Monday, May 2, 2011

How Hogwarts is like Law School

I started about 3 different books over the past couple of weeks, but I just can't get anywhere with them. All of them have been different genres, and yet I still can't quite settle into something. It's me, not books. It's finals, you see. And that means I don't have any time for reading except the 20 minutes or so between the moment where I fall exhausted and drained into bed and the moment I fall asleep. Apparently I have plenty of time for frivolous blog posts, though.

Often, with my busy life, that's the only time I get to read, but my brain is so tired lately that I don't want to work at reading. I have no imagination. So I decided to go with something comforting and familiar. It will help me fall asleep and let me totally immerse myself so that finals aren't on my mind when I fall asleep (that way I don't have stress dreams). With the new (and last!) Harry Potter movie coming out, there's been a lot of HP talk on the blogs over the past couple of weeks, so I figured that starting the series from the beginning would get me through finals and at least part of the summer of hell.

While reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone over the last few nights, it dawned on me, that Hogwarts is a lot like law school. I started making a mental note of all the similarities (apparently my brain is never too tired to make lists). This is totally nerding out, but I can't help it. Don't judge, enjoy!

1. A Whole New World (for most)

No, we're not talking about Aladdin here, I said Hogwarts, remember? When all the tiny little witches and wizards show up on the first day, they're nervous, excited, meeting new friends (and enemies), getting lost, and having a feast. That's not an inaccurate description of my first day of orientation. The main difference is that I wasn't tiny. Or a witch. But I was a stranger - moved to Southern California from Portland, Oregon - in a completely different world. I didn't know anyone, and I didn't know what to expect.

I think I was a lot like Hermione at that point in time - I read about a hundred (ok minor exaggeration) books on law school, what it would be like, how it could change me and affect my personal life, and what classes would be like. But reading about it and experiencing it were two different things.

In other ways, I was much more prepared for a life of magic/law - having worked in law firms as a secretary and paralegal for 4 years before law school made me more like a student from an old wizarding family. I may not have known all the particulars, but I knew what it was like to live and work in the legal community. Sort of like the difference between showing up at Hogwarts from a wizarding family rather than from a muggle family. It was not a particularly big help in classes (not in the book and not in law school), but still, it made me a bit more comfortable.

So yes, we all entered a new world - full of funny Latin phrases and needing a little bit of magic to get us through the first year.

2. Terrifying Professors

There is nothing quite like being the first to be called on in class. It's terrifying - even if it's happening to someone else. I remember in our first Contracts class, the professor called on a girl in the front row. The girl had read the assignment, and had handwritten notes on the cases in some loose-leaf paper on the desk in front of her. The professor was very loud, spoke very fast and demanded an even faster response. The girl was startled, and didn't respond immediately. The professor then went over to her and demanded to see her notes. For about 15 seconds, the professor looked over the notes, then held them up for the entire class to see and told us that this is NOT how we should be taking notes for her class. She then lectured/yelled at us for about 10 minutes about how we were never going to make it (this makes me think of doing a post comparing law school to Army Basic Training). The poor girl started crying, and who could blame her? The rest of us breathed a collective sigh of relief that it had been her and not us. I think that professor also yelled at several other students that class.

This scenario played out in my mind while I was reading the scene where they all go to their first potions class with Professor Snape. With no warning, Snape calls on Harry to answer all sorts of seemingly random questions. When Harry can't answer, Snape ridicules him and teases him for not knowing. He accuses Harry of never having read any of his text book, which is unfair, because Harry did read, he just didn't know he'd have to remember all those details.

Also in that same scene, there's Hermione, jumping up and down just begging to be called on. There's one in every law school class too (this is where I stop being anything like her, btw). I can think of a couple in my year, actually.

3. Being Stuck with Your Section / House for Everything

The first year students at Hogwarts are all split into their "houses" when they first arrive. It's where they'll live, but most of all it means being put with people that they'll have classes with forever. Section assignments for law students are only for one year. After that we're free to pick our own schedules, which means more random people in classes, and different class sizes.

It's not a terrible thing to be in a section. In fact, it's quite comforting. It means a familiar situation in each class. It means really getting to know and understand people. It's like being in a family. But along with the good comes the bad - there's no escaping your family. Good luck trying to get some privacy. Good luck keeping your feelings hidden. Everyone will know everything about you after an entire year together.

At Hogwarts, people are sorted into houses based on personality traits and the deepest desires of their hearts. At law school, I think it's more of a random thing. At our school, students could earn certificates in different areas of law - I chose International Law, for example. I think the only real distinction to the sections was that all students working toward a certain certificate were put in a section. For example, my section had all of the people working towards an International Law certificate. Other than that, I'm sure it was just random.

Still, our sections became our families, and even after two years of spreading out and meeting lots of new people from the other sections, my section will still always be my family.

