Monday, May 28, 2012

On That Day

It was about eleven in the morning on the twenty-ninth of February, 2012, and I was seated at a corner table in a not too well-known cafe in a popular mall, hidden from public view.  I had before me two pain au chocolat, a cup of brewed coffee, and an open laptop.  My parents were at a medical mission, but my mother had been calling every twenty to thirty minutes since ten-thirty, asking if I had heard anything, even though two in the afternoon was The Hour.

By eleven-thirty the bread was all gone (my appetite probably hadn't yet realized the strain my mind was under), my coffee was cold, and a feeble prepaid internet thingamajig was sticking out of one of my laptop's USB ports.  I contemplated calling some friends and asking them to come over and keep me distracted, but discarded the idea.  I realized I didn't want anyone around me quite yet - not because I'd be too embarrassed if I didn't make it, but because I'd probably need a little time to assimilate whatever news the results would bring.  As much as I wanted company, I probably needed to have some time to myself first.

I forced myself to do some work.  A friend and I were planning to start a small export business, so I made myself write contracts and review the documents we'd need to incorporate.  I went online to scout the competition, so to speak, and to search for suppliers.  By half past noon, however, my browser was on the Supreme Court website, and I had already clicked refresh more than twice - just in case.

The Starbucks I spent most of my time studying in for the bar exams was about three floors up, and I toyed with the thought of leaving my spot and moving up there, just for the sake of symbolism.  I shrugged the idea off, oddly feeling as though sitting there would leave me too... open.  I rather liked my place in that little cafe, slightly closed-in as it was.  It made me feel safe, cocooned.

I clicked refresh again; nope, still nothing.

Throughout the day text messages had been coming in, all of them along the lines of "any news?"  I texted a friend of mine who worked at the Supreme Court the same, and wrangled a promise from him to let me know how I fared, no matter what the result was.  He agreed.

By one-thirty, I'd clicked refresh a number of times more.  My palms were cold and I was beginning to feel a bit chilled, but I wasn't quite sure if I was feeling numb or I was just dazed by the excess of random thoughts and projections my mind was coming up with.  I looked around, observing other people in the cafe, and feeling both awed and bemused - it's amazing how some events that could so intensely impact a great many lives could happen so quietly that people not more than three or four feet away had no inkling of it.

At two o' clock, I clicked refresh, but the page wouldn't load.  My mobile phone was jarringly silent.  "If no one calls or messages you that day," a lawyer friend once said, "then you probably didn't make it.  That's because they don't quite know what to say to you, or they don't want to be the ones to tell you."

Is that it, then? I thought.  I didn't make it?

It's funny how long twelve minutes could be.  In twelve minutes I'd already come up with a number of scenarios in which I informed my parents, other relatives and friends that I didn't make it; scenes were rewinded, replayed, edited and fast-forwarded in my head.  [The wonderful thing was that in every single one of those scenes, nothing remotely like recrimination came out of my parents' mouths, because I knew that was how it would be in real life.]

At 2:12 in the afternoon, my phone rang; it was my friend from the Supreme Court.

"Hello," he said in greeting, sounding very casual. "Have you seen the list?"

"Um, no," I replied, my extremities very cold indeed.

"I have," he said, almost cheerfully.  [And blood pressure raising-ly, in my opinion, but hey, that might just be me.  I know some people would say that was a good sign, but believe me, at times like those, you definitely do not want to assume.]

I tried to sound casual, but I think I just sounded like I was choking.  "And?  Is it good news, or bad news?"

A beat of silence, and then, "Congratulations," he said, warmth in his voice. "You passed."

Relief.  Profound, blessed relief.

Well, I thought to myself, there's no turning back now.

And despite all my misgivings about law school and becoming a lawyer, at that moment, on that day, I knew was right where I was supposed to be.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Backtracking: Junior Year Drama

My first entry was one I wrote in back in my first year of law school.  This one is a little something I wrote in my third year of law school, and it's as short as the first is long.  Maybe the length is a reflection of the time I had to myself, the time I had available to write and rant and lose myself in thoughts that were my own, not forced upon my mind by required readings and memorization.

...Or maybe not.  :)


It's been ages since I last posted anything personal online - apart from the pictures every so often, that is.  It could be argued that almost everything is personal, that everything you post reflects something about yourself, but what the hell.  Anything can be argued, and I'm tired of arguing.

