Tag Archives: law school

Raise Your Hand — What I learned from The Paper Chase and Sheryl Sandberg

The "Lean In" I'm more familiar with.

The “Lean In” I’m more familiar with.

I confess. I haven’t read Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” but I get the gist. I did view her successful Ted Talk that inspired her to write the book. In that talk she made a point of saying to women, “Don’t leave until you leave,” suggesting that women pull back from workplace opportunities long before they have children, simply because they plan to have a family — some day. That’s a valid point. No use preparing to leave the workplace for your family years before you even have one. But I’m taking it even farther back. I’m taking it to school. I’m suggesting that women and girls should not let others do all the talking and just freaking raise their hands in class . . . and say something. It doesn’t matter if you’re not sure if you ever want to run a Fortune 500 company or even whether you like the class. If you’re in school, raise your freaking hand. The corporate world is tough. In many ways it is not an even playing field. In some professions you’re not even allowed to speak if there is someone more senior in the room. So while you’re in school? Before you get out there in the real world? Dang it — if you’ve paid your tuition and you’re going to sit your butt down at the desk for the next two hours, you might as well say something.

The Paper Chase

The Paper Chase

As a child I remember accidentally seeing the movie The Paper Chase on television. The Paper Chase is a 70’s flick about a first year student at Harvard Law School. I was a kid. I had no dreams of going to law school. I’d never met a lawyer, to my knowledge. I guess in my ultimate laziness I didn’t feel like changing the channel, so I watched the movie. It stuck with me. In the film, the main character noticed that everyday in class only a few students raised their hands, only a few volunteered answers to questions posed by the imposing professor. Of course, the professor called on unwilling participants via the Socratic method, but only a few dared volunteer. They were the Upper Echelon.

At this point, I think it’s important to note that law school exams in the first year are usually anonymous and not given until the end of the semester. There are no extra points for prior class participation.

So why bother speaking in class, then?

First, because it helps to learn and analyze the material.

Second, it establishes the student as being in the Upper Echelon, and

Third, it makes the student think of herself in the Upper Echelon.

Fourth, being in the Upper Echelon might get a student noticed, and some perks.

In The Paper Chase, the main character made a conscious decision to “jump in” and raise his hand, to join Upper Echelon. Once he did, he was viewed — and viewed himself, differently. Other students sought him out for assistance during the study period for finals. He eventually got an “A” in the course, if I recall.

I’m not sure why seeing this movie about Harvard Law students had such an impact on me whilst I was in the 6th or 7th grade or so, but it did. There was something about the guy deciding to jump in with the other students who had the bravura to do it from day one.

Fast forward a decade and then some. I found myself in Law School (not Harvard).

Like the main character in The Paper Chase, I noticed that there were only a few people who volunteered answers in class. And it was always the same people. The Upper Echelon. Most of Upper Echelon were men. I think there was one woman. She, no surprise, was not well liked.

The second tier was comprised of those students who spoke when called on and would speak voluntarily on occasion — on very rare occasions. These students were sitting ducks, waiting to get called on. If the professor was not teaching the Socratic method they were quiet, relaxed ducks, passively letting the material wash over them. (Well, wash over us. I was with them, with my highlighters and colored pencils and markers.)

And then there were The Quiet Ones — the ones who never volunteered to speak, and would even “pass” when called upon.

The Batman

The Batman

In law school, there was a saying, “Beware of The Quiet Ones” as they were often the ones who, when grades came out, seemed to have pulled a 4.0 out of their asses. With that 4.0 they could get on Law Review, and continue to collect academic credentials that would yield many, many opportunities in the legal profession or other any chosen professional career. When grades came out, suddenly The Quiet Ones were the cream of the crop, yet no one had ever heard them speak or even noticed they were there. In my years at my school, The Quiet Ones were women. Reluctant geniuses. Secret weapons, possessed of powers unknown to man (literally). Statistically, however, there are only a couple of those kinds of Quiet Ones. Most silent students were left crying or shaking their heads when grades come out. The straight-A Quiet Ones were an enigma. There’s only one Batman . . . but I digress . . .

