The other evening, my son Tony and I watched The Paper Chase, a melodramatic movie plotted over the course of a first year of law school at Harvard in the 1970s. Setting aside the childish outbursts in class by the protagonist and the pretentious enunciation of the contracts professor, Kingsfield, there were many elements familiar to my own first year of law school at a somewhat less prestigious university. Among them were the tensions caused by the fear of being called on randomly and without warming to ‘present’ a case, the study group and petty squabbling thereof, the grouping of students into those who choose to participate in classroom discussion and those that don’t, contract law, and not least among these, the 4 hour essay exam using Blue Books by which one’s grade for the entire year is determined.
I must confess that having watched the movie prior to attending law school, I copied the ritual of ditching the dorms and spending a weekend of intensive study in an off-campus motel. The movie also motivated me to fully study any readings assigned prior to the first day of class. In contrast to the movie, my own beloved Contracts professor, Bill Martin, was a gentle soul, not given to theatrics. In an official nod to the movie, during an orientation lecture one of the professors archly recited the ‘Skull full of mush’ lecture, much to our amusement.
So, I dug through my old files and scanned a few interesting tidbits. First, is my LSAT answer sheet and score. I don’t have the questions, regrettably.
I thought it would be amusing to take a look at textbook price inflation since the fall of 1982. Since all first year students in a section (our class was divided into three sections each of which took the same classes the entire first year) had the same textbooks, the school was kind enough to present us with our foot and a half tall pile of books, pre-selected and stacked, and a bill for the princely sum of over $400, if I recall correctly. As you can see, I was in section 1. All of the classes were full year except for Criminal Law which was a semester long and was replaced by a semester of Property Law in the spring. One thing new to me in law school was the practice professors had of referring to the textbooks by the last name of the author. I think there were a couple of reasons for this. First, we might have multiple textbooks, and second, the professor might actually know or have met the authors of the book. So for instance in Torts class, the professor might say “Please turn your attention to the footnotes on page 127 of Prosser.” It also struck me as pretentious, so I promptly adopted this practice in my own conversation.
And since Tony is taking exams around this time of year, I included my exam schedule. While the only final grade at mid-term was Criminal Law, we worked pretty hard to master the other subjects as well. For the year long classes, the mid term weighed 1/3 of the grade or less, with there being some suspicion that some professors ignored mid-term results completely as one’s knowledge at end of course was the only thing of interest. Looking at this at the beginning of school, I thought December was going to be a breeze, with an apparently leisurely exam schedule. In fact, I prepared myself intensely and was able to place myself in an extremely focussed state for each exam. During the exam weeks, I thought longingly of how relieved I would feel after exams were over. But after the last exam, I was so fried, that I was incapable of maintaining any sort of feeling whatsoever. In retrospect a sub-optimal practice, but I must confess to loosening the bonds of mental discipline by imbibing alcoholic beverages for a short period of days, and in adopting this practice I was by no means unique among my class.
Respectfully submitted, Mark C. Knutson