The First Day of Law School

By Carolyn Wolski 

The first day of the first year of law school. I didn’t expect it to be so confidence-shaking.

0721-Education-400After some “get to know each other” parties the weekend before, there were hundreds of students in the law school’s wide hallways that Monday morning in August. We were getting acquainted with the lecture-hall room numbers, looking for familiar faces, feeling nervous and excited. 

The first class of that first day was, for me, Torts. The professor had given us a case to read (yes, just one case that first day) and assigned us to be prepared to discuss it. In the 15 minutes before Torts was to begin at 9 a.m., I was standing around with fellow section members. Tammy, a student who looked like she could be in high school and (I would later surmise) must have had a very large closet full of perfectly matched outfits, asked, “What if he calls on me?” 

“I wouldn’t worry,” I said. “With 100 students in the class, the odds are pretty low.”

Ten minutes into class, the professor posed the first question about the case. And then called on me to answer. A flash of panic shot through me like lightning. Every eye in the classroom was on me. 

“Would you like me to stand up to answer?” I asked. 

“No,” the professor said, “you may remain seated.”

The question was something about consequences for a person who had caused harm to another. My answer contained an observation that the actor did not have a “bad motive.” It sufficed, and the professor deftly wove my answer into his lecture. More students were called on, of course, but the shock of hearing my name as the first student called on stayed with me all day. (It must have been memorable for others as well. A few hours after class, as I walked past a group of students in a hallway, I heard someone say, “She was the first person to get called on in Torts.” And for months afterward, my friends took every opportunity to work the words “bad motive” into our conversations.)

Though the experience in Torts class had been a quick, zingy jolt, it was nothing compared to the way I felt after Civil Procedure, the last class of that first day of law school.

Our Civil Procedure professor had a reputation that preceded him. He was said to be a genius, possibly had clerked for the U.S. Supreme Court, possibly had married the daughter of Learned Hand. He was the smartest guy in the law school! The note-taking was fierce as this brilliant professor spoke about claims, original jurisdiction and appeals.

After class, I found myself in a huddle of students that included Mr. Feeney and Mr. Fratzke. Feeney was a short guy, heavy set with a face that was always flushed and sweaty. He wore glasses that were too tight on his face. Because we were assigned seats in alphabetical order, Feeney sat next to Fratzke, who was the opposite in appearance—tall, gangly, no color in his face at all. He, too, wore glasses, but they were the big kind that went from above the eyebrows to below the cheekbones.

In this particular huddle, Feeney was holding court, explaining to fellow students the civil-procedure concepts they had just begun learning about. 

“Anybody can take any case to the Supreme court!” he proclaimed. 

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Are you sure about that? That’s not what I understood the professor to say.”

“Oh I’m sure. That is exactly how it works,” Feeney said. Fratzke nodded in agreement.

“Do you mean that if I had a speeding citation, I could take that case to the UnitedStates Supreme Court?”

“Yes, definitely!” Feeney replied with vigor, and in a completely self-assured way. “Everyone has the right to take any case to the U.S. Supreme Court!” Fratzke continued to nod in support.

I sensed that others were also skeptical, but Feeney’s total confidence in his position led me to think that I must not have understood the professor. That I had it all wrong. That maybe I had no business being in law school. I resolved to work extra hard on Civil Procedure.

As the weeks and months progressed, it became clear that none of us students had all of the answers, least of all Mr. Feeney and Mr. Fratzke. They always seemed to be together, the iconic duo of short stout guy and tall thin guy, but they gave no indication of being the brainiacs of the class. When second semester started in January, Mr. Feeney and Mr. Fratzke were decidedly absent, never to be seen again. We later heard that they were both expelled, apparently for cheating on the Civil Procedure exam.

Carolyn-Wolski-150Carolyn V. Wolski has practiced law for over 30 years, principally in the areas of business, land-use and environmental law.  She graduated from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1988.  Wolski enjoys writing, teaching and legal advising, as well as travel and bicycling.

What inspired you to take on a creative hobby?  Writing isn’t a new hobby for me.  I have loved writing since I was in grade school (in seventh grade I won first prize in a Daughters of the American Revolution poetry contest!) and I started my professional career as a newspaper reporter.

What artist or author inspires you?
Too many to name. Wallace Stegner and Willa Cather are among my favorite authors and I loved a recent short story in The New Yorker, The Shape of a Teardrop by T. Coraghessan Boyle.

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