April 20, 2005

JCA: Of Marathons and Mandalas

by Guest Contributor

(JCA transferred to a top ten law school in the Midwest and blogs at Sua Sponte.)

Late in my 2L year (or was it early in my 3L year? Time flies when you're hosed to the point of oblivion), I sat down with a trusted faculty advisor and talked about setting my priorities for the remainder of law school. She recommended I focus on our intramural moot court competition, which she'd particularly enjoyed while a student at this school. I knew I was interested in moot court after a wonderful 1L experience. But at the same time, I hadn't yet had the experience of being on a journal. I wanted to try my hand at the moot court competition, yes, but I also wanted to take a crack at writing on to law review.

"Why?" she asked me frankly.

I was in a somewhat unusual position: I was a transfer student. I'd made law review as a 1L, but left that school before I had a chance to pick up my official bluebook. Part of the reason why I wanted to be on law review was because it felt like something I left behind, something I wanted to regain. But even if I hadn't made it at my old school, I still would have wanted to try for it after transferring. Just to have tried.

My faculty advisor frowned. "Because it's there is a good reason to climb mountains," she warned me, "not to do law review."

Fast forward several months. I did write on to law review, after all. (Moot court was less of a success, but that's a topic for another symposium.) And in retrospect I'd have to say that as much as I love my faculty advisor, I'm going to have to disagree with her on this one. Because it's there is perhaps the best reason to do law review.

Supposedly there are all sorts of benefits to be gained from the experience of doing editorial busywork or wringing a publishable comment out of your otherwise copious free time. I'd freelanced and owned my own business before law school, though, so the benefits of learning to write against a schedule and edit against a standard and otherwise multitask were somewhat redundant for me. Likewise, since I didn't succeed in my write-on until after I'd already resolved both the search for a law firm job and the clerkship crapshoot, the credential value of my staff position was already heavily amortized by the time I earned it.

Let's take a step back for a second. I know we're all supposed to be risk-averse utilitarians in law school, expecting a profitable return on all of our investments. But if there's one thing we've all learned (directly or indirectly) since coming to law school, it's that risk and reward are not invariably proportional. Nor do they need to be for us to achieve happiness, pace welfare-maximizing theories. Even in our extracurricular lives, we regularly preach the value of playing the game over the incremental boon of winning it.

I'm greatly inspired by the Tibetan monks who spend days and days sifting colored sand through their fingers into the intricate patterns called mandalas. These are admired as much for their transience as for their beauty; indeed, the same monks who made the mandala are the ones who pick up the brooms and sweep it away, once its ceremonial purpose is exhausted and the ritual is complete.

Long-distance runners do this too: they'll train exhaustively and push themselves to their physical limits to finish that marathon. They're not doing it because they care so much about the little medal that everyone gets at the end. They're doing it because exploring their limits teaches them something about themselves. Because seeing just how far you can go can be a euphoric experience, especially when that turns out to be further than you'd imagined.

Law review is not athletic. It's not necessarily artistic. But a seemingly unending late-night citecheck or note revision when you're exhausted and behind in your reading can feel a lot like a distance run, and the intricate and implacable fussiness of citation formats has a lot in common with the monastic sand-sifting that leads to something just as beautiful and ultimately insignificant. Sure, there
are other things you could be doing with your time. Sure, there are mercenary reasons to spend it doing this instead. But this is law school taken to its extreme, the purest taste of the craziest work we do. And it's definitely a part of the experience that's worth trying, just because it's there.

April 20, 2005 01:07 AM | TrackBack
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