4. First Years aren't allowed to do anything cool

At Hogwarts, first years can't bring brooms to school. They also can't play on the Quidditch team, or lead anything. Different rules apply to them. The same goes for law students. First year law students can't bring their brooms to school either.

Seriously, though, it makes sense. First years have enough to worry about - getting ridiculed in class, the pages and pages of reading, writing your first Memorandum, and dealing with the stress of first year finals is unlike any other stress in the world. I personally could not have handled anything else. I couldn't have begun or run a student organization. I also could not have held a job or anything. I had a husband (still have him - whew), and that was almost more than I could handle. How he handled me, I'll never know.

5. Potions

At Hogwarts, Potions is a class. The students learn the fine art of brewing the perfect potion. I've always thought of it rather like an advanced cooking class. But at law school, potions are what we drink to try to numb ourselves. I turned 31 in my first month of law school. I drank more alcohol by the end of that school year than I had through all of my 20s. I've had never been a big drinker, but boy have I become a lush.

Part of it is because every social function (bar reviews, Barrister's Ball, networking events) revolves around alcohol and takes place in a bar. Part of it is because after all the stress and pain of law school, it's necessary to meet up with your friends (mostly only from your own section) and get a little rowdy on the weekend. How else could I have retained my sanity? I realize (maybe better than most) that alcohol is not the solution to all problems. But it is the solution to some, and it sure can help a person relax.

6. Robes

At Hogwarts, all the students wear robes. Their everyday attire is robes. Their athletic attire is robes. When they get up, they put on a bathrobe over their sleeping robes. It's kind of silly and annoying. I've often faulted J.K. Rowling for having the characters constantly in robes. Until I thought about it in comparison to the legal world.

Robes are an essential part of the legal community. Judges wear robes. During initiation into Phi Alpha Delta (the legal fraternity at my school), the leaders wore robes. During Moot Court competitions, the judges wear robes. When we graduate, we'll wear robes. In the legal community, robes are a symbol of status and honor. Robes are reserved for truly important people and special occasions. It makes me feel like I shouldn't mock the robes in Harry Potter (well, at least not as much as I do).

7. The students think they can take on real-world problems

In the Harry Potter novels, Ron, Hermione and Harry are always solving problems and fighting fights that are way beyond their years and maturity levels. They're fighting the greatest evil ever known to wizard-kind.

At law school, even first year students think they can make a huge difference in the world, and though I personally find this sort of hubris and optimism irritating and mildly nauseating, I do see that hope is a good thing, and people should never be afraid of trying to tackle big problems.

I am a cynic when it comes to many things, though. Harry Potter and friends eventually succeed in defeating evil, but it took them 7 years! Through that process, they enlisted the help of hundreds of friends and many people died. I'm not saying things are as dramatic as all that at law school (I don't think anyone ever died trying to legalize marijuana - maybe gay marriage, though), but it's still extremely optimistic of some law students to think that during their first year of law school they know enough about the law and the legislative process to actually make a difference.

But I don't want it to stop. The surest way to stop progress is to not try. Progress is important because if we're not moving forward, we're moving backwards. Maybe I'm not as cynical as I thought - maybe it's more like laziness. The point is that just because I'm not idealistic, doesn't mean I don't respect those who are.

8. In the End, Nothing is As it Seems

In the land of Harry Potter, they learn to question everything - make no assumptions. Professors who seemed evil turn out to not be so terrible after all. Maybe a giant and terrifying creature isn't really all that bad - maybe he just wants respect and love.

In the land of the law, we do the same - question everything. Every assumption you make is a missed opportunity. Opposing counsel aren't (always) evil and mean-spirited. It's possible to have a professional and courteous relationship with him. That contracts professor who was so awful on the first day of class? Turns out she had a lot of health problems, and couldn't even finish out the year - she turned out to be not so scary and evil after all - kind of like Snape.

Also, sometimes the people we think are there to help us most are really the bad guy. It's disheartening to realize that law school is a business, and often the administration is concerned only with the bottom line and not "customer service." It's depressing to be thought of as a number by the people I've looked up to. Also, all that "help" we got from financial aid doesn't seem so helpful right about now. They "helped" me get into a whole heap of debt.

In the end, though, I will never regret anything I did in law school. I've learned so much, and I think I may have finally grown up. I will miss everyone here (even the Draco Malfoys of our class), including the professors who have done so much and given so much to help make us what we are today. Here's to a magical future!


  1. What asshole contracts professor was this?

  2. Professor Marcy Peek. She was not a good professor, and not really a nice person. But she left on medical leave in November of our first year, and then we had Professor Calvin Peeler for Contracts for the rest of the year. It was traumatic enough to lose a professor - but three weeks before our first final? Torture.