WARNING: Potential snoozefest ahead. This post discusses pre-law school stuff in law school terms, so proceed with caution. But if you’re in for the long haul, let’s talk Zero-L! When someone says “I’m going to law school,” they probably mean they’re earning a Juris Doctorate. This degree is a three-year program and gateway to practicing law in the US. In law school, first-year students are called “1Ls,” second years are “2Ls,” and third years are
crusty “3Ls.” Right now, according to Harvard, I’m a Zero-L. For real. It’s partly a joke, but partly a very serious reminder that “yes, kids, you got INTO this prestigious school, but you haven’t done anything yet.”
In less polite terms – YOU 👏🏼 AIN’T 👏🏼 SH*T! 👏🏼
Despite the subtle messaging, Harvard doesn’t want clueless 1Ls walking into their hallowed halls. Therefore, my past week was largely dedicated to completing a non-mandatory-but-highly-encouraged online prep course.
Zero-L: Introduction to American Law
I honestly planned to link it here until a big ole “DO NOT SHARE THIS MATERIAL” popped onto the second slide. So I’m sorry….everything you’re about to read is second-hand. Plus, it was very long.
Zero-L was definitely informative; a little dry at times, but a realistic preview to thousands of pages of case readings. yeesh. I figured the course would start with the US Constitution and work from 1787 to 2019, but I was pleasantly surprised! The first topic was simply how to think like a lawyer, and dispelled the misconception that all I’ll do in law school is memorize things. In fact, I thought this was the course’s most powerful message:
“The chief value of legal education is not to know stuff, but to know what stuff to look for. Where to find it. How to interpret what you find. What to think [about conflicting information]…and how to use what you find to give legal advice.”– Glenn Cohen, Harvard Law Professor
Love it. LOVE. From there, various Harvard professors explored topics within their own specialties, including: different types of law and lawyers, federal vs state systems, how to read a case and the Socratic teaching method, separation of powers, civil litigation, and fundamental legal terms/concepts. Each section ended with a handful of multiple choice questions to re-emphasize the main concepts. Despite its wide variety, the course’s most disappointing lesson was definitely how a bill becomes a law. It’s not nearly as fun as I recall from the Schoolhouse Rock video.
…if you don’t remember “I’m Just A Bill,” please re-watch here. In the name of childhood memories. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFroMQlKiag
….and more about Zero-L
While a majority of the concepts were legal and dense (one time, I was falling asleep so hard I made coffee without coffee grounds), I did take away some FASCINATING tidbits:
- It is a federal crime to knowingly allow your pig on fenced-in public land if it might destroy the grass. Yep.
- Less than half of all lawyers are litigators (work in a courtroom)
- When you see a case – for example, Hawkins v. McGee, 84 N.H. 114, 146 A. 641 (N.H. 1929) – the letters and numbers tell you the case was decided in 1929 by the New Hampshire Supreme Court, and can be found on pg 114 of the Atlantic Reporter Vol 84 OR pg 641 of the New Hampshire Reporter Vol 146.
- Women account for less than 20% of the equity partners in big, prestigious law firms – despite being 50% ORE MORE going into these same firms for the last twenty years. I think maybe it’s time for THAT to change…
- Constitutions trump statutes, which trump regulations, which trump judicial decisions. Seems like something to memorize.
- 25 of 45 US Presidents have been lawyers (and two have been law school drop-outs). Eight have graduated from Harvard in some capacity!
- Elizabeth Warren’s husband teaches at Harvard Law. WHHHAAAAAAA?!?!?!?!
- And a nice linguistics lesson: En banc is French for “on the bench, ” which refers to the number of judges who hear and decide a case. Merci!
The entire Zero-L course took about fifteen hours, but I was constantly reassured that every topic was just a small taste; I would pick everything up in class. I was also encouraged by each professor’s enthusiasm, and attempts to explain legal concepts through contemporary examples and parallels. They truly “dumbed it down” whenever possible, and this dum dum was very grateful.
I also got my semester schedule this week (yay!) and bought my books (booooooo). There was no ‘mad dash’ to register because HLS dictates everyone’s 1L year…mostly to ensure students don’t take only the courses they want (that’s me. I am ‘students.’) Everything, from schedule to books and syllabi, was communicated via email – no registration required. The maddest dash was for LOCKER ASSIGNMENTS, which I completely missed, and now my locker is so far away from classes that I’ll never use it. Oh well.
Side note: this means that despite being 25 years old and a JD candidate, I have still never registered for a college class. Thanks USAFA.
From now until finals in December, I have classes in Property, Civil Procedure, Contracts, and Legislation & Regulation, and a 1L-specific course called Legal Research & Writing. A different professor will teach each class, but I’ll attend with the same 80ish 1Ls (called my section…more about that next week). I meet every day of the week, but class times vary. A few days start at 8 am, but two start at 10:20; conversely, I’m done by 11:30 some days, but on Thursday I’ll be on campus until 5:15. Despite general groans about the 8 ams, I’m not complaining AT ALL. I’ve been starting my days at 7:30 am for the past 7 years, and having weekends again is a gift all in itself.
Truthfully, outside of the Zero-L course and buying books, I’ve barely prepped – my focus has been on choosing those DANG rugs. And panicking about business casual wear. But yesterday I went to campus for the first time to pick up my ID card and officially become a Harvard Law Student! I even took the bus, which basically means I’m ready for anything. Registration was in the law campus’ main building, Wasserstein Hall, and actually took 5 minutes. It was beautiful. And just look at this card (cropped so you can’t see all the info, don’t worry) – that is the face of a stone. cold. killer.
Today is the official beginning of orientation, so it’s getting very real! I’m excited to meet the other 1Ls, especially those in my section, and get comfortable with the campus. Most importantly, today is picture day – and if you think I’m not wearing pink, you are seriously disturbed.