Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Teddy Bears in law school

I have a law professor I really love. He taught two of my first-year law classes, and I fell in love with him within a week. I think it had something to do with the way he reacted when one of my classmates came to class without having finished the reading for the day. For those of you who aren't in law school, the first year is one of those harrowing, intimidating experiences that are the stuff of sheer legend. As veterans share tall tales of in-class horror, the first year takes on an almost mythical quality. One of the very first things any soon-to-be law student worth her salt learns is that you can't blow off the reading like you did in college. There's no friendly first-day introduction to the course, where the professor lets you out after fifteen minutes and a song and dance about the course material. No, sir. It's work, work, work from Day One. A first-year law student's biggest nightmare -- apart from something horrific like failing a class -- is being made to look like an idiot in class. To do so opens you up to the mockery of your classmates and, far worse, the disdain of your professors. Common sense dictates, then, that one should never come to class unprepared. Yet that's precisely what this unfortunate classmate of mine did on this day.

"Mr. R., what did you think of Cardozo's opinion in MacPherson v. Buick? How does it fit with the other cases we've talked about?"
There was an uncomfortable silence as we listened to poor Mr. R. shuffle through his materials to find the case. Finally, he spoke -- I swear I could hear him blushing.
"I'm so sorry, Professor -- as you were talking I just realized that I read the wrong material for class today... I haven't read this case."
And thus, the barrier was broken. The first person we'd ever seen come to class unprepared. The tension in the room was thick as we waited, breath baited, for the Professor's response. Finally, the Professor gave him a mock-stern look and said, "Aw, then you're a terrible person." A joke! The class exhaled the nervous laughter it had been holding in. The Professor smiled, explained the holding of the case, and then gave the much-relieved Mr. R. a chance to redeem himself by trying to explain how that holding was possible following the other cases we'd discussed.

That, my friends, is what we call Class.

Eventually, this professor ended up giving me my first (and only, thus far -- knock on wood) C. That one was tough to take. Particularly since I'd thought I did really well on the exam. So I sent him an email telling him my grade and asking if I could come talk to him about the exam. His response began, "Ouch. Sorry about your grade." How cool is that? This was far from the cold, austere professor students prepare for by reading books like 1L or watching movies like The Paper Chase. It turned out I deserved the low grade, but he did very kindly note that he was surprised I hadn't done well on the exam, since he could tell from class that I was smart. With me: awwwwww.

This year I have class with him again, and I remember why I like him so much. After class today, two of my friends and I were standing near our seats, talking -- don't ask me why -- about pap smears. As the rest of our classmates shuffled out, we lowered our voices more and more to compensate for the lessening buzz of other people's conversations, until we were nearly whispering. We started to head for the door, where our professor was still collecting his books from the front of the room. He'd noticed us whispering before we left. "You don't want to know!" we explained as we approached him. He laughed and said "I saw three of my favorite students standing up there talking conspiratorially, so I was just a little curious."

"Awww," my friend giggled. "I bet you say that to all the girls."

Maybe that's true, but I'm feeling nice to myself today, so I'll take it at face value.

Thanks, Professor Teddy Bear. You're one of my favorites, too.


At January 20, 2005 at 8:50 PM, Blogger Micah said...

He sounds pretty cool.

My first year Contracts professor was the old as dirt, intimidating, Paper Chase class. Out of class he was very friendly. During our second semester he was a little nicer in class (1st semester is for weeding out, you know) and he actually got choked up when he taught our final class. Cool guy.

At January 22, 2005 at 4:52 PM, Blogger The Law Fairy said...

Wow, choked up, nice.

My class holds the esteemed status of being (to my knowledge) possibly the only class to make our property professor (affectionately known as "The Hammer") leave the classroom so that he could laugh. On the verge of tears is another story though -- he must have really loved you guys.

At January 22, 2005 at 7:52 PM, Blogger Micah said...

I think he did like us (or most of us). Also, I don't think he liked going home to his wife. He'd always tell us to come see us any time for anything. On weekends you could always catch him in the commons watching a basketball game or something on TV.


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