Why I Left Law School

by Courtney C Horne @FireezDragon

I decided recently to leave law school before I put more time and money into it.

Simply put, I hated law school.

Things are never that simple to explain though and I have explained why I would walk away from a generous scholarship after only six weeks more times than I can count. I have used the phrase “soul crushing” and “wrong environment” and “made me miserable.” However, none of those phrases really captures what it was about law school that made me walk away. I think I am ready to capture the reason, well reasons really, that I made the decision I made. And it has basically nothing to do with academics.

Most people when they find out I left ask me how I was doing in my classes. Now since basically everything grade wise is based on finals, I do not have a firm answer to that question. I do have a feeling however. I felt like I was working faster than a lot of my classmates and comprehending pretty well. In fact, while the material was challenging, it wasn’t incredibly difficult as far as concepts go. I think I found the concepts in my one attempt at a computer programming class more difficult than the concepts in law. Law school, though, is not about just whether you can grasp and remember the concepts of the law. It would seem intuitively that it would be about that but I quickly learned that was not true.

Law school is about endurance. My criminal law professor (more about him later, he was the single worst part of my experience) had a tendency to assign huge numbers of cases to brief. This wouldn’t be much different from my other classes, but he assigned more briefs per class period than any other professor, roughly as many as all the others combined. He also had a bizarre requirement that any Louisiana case we briefed for his class be handwritten. No explanation as to why. He did not read them himself and I can’t imagine his TA’s were thrilled about deciphering handwriting. Hours of time wasted on handwriting. The work load overall was grueling but even with his need to waste time on handwriting, it alone would not have driven me away.

The next thing I learned about law school is that they insist on being the only thing that matters to you. They say things like “law is a jealous mistress” and don’t for one second stop to consider whether that creates a healthy environment. The criminal law professor (again, I know, he is iconic of everything wrong with law school) once told us at about 1:30 pm that we had to be online at 7 pm for a live chat. Less than 6 hours notice. He said “you aren’t supposed to be working anyways.” The school’s actual policy was you could not work more than 20 hrs a week but clearly in his mind you shouldn’t have a job or plans or anything that prevented him from making plans for you 5 and a half hours before hand. The live chat? Him typing strange and stupid questions in all caps while the class all rushed to type in answers. I learned nothing in that hour and a half.

There was a general expectation that you should do nothing but school all the time. They gave us proposed life schedules at orientation and they included no work, 7 hours sleep most nights, time for only two meals a day during the week (no breakfast), and less than 8 hours the whole week not spoken for by class or studying. I can’t imagine living that way. The idea that it was normal and healthy for someone  to live like that strikes me as a terrible misunderstanding of what is psychologically healthy. A presenter at orientation criticized spending time talking to your friends throughout the day as wasteful. This sort of push to not have anything in your life but law can not be emotionally healthy and I can’t help but wonder about what it means for the legal profession. For me, it meant that law school made me feel miserable as I value a rich and varied life. I could not imagine three years of the soul crushing state of existence that seemed to be the law school norm.

The last thing about law school I realized, the final straw in my decision, was that it was full of back stabbing and bullying. Yes, bullying. A concept associated with elementary school playgrounds was the reality of my short law school experience. This narrative centers around my criminal law class but has as much to do with the fact that there was nothing to be done about what happened to me as about what actually happened. The fact that I could do nothing about a horrible situation was in itself worse than the situation.

My terrible criminal law professor (hereafter called by name, North) gets to class for a one p.m. class around 12:30 pm. If you aren’t there, you are out of luck because he starts teaching. You also may be out of luck roll wise because on more than one occasion he started the roll before one pm when the class was scheduled to begin. This essentially means his 3 hr class meets for 4.5 hrs a week. That by itself was something that annoyed me but not overly so.

Then came Saturday classes. Class on Saturday mornings at 10 am. Not on our schedule, just something he does. He had said that he “wouldn’t take roll but was gonna take roll” which confused me and after the first Saturday class (which I did not go to) I heard he had indeed passed a roll. The Friday before the second Saturday class I emailed student affairs asking if they knew if his Saturday classes were counted towards our attendance. (We were required to attend 80% of a class to be able to take its final and get credit for it.) I expressed concern about having planned around a schedule that did not tell me about the Saturday meetings and mentioned that he had taken roll at the first one. Later in that day, North himself said they did not count for attendance however I was still glad when I got an email from student affairs confirming that in writing. Having something in writing felt better. I thought I was glad to have that settled and know I did not need to attempt to rearrange my life to meet the attendance requirements.

And then came Monday. The Monday after I sent my email, North threw a literal tantrum in class. He screamed about someone “complaining” about him to “the Chancellor” about him “meeting on Saturday” for most of the hour and a half we were there. He kept asserting how “mad” he was and that he had found out who it was. Surely, I thought the student affairs office wouldn’t disclose that information. Especially not to someone who they undoubtedly knew was angry. I also thought maybe he wasn’t yelling about me. I after all had inquired about the attendance policy to the student affairs office not complained to the Chancellor. Well I was wrong on both counts.

On Wednesday North sent out an email with a 150 question assignment that he had labeled “the secret emailer assignment.” Somewhere along the line, the students who interacted with him most learned that I was his so called “secret emailer.” A group to divide up the questions and each answer only 2-3 was formed and everyone in the class besides myself was invited to participate. By the time I heard about my exclusion I had actually completed the bulk of the assignment alone regardless but there is something terribly disturbing about an environment that so quickly turns on someone and attacks them. A couple people refused to participate in the exclusionary group and more still expressed that they thought it was wrong but did not have time to do the assignment on their own so had to participate.  I had a wreck that week and some girls tried to keep people from sending me the assignment for the class I missed because of the wreck. Essentially a bully of a professor who was angered by me asking a question about him pushed my section to bully me. He also behaved passive aggressively towards me in class in the way he asked me questions or replied to my answers. I felt like he was so likely to randomly go off on me one day that I avoided him if I saw him around the law school campus.

And there was nothing I could do about it. Really that fact is the last straw towards my decision to leave. If at the point that the bullying happened I went to someone in authority, he would just  have escalated. There would have been more long assignments attributed to me and more screaming fits in class and nothing would have been done about it. I couldn’t drop his class, our schedules were fixed by the school with no flexibility. I essentially had been harassed by a professor and there was nothing I could do about it and it was painfully obvious. I have never been one to be able to just deal with something like that.

Because of all these factors (and some minor ones not worth expressing) I decided to walk away before I dropped more of my life into something that was making me incredibly profoundly unhappy.

Update: http://courtneychorne.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/wading-into-it-against-my-better-judgement/ Here is a comment I received and my reply to it.

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