Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Cult of the 1L

Reece Hirsch

The only cult that my protagonist Will Connelly has investigated is the cult that is the legal profession. Although cults take many forms, they employ a common toolbox of techniques when converting new members. For lawyers, that indoctrination occurs during the first year of law school.

During the institutionalized hazing process that is first year, the mantra is that students are being taught to “think like lawyers.” That suggests that the student must be made to stop thinking like a non-lawyer (i.e., a regular human being). As in any cult, the potential convert’s prior way of thinking must be broken down before it can be replaced with a new one. Which brings us to these tried and true strategies:

1. Sleep Deprivation. The 1L is given a workload that cannot be easily accomplished in the course of a normal day, leading to sleep deprivation. The sleep-deprived 1L is more emotional, pliable and willing to accept direction.

2. Inadequate Nutrition. Certain cults control the meals given to potential converts. One particular cult feeds new initiates sugary, high-dairy meals that leave them undernourished and weak after 24 hours or so. I learned about this trick when, as a journalist, I spent 24 hours allowing myself to be indoctrinated by a cult. Law school does not directly control the feeding habits of the first year, but if you’re working around the clock preparing case notes, the fast-food and pizza diet tends to take care of itself.

With sleep deprivation (see item 1) comes bad nutrition. Although I have an extremely high tolerance for coffee, even I reached points during my first year of law school when my stomach was so tied in knots that I couldn’t drink another cup. That was when I discovered the aptly named, near-lethal dose of sugar and caffeine known as Jolt Cola. Do they still make that stuff? I hope not.

3. Repetitive Behavior. Repetitive behavior has a way of addling the brain. For some cults, this involves repeating a three-syllable chant for hours on end. For the 1L, it’s summarizing case after mind-numbing case.

4. Public Humiliation. To complete the process, there’s nothing like public humiliation to crush that last vestige of residual personality. In law school, it’s called the Socratic method.


lil Gluckstern said...

To think like a lawyer, and to know you're thinking like a lawyer, are two different things entirely. I enjoyed your post.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

In a few years, these screwed up 1L's become lawyers, get jobs and it's up to seasoned paralegals like myself to deprogram them and teach them something truly useful.

Reece said...

Thanks, lil. That is, indeed, a critical distinction.

And Sue Ann, as all lawyers know, it's the paralegals who really get things done. I have no doubt that you keep your bunch of attorneys in line.