I’m not really talking about grades, anyway, I’m talking about perception and learning and opportunities. We learn by engaging. We are perceived to be knowledgeable by engaging. We show what we’ve learned and how we think — by engaging.

So I decided. I would jump in. I would raise my hand. I would talk. Just like in The Paper Chase, it was a conscious decision. Just like in The Paper Chase, it was a decision that would take me out of my comfort zone. The thing about it was, I was there anyway. I was doing the reading anyway. We were all students. No one had any grades yet. Might as well jump in. If those guys (and one woman) could throw themselves into the Upper Echelon from day one, why not me? I would be just like that guy in that movie I saw when I was an impressionable youth.

I admit, in the night before I decided to jump in I was a little more attentive to my reading. My array of notes was a colorful masterpiece. (It was the markers and colored pencils, you see.) I didn’t know in what direction the professor would be taking the discussion, so I simply vowed to say something about . . . something.

He spoke.  The Paper Chase.

He spoke. The Paper Chase.

And, the next day, just like in the movie — I raised my hand. I don’t believe I had ever spoken voluntarily in class before.

Heads turned. I was no longer invisible.

After I spoke that first time, I raised my hand again. I argued. I answered. I wasn’t always right, and since it was law school, there wasn’t always a right answer, but my words were heard, my point of view considered, and even when I had no real point of view, I practiced taking a side anyway. I became one of the Upper Echelon, just like in The Paper Chase. I’m guessing that I also joined the ranks of students other students disliked, but whatevs. I walked a little taller.

One day after class a Professor asked to see me. Admittedly, this dude scared the crap out of me. He was not the Professor I had a crush on. See Another Embarrassingly Moment, Another Crush. No, this professor was a classic unapproachable (or so I thought) academic whose pearls of wisdom often seemed to float out of reach above my head. This was the professor who made me nervous, and though I spoke in his class with an unsteady voice, I was always convinced that what I said — or what anyone said, for that matter, was just — not quite right. I didn’t know why this professor wanted to see me, but I dutifully went to his office.

To my surprise (utter shock, actually), the professor asked me to be his research assistant.

Me.

Not one of the original Upper Echelon members.

Little old me.

The music student who was really just acting out a scene in a movie she’d seen by accident as a kid.

I accepted his offer, and my research (for which I got paid work-study money) contributed to his book, in which he gave me credit by name when the book was published. He also became a mentor and a professional reference, and my work with this professor, who was a former clerk to a Supreme Court Justice, certainly didn’t hurt me in securing my own Federal Clerkship, a position coveted by many.

All because I raised my hand. All because I decided to raise my hand.

If I hadn’t starting talking in class, he wouldn’t have known who the hell I was, and the research position, along with the opportunities and experience that flowed from it, would have gone to someone else.

But it didn’t. It went to me, because I raised my freaking hand.

I’ve tried to explain all of this to my kids, especially my girls, but they don’t get it.

I’m all, “Did you raise your hand?” And they’re all, “No way, I don’t talk in class.

And I want to kill myself.

Time to break out the old movies, methinks. One of my daughters has seen The Paper Chase (thanks, Netflix), but I don’t think she got it. I must try again — on her — and the other kids.

One of these days somebody will listen to me.

Hermione Raising Her Hand

Hermione Granger. The Best Student Ever.

Just Me With . . . my hands in the air, waving like I just don’t care . . .

I just had a horrifying thought. Much of this was triggered because I happened to see the movie The Paper Chase on television when I was a kid.

Think of the things kids “happen” to see on TV these days. I shudder at the thought.

Bad Girls Club

Bad Girls ClubRelated

Related: Tales From The Bar Exam

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Another Embarrassing Moment, Another Crush

I was in law school.   In other words, I was grown ass woman.  Indeed, I was a married woman.   But there was one law professor who had most of the women swooning.  I’ll call him Professor Silverstein.  His area of expertise was criminal law.  I had no real interest in criminal law at the time, yet I took extra classes in criminal procedure.  So if you ever get arrested, call me.   Or more importantly, ask to call me . . .  it will preserve your rights and the cops have to leave you alone . . . but I digress.