I'm tired of getting up at three or four in the morning, frantic, knowing I have piles of readings to go through before the day officially starts.  I'm tired of feeling my heart speed up when the sunlight begins to peek through the blinds, letting me know that I only have so much time 'til I have to begin my morning routine.  I'm tired of sitting through class, dreading the moment  the professor calls my name.  I'm tired of being told I'm wrong when I know that while I didn't give the best answer, I was right.  I'm tired of being one of those who "take one for the team" while some only remember there's a team when they need somebody to take one for them.

I'm tired of feeling guilty when I read a book that isn't for school.  Of feeling guilty when I sleep for more than six hours (or three, when there's a lot of work to be done), or when I spend the weekend trying to catch my breath.  I'm tired of feeling guilty about wanting to stand in the middle of nowhere and just scream and scream and scream.

I'm tired of feeling tired and whiny, when I know so many others are having a worse time than I am, when others are working so much harder than I am.

Some days I sit there, in that bland, washed out room with bad acoustics, and listen to brilliant professors put us down and call us stupid - some outright, some with more finesse: "Hay naku, you're truly tabula rasa."  I sit there, rein in my pride and watch the others do the same.  Sit there, and imagine what it would be like if I got up and yelled, "We're not stupid, you just suck."  I'd go down for sure, but then I'd go down With Style.  Drama Queen, hanging on the vestiges of her pride.  Or I could just get up and walk out.  Quick, effective, dignified.

Other days I find myself sitting in the auditorium, staring up at the empty stage instead of answering the exam before me, wondering how the heck I got to where I was.  Afraid that somewhere back there I made the wrong decision, afraid that it's too late to turn back, afraid that if I did turn back, I'd regret making that decision instead.

But then.

Some days I sit there, in that bland, washed out room with bad acoustics, smiling proudly as I listen to a professor praise my blockmate for a brilliant answer, the very same blockmate who, not more than a year before, used to stutter nervously whenever spoken to.

Other days I find myself laughing out loud as other blockmates manage to get away with snappy one-liners,* and sometimes even confuse the professor.**  Sometimes I manage to surprise myself by getting away with a line or two as well.***

And then, on very rare days, I listen to a brilliant professor lecture.  Then I watch as he leans back in his chair, smiles at us proudly and says, "Someday, you're going to do great things."

I sit there, listening to brilliant professors and idealistic blockmates, and I think, "Oh, right.  That's why I'm here."  Not because I know that someday I'll change the world, but because I know that I want to try, and this is one way that I can do that.

And so I laugh and smile and feel warm again.


*  Snappy one liners:

Professor:  And you, sir, do you agree with her answer?
Blockmate:  Sir, I'm afraid I have to disagree with the number one of our batch.
Professor:  She's number one in your batch?  I thought you were number one in your batch.
Blockmate:  In my heart, sir, I am.

**  Sometimes a blockmate can confuse the professor:

Professor:  (calls blockmate's surname)  All right.  What is vicarious liability?
Blockmate:  Ma'am, vicarious liability is...  (explains)  But ma'am, the term vicarious liability is actually incorrectly used, because what is actually spoken of is direct liability as regards the duty of the employer to exercise the diligence of a good father of a family in the selection and supervision of the employee.  So you are, in fact, speaking not of the culpa of the employee, but the culpa of the employer.
Professor:  Ah.  Yes, but...  that's what is commonly used.
Blockmate:  Yes, ma'am, I know.  I am merely suggesting that the usage is incorrect.
Professor:  Yes, but the term direct liability is used to refer to something else.
Blockmate:  Ha!  Semantics.
Professor:  (blinks)  Okay. ...Moving on.

***  Sometimes I get away with things, too:

Professor:  Do you consider this classroom a workplace?  Do you consider coming to school work?
Me:  No, sir.
Professor:  Why not?
Me:  Because we don't get paid.

end entry.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Backtracking: Freshman Satire

I wrote this back in 2006, near the end of my first semester in law school.  I actually submitted it as a final paper for my Legal Method course, and am still amazed my professor didn't flunk me.  It's pretty long (I thought it had to be, given that it was supposed to be a *ahem* final paper), but I hope you like it anyway.

