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Sean Greengard

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What I Have Learned About Life Through Law School
Going to law school is like being dropped in the Land of Oz. College was my Kansas, where
everything was relatively black and white; go to class, take exams and graduate. It was a socialization
experience within the academic setting that was simple and designed to help each student become
more mature and educated. Law school was the tornado that I intentionally stood in the path of,
whisking me away until I landed and stirred from my seemingly complacent academic slumber in
another realm.
When I started law school, I was filled with excitement, enthusiasm and a little bit of fear. I had
mistakenly decided to watch the movie, “The Paper Chase” a few weeks before and was not looking
forward to the dreaded Socratic Method. The idea of a professor asking rapid-fire questions until each
student broke down from mental exhaustion or defeat sounded about as much fun as getting a root
canal. My only hope was that I could withstand the withering verbal volley that lay ahead.
If law school was the Land of Oz then I embodied Dorothy. At first, I felt naïve and that I was in
a completely foreign land filled with incomprehensible Latin phrases and legal jargon. I had never heard
of Res Ipsa Loquitur nor knew what subject matter jurisdiction was. Unaware of the possible pitfalls and
mistakes that I would eventually and inevitably make throughout the next three years, I ventured ahead.
Even though I did not arrive in Munchkin land, on the very first day of school, I was certain that, like
Dorothy, I had met my arch-nemeses, the Wicked Witch.
My first semester began with criminal law. The professor spent all of two minutes describing her
attendance policies and classroom procedures before she began her semester-long authoritative
domination over the classroom and subject. Dressed casually in a colorless smock and clogs with her
fiery red hair braided tightly behind her, her fashion sense matched her demeanor. She knew
everything, we knew nothing; pond scum could answer more definitively than a 1L student. I thought
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irony was a cruel mistress as I paralleled my experiences in criminal law with those of a first-time
prisoner locked in with a lifetime convict, hearing the reverberations of a prison door slamming shut as
class began each day.
The first time my criminal law professor called on me and began her grand inquisition, I felt my
face flush as my brain attempted to keep up with the barrage of questions, hypotheticals and legal
analysis I was enduring. At that moment, I understood how false confessions were coerced. I had about
as much ability to defend myself as if I had presented my case before the Star Chamber. I somehow
managed to survive the encounter, although my answers came without much grace or depth. After the
first few academic assaults I endured, I had a strange and overwhelming urge to head to the restroom in
search of a bucket of water.
As the semester wore on, my professor’s aggressive and direct teaching style frightened me less
and less. My capacity to understand the material, analyze the facts presented and verbalize an in-depth
and comprehensive answer progressed rapidly. With each satisfactory answer (or set of answers), I also
earned more respect from my professor and she gradually changed her tone, from angry and hostile to
one of genuine interest in helping me learn the material. Just as a Polaroid picture comes into focus
with time and a knowledgeable owner’s actions in fanning the Polaroid film rapidly back and forth, I
learned that my own skill and ability would come about in nearly the same way. Despite taking another
class from that particular professor later in law school, I never acted on my seemingly irresistible urge to
drench her in water and hope for an unusual result.
I would like to be able to say that the remaining cast of characters fell into place over time.
However, that result would be highly improbable and my law school career was not written by L. Frank
Baum. Instead, what I came to understand was that every student, myself included, represented
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Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion at one point or another. Part of the intrigue
of law school was the ability to earn and fulfill the characteristic or trait most needed.
Other than my short-lived naïveté, I have never felt a lack of courage nor needed much
additional heart as I find that when I pursue something I am interested in, my passion and enthusiasm
create all the drive I need. The only area where I was not operating at full capacity was how best to use
my now heavily-caffeinated cerebellum to organize the legal knowledge I was receiving in order to
succeed.
From the very first semester, the task of how best to use my intellectual abilities became a
challenge when attempting to synthesize the material I had read and the notes I took during class. The
amount of material I ended up with after a semester of studying was daunting and I had no idea how to
properly separate the valuable material from the immaterial. The first few outlines I made in
preparation for finals were shortened versions of my textbook, written in an outline format. Every case
had a summary; every court’s holding and rule of law was diligently added as all the material seemed
applicable and necessary. It wasn’t until after my first semester when I went to retire my forty-three
page contracts outline in a recycling bin that I knew my outlines needed work. South American
rainforests were paying the price for my ineptitude.
The very next semester, I took a different approach. As a visual learner, I decided to massage
the material into a workable format, using highlighted headings and the bold and underline features of
Microsoft Word to their fullest extent. Despite my efforts, my outlines ending up in the twenty-five to
thirty page range. I knew I could do better still.
It wasn’t until I was more than halfway through my journey through Oz that I took a Secured
Transactions class which forced me to understand what my learning style was and how best to utilize it.
My professor was dry, dull and spoke with monotonous precision. He clearly knew the material but had
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been teaching so long that he had forgotten how to relate the material to his students. I read the
textbook and went to every class but I found myself struggling to pay attention and take notes. The
Internet, to which I had never before logged on during class unexpectedly became a Siren, calling me
away.
Instead of succumbing to my non-academic temptations, I decided to work on outlining and
reading secondary materials during class. I knew that I would have to teach myself the relevant law as
the normal osmosis that had occurred in my other law classes suddenly became unreliable. The good
news was that the lack of meaningful class notes made it easy for me to completely revamp my outlining
habits. I began with a three column format and slowly crafted a condensed, yet highly organized
outline. It was filled with color; first red, then blue and finally green and yellow highlighting,
representing different areas of the class material. My outline became a visual spectacle that would have
appealed to a kindergartner like a moth to the flame. My outline ended up being six pages in length and
I passed the class with, literally, flying colors.
From that point on, I refined my outlining habits with continued success, the culmination of
which resulted in me earning the highest grade in one of my classes during my third year. Only then did
I feel as though I had grown into a tried and true law student. As much as I felt that I floundered a bit
during my first semester or two, my experiences taught me that part of life is about adapting to my
environment. If something didn’t work for me, I needed to change it and play with it until I formed
something I could use.
As I sit and reflect on my experiences, I feel that I learned three main things about life through
law school. First, I learned not to be naïve and that the law is a self-teaching discipline. I do not expect
that once I am out of school and begin practicing law that anyone is going to hold my hand. There is no
great and powerful Wizard of Oz. I learned to rely on myself and my abilities to study and pursue what I
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am passionate about. To that end, I will gladly use not only my own efforts but also every source of
education available to me, traditional or not, to learn what I need to know so that I can become
competent and articulate in my areas of focus. Second, and probably more important, I learned to listen
to myself, to figure out what works best for me and execute. This process was not easy and did not
come quickly. There was no yellow brick road to follow. Perseverance and a near constant need to re-
evaluate how I was studying and preparing for class and finals lead to this self-realization.
Finally, law school taught me that there is not much room for error in life, especially in the legal
profession. A law degree and license to practice provide a special and unique opportunity to advocate
for others in need, whether by contract or in court. That opportunity, however, must never be
squandered by lack of preparation or dedication as a client will not readily accept “I’m sorry” after falling
short of the intended goal. To succeed, it is necessary to be on top of your game, day in and day out.
Although I am almost finished with school where there still is room for error, it’s clear I’m not in Kansas
anymore.