George Clooney

Professor Silverstein was of medium height, well,  that’s being generous, I think he was kinda short.  He was older, of course, had salt and pepper hair parted on the side.  It was always a little long and he often ran his hand through it to push it off his face.  (I really wanted to do that for him.)   He had a slim build and occasionally looked like he could use a shave.   He had just a perfect smile, kind of like a George Clooney smile.  Now of course Professor Silverstein was not as Hollywood attractive as George Clooney — c’mon, this is real life —  but he had that Hollywood smile.  Yes, yes, he did.  Wait, what?  I guess got distracted.   Anyway,  and he was so, so smart.  Smart is sexy, very sexy.   And he was funny.  The whole class would be cracking up over the Fourth Amendment.   If you’ve read the Fourth Amendment, you know that  it isn’t funny at all.  It’s all about searches and seizures and probable cause and such —  but Professor Silverstein made it so freaking entertaining. Did I mention he had a sexy voice, too?  Smooth, confident, but I digress . . . again.  Anyway,  Monday, Wednesday and Friday was like a trip to a strip bar.  We could look, riveted, but we could not touch.     The Professor was out of reach.

Sigh.

I sat front and center.   My Law School Crush was on one side and my Law Professor Crush was directly in front of me.   No wonder I was such a good student.  Professor Silverstein taught in a relaxed socratic method,  but not in a mean way.  No, he was pleasant and cordial.   People, well, women,   we all wanted him to call on us, just so that he would say our names.   I loved the way he said my name.   Consequently, I was always prepared for class.  Always.

Call on me, baby, call on me.

One day after his class a friend and I were walking together.   We were being just plain silly.  Having recently discovered that we shared the same crush on Professor Silverstein we would often discuss important issues after class like,

Did you see him smiling today?  He was so sexy.  He is so cute.

I’m not sure why my friend and I were upstairs near the offices, we must have had something administrative to take care of, but we walked the faculty halls giggling  like teen girls talking about how cute we thought  Professor Silverstein was.

Me:  “Did you see him today?”

My Friend: “Oh my God, he’s so sexy.”

Me:  “He said my name, did you hear it?”

My Friend:  “Oh my God, you’re sooooo lucky . . . .  ”  

Grown women, acting like kids.  We were just being over-the-top silly, messing around.  Law School can be so serious, got lighten it up some, right?
Hanging on each others’ arms and still giggling, we rounded the corner and something caught our eyes.

We turned together and . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . .

There he was, that man with that smile, that Professor of Criminal Law, the man we had been ogling over and giggling about . . . and who had apparently been walking behind us for the entire length of the hallway leading to his office.  Yup, yup.  We didn’t notice because we were too busy giggling about how cute and sexy he is.   And there he was, smiling  . . . at us.

It was a double deer in headlights situation.

“Helloooo Ladies!”  he said, like he was some mac daddy in a bar.

“Hi!”  We replied in unison, with voices much too high for grown women in law school.

He kept smiling as he entered his office.  He may have chuckled.

My friend and I just stood there, eyes wide,  “OH MY GOD!!!!” — except we were whispering this time.

Just Me With . . .  a crush on my professor and outted as a silly girl —  thank God for anonymous grading.


My Law School Crush

Damn Facebook.  I hate it.  All the happy posts piss me off.  Having photos of me (especially unflattering or ones that reveal my age) posted and tagged pisses me off.   Having to connect with relatives I don’t usually talk to (sometimes) pisses me off.   I mean now I have my mother asking me if I saw a cousin’s graduation pictures on Facebook?  Ugh.

Then there’s the Ex, his fiancée, and their crap all over the net.   Soon it’ll be his wedding pictures, complete with group pictures of  my kids with the bride and groom and his and her family,  all dolled up for his big day.  Ugh.

And of course,  there was the accidental discovery that my Ex’s fiancée and I dated the same guy,  information gained via Facebook.  See Mutual Friend, Part I and Mutual Friend, Part II.

Yeah, I’m kinda sick of Facebook.

But for professional and familial reasons, I keep my  non-anonymous Facebook account.  I do not link it to my Twitter or blog.   I check into Facebook much less, rarely post, and took down all personal pictures.   I check in primarily so that I can un-tag photos and respond to messages from the people who still insist on communicating with me via Facebook.

