take the type of job the author criticized and walked away from, undoubtedly after first making a sizable fortune.

Indeed, many of my peers do seem consumed by stress and at times seem to indulge in their finals-induced suffering, similar to their job-market induced suffering. However, I am writing this post to say that there is hope beyond the abyss. Imagine me as your Beatrice, leading you through the inferno and purgatory up to the heights of heaven and Holiday Break. See Dante Allighieri, DANTE’S PARADISO (The Divine Comedy, Volume 3, Paradise). But see DANTE’S INFERNO (The Divine Comedy, Volume 1, Hell).

So, a glimpse into my last week’s journey, from hell to heaven (or at least purgatory):

Monday: Studied all day and into the night for my Evidence final exam, honestly characterized by the professor as long and hard, with too little time to address unnecessary points, and in general, too little time.

Tuesday: Studied more for Evidence. Took a 3-hour practice test. Ate dinner while watching Kansas beat Memphis in basketball (Go Jayhawks!). Reviewed my answers to the practice test before falling asleep counting Hearsay Exceptions leaping over the Propensity Box.

Wednesday: Took the forementioned exam, which was in fact long and hard with too little time. Felt my heart palpitating as time ran down, hearing my peers furiously clacketing away on their laptops and the warning of my professor running through my head (“The easiest way to do poorly on my exam is to not answer all parts of the question.”). And then it’s over, a collective sigh of relief/despair, and no more studying for the rest of the day.

Thursday: Rode the Bolt Bus to New York City. Attended the holiday party for the law firm I will be working at this summer (The clouds part and golden rays of heaven break through as I leave the pit of finals below). Over hors d’oeuvres and cocktails, I try to impress upon my hosts that I am very, very happy to be employed by them and will not disappoint. Indeed, I am very grateful.

Friday: Rode the Bolt Bus back to Boston and went straight to Greater Boston Legal Services, the home of BU’s Civil Litigation Clinic. I met with my supervising attorney, Mary, to discuss an unemployment hearing she will be covering for our client during the break. I spend the rest of the day updating my client file, printing documents, creating indexes, and tabbing sections, so that it is in order for her when I go home for two weeks.

Saturday (today): I went to Starbucks in the morning to study for my Professional Responsibility exam on Monday and finish revising the final paper for my Public Health Law seminar due Tuesday. I will probably be working almost non-stop until I fly home to Kansas on Wednesday.

Yet, unlike my opening quote, I feel the opposite of wanting to smash things. This finals period is much, much less stressful than my last one, which involved four intense Evidence-like finals and a grueling week-long writing competition. As a result of participating in the Civil Litigation Clinic this year, more of my work has taken place throughout the semester, such as client interviews and memos in preparations for unemployment hearings, rather than for intimidating final exams that account for your entire class grade.

I, a former English major, prefer writing papers and working harder throughout the semester rather than for the typical law school finals. That’s why, in addition to my clinic, I loved writing a mock Supreme Court decision and dissent about the constitutionality of the Health Care Act’s individual mandate for my Public Health Law seminar and writing a note on California’s prison health care system for the American Journal of Law and Medicine.

Perhaps that’s also why now, instead of studying for Professional Responsibility, I am writing this post. But alas, enough procrastination. Back to the finals underground for a few more days. Luckily, the light above is starting to shine through.

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