October 2, 2007

"Cases and terms of which I knew nothing swirled about me in an incomprehensible miasma."

Clarence Thomas describes law school -- and many, perhaps most, new law students will identify with his description. Even though I am, by profession, a swirler of the miasma, I sympathize.
No less puzzling was the way in which some of my new classmates jumped self-confidently into the fray, talking back to he professors as if the tangled complexity of legal doctrine were second nature to them. Where had they learned so much? Would I ever catch up?... Panic and dread threatened to overwhelm me.
Thomas sees himself as uniquely disadvantaged, and he focuses on the students who leap out to the front. It's a memoir, and he should tell it from his point of view, but notice what is missing. He does say "some of my new classmates," which implies that he knew there were the other classmates who, like him, felt lost and afraid.

Terribly isolated in what was an alien environment, he focused on the students who took to law school as if it were second nature. But law school is always full of students who think class is a swirling miasma and mock those second-nature students as gunners.

You can hang out with them and have a few drinks and laugh at the ridiculous lawprofs and gunners. But Thomas determined to spend even more time studying -- 50 hours a week of study. And he did a lot of drinking alone:
I spent hours sitting by myself in our one-room apartment, guzzling blackberry brandy and listening to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On... I brooded over the futility of life as I listened to that half-despairing, half-hopeful album, in which Gaye asks whether anyone cares enough to save "a world in despair."
Thomas does say that he made "several good friends" -- he names two -- who helped "ease my anxieties." But he never seems to relax or find humor in the alien place. The miasma of law school is another obstacle he must recognize and grimly overcome.

14 comments:

ricpic said...

It's called youth. How many enjoy it?

Richard Fagin said...

Amen to the miasma, Justice Thomas. Of course, it was all repaid in federal income tax class. 15 years of filling out forms 1040 with schedules A, B, C, D, E and K attached is sweet revenge on the "gunners" who can't add all the lines on a 1040-EZ. Bwahhahahaha!!!!

I loved watching them moan and groan over UCC Article 4, too, the little snippets.

Zeb Quinn said...

In my experience it was first in Evidence and then even more so in Trial Practice where gunners generally found their wings shot out from under them. Putting thought into action was their undoing.

Joe said...

A few years back, I debated going back to school and getting a law degree. There wasn't enough alcohol in the world to get me to do that.

Trooper York said...

Susan: They finally got you, Hart, they sucked all that Midwestern charm right out of you. Look, he's got you scared to death. You're going to pass, because you're the kind the law school wants.
(The Paper Chase 1973)

Daryl said...

Thomas is right, law school is a horrible obstacle to be grimly overcome.

I just wish I had that kind of determination. I'm betting Thomas couldn't bring the Internet with him into class . . .

XWL said...

I am, by profession, a swirler of the miasma

Shouldn't that be one of the quotes up top? Or maybe this:

"Althouse, providing miasmas and vortices, daily"

Trooper York said...

Mark: What are you gonna do? Tell on me? You know you can't buddy. It's guy code. That's something chicks do. You're not a chick are you? Ok. Good talk. I'll see you out there.
( Old School 2003)

knoxwhirled said...

No less puzzling was the way in which some of my new classmates jumped self-confidently into the fray... Where had they learned so much? Would I ever catch up?... Panic and dread threatened to overwhelm me.

Sounds like me when I started design. All I knew was what I thought looked good.

Ralph said...

I read that as "a swiller of the miasma". At least Ann hasn't drunk the Kool Aid.

25 Years later, I still have anxious dreams about college, but usually about the end of the term, when it was always the first day of school I dreaded the most. I rarely cut classes, but I'd dream I'd missed weeks or forgot where it met.

mcg said...

Man thank goodness my grad classes we're discussion-based. I was too busy working on my other classwork during them. That proved to be an efficient use of my time there.

Caroline said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
former law student said...

Where had they learned so much? Perhaps from having a lawyer for a father, or a judge for a grandfather -- options not available to Thomas.

Allison said...

---he focused on the students who took to law school as if it were second nature.

And this is weird because?

He was 20something. When I was 20something and in grad school, of COURSE I focused on those who were excelling. Noticing that others were in the same boat as me wasn't less isolating when what I wanted was success. Of course you focus on the ones who have what you want--that seeming grace and confidence, that clarity, that maturity. Congratulating oneself that you aren't the only immature one is not a way to make oneself better.