Legally (Blonde) Bland:
A Satirical Look at Law School Stereotypes
(And How They Were Broken in a Span of Four Months)


“I think she just woke up one morning and said ‘I think I’ll go to law school today.’”
-Professor Callahan, Legally Blonde                   


          I cannot remember exactly when I reached the “fantastically life-altering” decision to apply for admission into law school.  I wasn’t one of those people who knew from early on that they wanted to become lawyers.  (At one point I had actually thought I was meant to become a chemist.  That was, however, until I had chemistry in third year high school, upon which I realized that chemistry hated me as much as I hated it.)  It was, in fact, only three months into law school that I knew for sure (“sure” here being a relative term) I wanted to become one.  A lawyer, I mean.

          Unbelievably cheesy as it may sound, I had always wanted to get into something that would allow me to help people.  Throughout high school and college I had tried to think of ways wherein ‘helping people’ could be integrated into my ever-lengthening list of possible professions, and it was around the second or third year of my undergraduate studies when it finally hit me:  why not just enter a profession where helping people was (supposed to be) the main agenda?  Medicine was the first thing that entered my mind, of course.  After the whole chemistry fiasco, however, the idea left almost as quickly as it came.  Law was a very close second.  The longer I thought about it, the more I thought, “well, why not?”  I enjoy writing.  I enjoy reading, and most of all, I enjoy talking (in private, at least.  Public speaking is not my cup of tea, which may sound strange, since my undergraduate degree is Broadcast Communication.)  And really, how bad could it be?  Everyone knows that free-flowing academic discussions are the lifeblood of law school.  After all, it’s always been that way in the movies.

          Ah, pop culture.  How well I know thee.


          When Elle Woods (played by Reese Witherspoon) told her parents about her decision to go to Harvard and study law in the movie Legally Blonde, her father said:  “Oh sweetheart, you don’t have to go to law school.  Law school is for people who are boring and ugly and serious.  And you, button, are none of those things.”

          It is common knowledge that stereotypes are not based on well-founded thought.  Derived from simplification, exaggeration or distortion, generalization and culture, stereotyping abounds in society, and nothing is safe from it – not even law school, where some of the (*ahem*) greatest minds are said to converge.  Walter Lippman, an American journalist, coined the term “stereotype” as a metaphor from the exact same word, invented by Firmin Didot, which was meant to depict a duplicate impression of an original typographical element used in printing.  Lippman called stereotype a “picture in our heads,” saying “Whether right or wrong …imagination is shaped by the pictures seen. …Consequently, they lead to stereotypes that are hard to shake.”[1]

          Nobody can deny that they entered law school thinking they knew almost exactly what to expect – a coping mechanism, designed to encourage and soothe nervous jitters.  All entered the hallowed halls trying to convey the best aspects of their personalities, and were still, somehow, classified into groups, categorized and labelled safely in their own minds.  The need to feel safe, to feel as though the situation was totally under control – these are perhaps reasons why stereotyping has almost become an instinct.  Storytellers throughout history used stereotypical characters, in hopes of quickly connecting the audience with new situations.  People nowadays, I suppose, are not much different.

Law ‘Schools of Thought’

          From what I gather, stereotyping for freshman law students could be classified into the following ‘schools of thought’:

v  the Hearsay school of thought;
v  the Big Screen theory, and;
v  the High School theory.

The Hearsay school of thought revolves around a particularly ambivalent concept – gossip.  Stories (mostly horror) from friends and family who have been through it, or perhaps, God forbid, dropped out of it, abound.  This usually has the tendency to form a general idea of law school in one’s mind, which may either serve to encourage the future law student, or deter her.  This school of thought, of course, may be entirely dependent on the experiences of the storyteller.  If her experiences are decidedly horrible, then it is likely that her listener would feel rather daunted by the idea of law school.  A person, meanwhile, who says nothing but good things about law school, may have a tendency to thoroughly convince her listener to go through all four years of it.  (This person, however, may prove quite difficult to find.)

All in all, it would undoubtedly be dangerous to take just one person’s word for it.  As any gossip-monger would know, if one cannot avoid gossip (or really, simply doesn’t want to), it is always better to have more than one source.  Everyone, after all, may have different story to tell, and that difference may tend to add balance to the scales – no matter how slight the difference may be.

On the other hand, in the Big Screen theory law school is shaped by what one sees in the movies or on television.  Books may sometimes contribute to the image generated as well.  While Legally Blonde may be the only movie dealing directly with law school, other movies occasionally have law school references that add to the ever-sharpening picture in the future student’s brain.  Television shows that present the practice of law (or, at times, university life), such as The Practice, The Firm and Boston Legal, as well as books with characters in the profession, like Sophie Kinsella’s Undomestic Goddess – they all have a tendency to affect one’s perception of the people and situations in the study of law.