On my weekly check-in last week, I had a friend request from a law school colleague.  The last time I talked to this woman years ago, she lit into me about some dispute regarding a club we belonged to, so I hung up on her.   I don’t like to be yelled at.

Question:  Why is she  “friending” me on Facebook?

Answer:  Because it’s Facebook.

I kept her dangling for a while,  but since my account is so impersonal now, I thought, what the hell, I’ll accept her friend request.  It might help in a future job search if she knows people.

Well, my connection to her led to seeing a profile of a man I had a secret crush on in law school. We’ll call him LawBoy.

LawBoy and I sat next to each other every day, front and center.   He held my seat for me if I was running late.   He was married, so was I.  We studied together, some.  Talked on breaks or in the library, just a little.   I thought he was one of the nicest guys I’d met in a long time.  Smart, funny, and so not full of himself.   He was really down to earth, quite unlike many of my fellow law students.   I used to love the way he smiled when talking about his wife.  We didn’t hang out at night or anything.   There was never anything inappropriate about our friendship.  But I admit now that I was secretly holding the married lady’s crush on him.

Lucy always had a crush on Schroeder

A few years after law school,  I ran into him in an office building where I was working.   So we decided to have lunch, as lawyers do, just to catch up, see what our specialties were, if we could refer business . . . etc.    He was always so attentive to my real love, music, as his father was also a musician, still gigging,  even at his  advanced age.    LawBoy and I  were both still married at this meeting, and now we had kids to talk about.  It was quite an enjoyable lunch.

I don’t do alumni events, or lawyerly functions, and I haven’t worked downtown in a while — since all the madness (literally).   So I hadn’t seen or heard from him since that lunch, years ago.

But when I accepted that woman’s friend request  and viewed her page — there was LawBoy, on Facebook, a friend of a “friend.”  He looked pretty much the same, still had that nice boyish smile.  Now he’s a partner in a law firm.  Not too shabby.  More importantly,  his relationship status is  listed as . . .  SEPARATED. 

Whoa.

This time I sent the Friend Request.   No message attached.

He accepted my request, immediately (she adds with a grin) and messaged that he was glad to reconnect, asked about my music and said that he hoped he could see me play sometime.

(Shhh. Don’t tell anybody, but I smiled and giggled  a bit.)

LawBoy remembered me . . . and my music.  Aw.  

I responded in kind, telling him I’d let him know when things came up.  (smiling still)

I perused (stalked) his profile a bit and saw that he seemed very active and well-rounded.  He does go to the law related networking events that I avoid like the plague (but he’d have to,  still being  in practice and all)  and is outdoorsy.   Although I love to be outside, I’m not the rafting, hiking, marathoning, camping type.  (But we can work that out . . .  I digress . . . )

I have no plans or fantasizes of hooking up with my law school crush (well, maybe a few fantasizes, but no concrete plans).  On paper, we are as different as night and day.  I’m not even sure how comfortable he’d be dating outside of his race and religion.

Former Episcopalian Princess Charlotte at her Jewish Wedding, Sex and The City

But I could pull a Charlotte from Sex and the City . . . (“I’m  Jew now” . . . ) yes?   Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.   A little. Whatever.  It could happen.

Oh well.  Odds are  this will not be a fulfillment of a long-lost and unstated love between two law school buddies  — like in the book and movie, “Something Borrowed.”   No,  romantic stories like that and me? — well, no.

“Something Borrowed “

Still, that  one word on his profile, “Separated,”  haunts me.   I don’t state my relationship status on Facebook.  It’s a personal policy of mine.  And I doubt that he would have heard of my change in status from others since we don’t travel in the same circles,  but . . .  I’m not married anymore —- if anyone’s interested . . .

Regardless, I gotta say, it is nice to feel free, feel a crush and not be married this time, even if I never, ever do a thing about it.

Just Me With . . . my freedom, and still with a little crush on LawBoy, who is now separated.   And, FYI, if he ever found this post, I would be completely mortified.

See also: Another Embarrassing Moment, Another Crush