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Why Law School Is Not Like High School

Last night was the welcome dinner for the class of 2006. A formal event held in the main library (which some of you might recognize as the 'laboratory' in which Peter Parker is bitten in the latest movie), it's the first evening we've all been to in which people were expected to be dressed up. 'Business elegant,' as the invitations said, and I was impressed that most people were done up in black but not fuscous. All in all, we're a class with good taste in clothes.

The most common thing I've heard so far is, "This is like being back in high school." While I can understand how some might think that, I can only imagine how most of my fellows' high school experiences must differ from mine. In that spirit, I offer Ten Ways In Which Law School Is Different From High School.

1. High school was dumber. This probably goes without saying, but you don't run into anyone here that seems... well, dumb. But then, the folks I've met here didn't go to high school in Alabama, so I'm willing to concede that maybe they all finished their senior year with a bundle of geniuses.

2. There are no Mitsubishi Eclipses. The bright red Mitsubishi Eclipse, driven generally by a 'clique' girl with matching nail polish and a bit too much makeup, was a staple of my high school years. I haven't seen that yet, and no one here would even think about matching their nail polish to the color of the New York metro.

3. There terms of battle are better. Back in my high school days, the big conflict was between the Jocks and the 'Heads. For some reason never quite clear to me, if you liked football you loathed heavy metal, and vice versa. This conflict generally took place in scribblings on the walls of the men's bathroom, with the 'Heads having the upper hand, if only because they were generally more literate. "Heads suck donkys [sic]" was about as good as the first side ever got. The Jocks had advantages of size, brutality, and a more practical dress sense, demonstrated when one Jock yanked off the chain connecting a 'Head's nose ring to his nipple piercing.

I've not found a lot of this at law school, at least not yet. (Certainly not the violence: who'd want their big fight appearing as a question on the Torts exam?) I can only imagine what such doctrinal disputes would entail, anyway? "Dear Textualists: please note that for the purposes of the signs saying 'do not dispose of towels in the toilets,' toilet paper is not considered to be towels," I suppose, or maybe something witty like, "Your mamma's so ugly she could get sued for assault just for walking down the street without makeup." Come to think of it, most of us are so wordy that the witty insults might not fit on the bathroom doors.

4. No smoking in the bathroom. Really, how can it be like high school if no one's slipping into the bathroom for a quick Camel?

5. The drinking's better. Last night six people stood around discussing whether Laphroaig had 'a distinctive peaty flavor that's an acquired taste' or 'was like sucking on my brother's Zippo.' I remember similar conversations in high school, but it was about Mad Dog 20/20.

6. Less homeroom, more spam. How can it be like high school if there's not that wasted twenty minutes each day where you're completely arbitrarily stuck in a room and fed administrative pablum? Whereas the law school gets around this by sending us twenty or so spams a day for events we're not actually allowed to attend. (So far today there's Latino Society, St. Thomas More dinner, a play date for students with families...)

7. Windows. My high school was one of the casualties in Jimmy Carter's 'moral equivalent of war on environmental damage,' and in order to save on heating costs had no windows in any of its rooms. Couple that with paint in shades of institutional brown, orange, and yellow, and it's remarkable I'm not more psychologically damaged than I am. On the other hand, Columbia Law School seems to have been designed to let as much light as possible into the study areas, perhaps on the idea that we'll be even more inspired to work if we can see just how gorgeous the day is outside.

8. No Slayer T-Shirts. If you went to high school in the early 90's, you understand. If you're one of the law students here who make me feel like a decrepit old man, just trust us on this, OK?

9. Manners. Who ever held a door for a lady in high school? "Please" and "thank you," at least back in my day, might as well have been declared obsolete or foreign words. Table manners in the cafeteria hadn't advanced much since the table of Ghengis Khan. Whereas last night not only was everyone dressed elegantly, but just about everyone knew the order of the forks, the order in which one uses spoons, and not to eat until everyone had been served.

10. Less sex. I distinctly remember there being more sex going on in high school, and more people talking about it. Though one classmate has commented on this observation by pointing out that the sex wasn't half as good. (See the comment on booze above.)

Anyway, it's not completely dissimilar to high school. We're all a 'class' again, in a way that you don't feel as an undergraduate with thousands of peers. We have class ranks, report cards, and the detrius of a structured academic lifestyle. We have deans (just like principals) talking to us about mission and duty and service. No one really feels like they know what they're doing. But I'm not going to feel my high school years are back until the guys here are handing around the Mad Dog.


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