Media filling in the blanks pertaining to law school is quite common for those who have no lawyers in the family, or friends who look at them strangely when they mention an extra four years of studying.  It may be said that anybody who wishes to join the ranks of those in the study of law must know that movies, television and books are not the most accurate sources of information, they simply must.  However, when there is no other reliable source to turn to, why not at least consider what you have?  It may not be entirely reliable, but they must be based on something, don’t you think?

The High School theory is perhaps the most “reliable” (one must keep in mind that we are discussing stereotypes) school of thought.  This is usually presented by upperclassmen during the first few days of school in their description of law school life.  This is primarily based on the fact that students are grouped into blocks and are usually assigned just one room for the entire semester.  Due to their being “stuck” with the same people for the duration of law school, relationships between the students within the block tend to become similar to those of high school students’, who are usually particularly close, having known each other for quite some time.

These three so-called schools of thought are often interconnected, each one bearing the capability to influence the others.  For example, one might view things as generally High School, but what is lacking in this theory may be supplemented by the Big Screen or Hearsay.

Personal experience renders me partial to the High School theory, supplemented by that of the Big Screen.  Having neither friends nor relatives who had gone through law school, the ‘knowledge’ I gathered throughout my high school and college years pertaining to the Hearsay school of thought is minimal, and quite negligible.  In fact, aside from my social studies teachers often mentioning their dreams of getting into law school, the only story I can recall pertaining to it is the one where one of my close friends told me that her sister, who was a law student, barely left her room, as she was always studying.  It was driven home by the fact that in the four years she was in law school, I had only seen her once.

Falling Prey

Entering the law school I attended for the first time as a law student, all I had behind me was the image of law school formed by movies, television shows and books.  Very Big Screen, but at the time I wasn’t particularly afraid – after four years in what people lovingly (and yet exasperatedly) described as a place where long lines and painful waits were the norm, registration was my specialty.  I was prepared to run around all day, struggling to get this requirement, sign up for that class, smile painfully after finding out they no longer had a slot for the schedule I wanted and come back the next day to do everything all over again.  I was ready.

I was, therefore, surprised when a lady opened the door of the Office of the College Secretary and explained the procedure, which consisted of signing up for all your classes at once.  In one go.  I was even more surprised when she took out a can, shook it, and made us draw lots to determine our blocks.  Our blocks.  For the entire four years of our stay in law school (should we survive).  I was positively thrown – I was used to being part of a system that defined blocks as a group of people who took the same undergraduate course, but were not necessarily stuck together every minute of the school day.  You were quite close when you all saw each other twice a week.  After twelve years in an all-girls Catholic school where people were practically fading into each other, and four years in a university where the motto was basically “live and let live,” I didn’t know where to place myself. 

I never particularly subscribed to the opinion that law school was for “boring and ugly and serious people.”  Not in its entirety, at least.  I believed the part about being serious, wasn’t sure about the boring, and didn’t want to think about the ugly.  I knew the people were supposed to be smart, and I was expecting them to be quite competitive; the relatively quiet intellectual types who stuck to their own groups.  In the registration line with a good friend from undergrad, we stood there making jokes, talking about everything from summer vacation to where we would be in four years, and generally being quite ditzy.  I believe that it was only after the lady from the secretary’s office broke the news about being grouped into blocks that everyone began to really pay attention to the people outside their little groups who were in the line with them.  I recalled my ‘relatively quiet intellectuals’, looked around – and suddenly felt like such a blond

I cannot recall how exactly I grouped everybody – all I remember is the feeling of complete agreement when my friend leaned over and muttered, “Shit, I feel like a total blond!” – but once sorted into blocks, the categories began to somehow vary.  Instead of groups fitting the description, individual one-dimensional stereotypes came to the fore, particularly during the first few days of school, when people were required to introduce themselves.  By then upperclassmen had already been known to say “don’t worry, it’s just like high school,” but for someone who spent all her high school years in an all-girls school singing and setting up prom and play locations, the sheer number of boys in class quickly offset that statement.  And so, following the tradition of (usually American) high school seen in the movies, more detailed stereotyping flourished.

In my experience people in real high schools are generally nicer than those depicted in books, television and the movies, so the stereotypical bully was ruled out.  I’d never experienced being bullied, anyway (of course, that could’ve been because I was taller than most girls, and they all knew I could give as good as I got), and after all, we were taking graduate studies.  We should be more mature than that, shouldn’t we?

