One L, Scott Turow's journal of his first year at law school was a bestseller when it was first published in 1977, and has gone on to become a virtual bible for prospective law students. Not only does it introduce with remarkable clarity the ideas and issues that are the stuff of legal education; it brings alive the anxiety and competitiveness - with others and, even more, with oneself - that set the tone in this crucible of character building. Turow's multidimensional delving into his protagonists' psyches and his marvellous gift for suspense prefigure the achievements of his bestselling first novel, Presumed Innocent. Each September, a new crop of students enter Harvard Law School to begin an intense, often gruelling, sometimes harrowing year of introduction to the law. Turow's group of One Ls are fresh, bright, ambitious, and more than a little daunting. Even more impressive are the faculty: Perini, the dazzling, combative professor of contracts, who presents himself as the students' antagonist in their struggle to master his subject; Zechman, the reserved professor of torts who seems so indecisive the students fear he cannot teach; and Nicky Morris, a young, appealing man who stressed the humanistic aspects of law. Will the One Ls survive? Will they excel? Will they make the Law Review, the outward and visible sign of success in this ultra-conservative microcosm? With remarkable insight into both his fellows and himself, Turow leads us through the ups and downs, the small triumphs and tragedies of the year, in an absorbing and thought-provoking narrative that teaches the reader not only about law school and the law but about the human beings who make them what they are.
Turow keeps a fine balance of showing the school and his experience realistically, "warts and all," without being bitter or failing to see the good side of things. I couldn't resist doing a web search to see where his life led after Harvard. I knew he was a novelist but wasn't sure if or how much he practiced law. It turns out he has practiced most of his life and continues to do so, although it appears he took some time off to become a bestselling novelist too. So apparently he survived years two and three at Harvard and benefited from the prestigious degree. He did not write further about his experience there but has written one other nonfiction book containing his experience with and thoughts on the death penalty. I might have to check that one out.
Turow is a compelling writer. I remember enjoying Presumed Innocent when I read it many years ago. I'd recommend One L to anyone interested in the law, Harvard, or just a new perspective on education.
1. Don't do it.
2. Read this book.
Number one and number two are completely unrelated.
The Socratic method so much at the center of his account is presently employed rarely, perhaps because professors no longer understand how it actually works. The fruits of the technique can be seen in the satisfying discoveries the students find in Torts; the underside, of course, arises in the "Incident" in Contracts.
Despite the painfulness of the process, I couldn't help but envy the complete immersion and challenge the students experienced in something they willingly chose -- no one is forced to study law, much less at Harvard. If the process had been more like an undergraduate course, I believe it would have been equally unsatisfying, if for different reasons. Yes, it is hazing, but as a whole the year by design breaks down the layman and rebuilds in its place a lawyer.
But he'd been in the Big Leagues for four years prior: the League that produced Robert Fagles, Richard Wilbur, James Merrill, William Pritchard, the League started by Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.
Perhaps the Bildungsroman like this requires mental rags to riches. It does read well, as if "entirely true." But isn't that the role of Fiction? I always told my classes that if a film claimed to be based on a True Story, it was far from it, because if it really was such, it would claim the Opposite: "None of the characters are based on real people…" in order to avoid lawsuits.
Parts of the book were interesting and parts dragged. It seems law school, like most professional schools, tries to weed out students during the first year. This book makes me wish I'd kept a journal of my first year of dental school and published a book about