After having been required to repeatedly introduce ourselves, however, some of the other stereotypes seemed to fit.  There was the quintessential law student, the guy who actually owned a set of earplugs – which he wore during breaks so he could read law books undisturbed.  There was the debater, the achiever, the public speaker, the class valedictorian, the total intellectual… and, truly following the (usually) ‘American’ high school tradition, the rebel-goth, the antisocial writer, the cool girl, the jock, the lovable gay guy who seemed straight out of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the pretty-boy and the cheerleader bitch.  There was the petite nice girl in the corner, who could mentally digest cases after one reading and quote from them verbatim after two.  There was the cute guy across the aisle who barely spoke, and his friend who seemed to be just as quiet.  There was the guy in glasses who wrote down ‘watching pretty girls’ under his list of hobbies – ah, the class clown.  And me?

“The shy girl in the noisy group,” according to one of my closest friends in class, the “cheerleader bitch.”

Reality Check

          As Elle Woods said, “Uh.  I’m sorry.  I just hallucinated.”

          Of course, you all knew I was wrong.  knew I was wrong.  I can’t presume to speak for the rest of the class, but I believe we all knew that no matter how similar our assessments of each other’s characters could be to ‘real life,’ they were never quite enough, and they were never quite right.  The stereotypes had served their purpose – they comforted us, made us feel as though we had a good enough grasp on reality to be able to properly deal with it.  To connect us, the audience, with the situation.

          Reality, while seemingly adhering to these stereotypes, may tend to surprise and (doubtlessly) amuse you.  Images from the big screen of deep, cinematographically presented academic discussions between peers morphs into an argument about the broken-down air conditioner in harsh light (and searing heat).  The group of law students entering the building, their hair blowing in the wind, feeling awed by the magnificence of their situation, is reduced to a bunch of law students, back from lunch at McDonald’s, singing ‘Finally Found Someone’ by Barbara Streisand in falsetto.

          The quintessential law student, apart from often arriving late, has a tendency to make the most unexpected wisecracks that leave you laughing.  The debater turns out to be one of the more affectionate guys in class and the achiever turns out to be gay with a penchant for matchmaking.  The total intellectual, aside from his intimacy issues, rolls his eyes like the best cheerleader and can make the cattiest remarks.  The rebel-goth makes jaws drop in admiration when he speaks, and has the funniest girlfriend.  The antisocial writer can be quite sweet, and the jock is one of the biggest perfectionists.  The petite nice girl in the corner, along with the cool girl, can drink half the class under the table, and the cute quiet guy across the aisle can (very convincingly) play a girl.  (Yes, yes, he was forced to do it.)  His friend, who is also supposed to be rather quiet, cracks the corniest jokes that never fail to make the class laugh – but this, of course, does not stop them from telling him just how corny he is.  The class clown spends hours in the library studying (this is not a guarantee, however, that he will not pick on you), and the pretty-boy is coolly self-deprecating.  The cheerleader bitch can talk like a hip-hop rapper and has a heart of gold, while the lovable gay guy was once the sweetest suitor a girl could have.  And finally, if they haven’t noticed, the shy girl in the noisy group has a transformation reminiscent of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde once sitting courtside in a basketball game.
In The End (of the First Sem, at least)

          After four months of law school, here I am.  A little shaky after my first brush with final exams, but still standing.  From lawyer-jokes before law school (okay, okay, lawyers are the spawn of Satan, I get it) to law school jokes during the first few days to law school jokes in the end (“Oh look, you can get married without legal consent!” – Oh, haha.  You make the joke, you laugh, and properly shudder when you realize what you just said), before you know it the stereotypes fade.  This is, of course, ideal.

          I am not advocating the use of stereotypes.  Far from it.  At its worst, stereotyping is the very root of prejudice, the root of racism and bigotry.  In law, cases are lost and lives may be ruined because of biases born of stereotyping.  One cannot deny, however, that sometimes, sometimes it helps us deal with situations, at least until we are standing on our own two feet.  Stereotyping can’t do much harm as long as we remember it for what it is: a coping mechanism.

          Who knows, maybe what see in the movies and on television will give us an idea of the kind of lawyers we would like to become.  Perhaps one would like to end up like Alan Shore in Boston Legal – a little kooky, a little unorthodox, and perhaps a little creepy, but ultimately a lawyer in the real sense of the word.

[1] From “Public Opinion” by Walter Lippman, 1922, pp. 95-156.