Denver Bar Association
October 2000
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Surviving the First Week of the First Year

by Diane Hartman


The adventures of Tom Finn continue.

Last month, we left our candidate for "Survivor" walking the halls of the University of Denver College of Law before classes started, wondering if he would drop into a pasta-making class by mistake, if the professors would yell, if other students were much smarter. Tom Finn was also having a few of those back-to-school, I'm-not-prepared nightmares.

Now, after two weeks in law school, he's in a waking dream called The Wizard of Oz: "I feel like Toto, with not much control over the trip, not to mention the language barrier and the flying monkeys."

Some of his thoughts may sound familiar.

"At times I ask myself what the hell I was thinking. When I drive home and see the mountains, I know I'm in the right place, but as for law school . . . ?"

 The worst part is "I feel I am just behind, buried and can't get a handle with not enough hours in the day."

The best part is that "I'm getting a glimpse of how the law is working. I'm very interested in that. It's fun to read the cases and see what everyone is thinking. In some of the cases, you wonder how some of these people can even be on the planet and then you learn that being stupid isn't a crime, it's just irritating."

Part of his nightmare came true when he realized that some students had taken "summer prep," and knew how to brief cases. "I think that would have helped me, but the reality is I had to work. So these people have their briefs out and I didn't know I had an assignment. It's only just now that I think I can start writing a brief."

Tom pulled a Prosser on Torts out of a bulging laptop carrier/briefcase to show examples of complex cases. His book was already dense with highlighting. In his Civil Procedure class, he said there have been times when "I didn't understand anything he said. I can read the case in the book four or five times and still have no clue."

His other classes are Criminal Law, Torts, Contracts and Lawyering Process.

Being an "older" student (33), Tom enjoys watching the other students. Although they don't break down into "jocks" and "geeks," students have definite styles. "Some seem sort of intellectual, kind of dressed up with everything that matches, already getting molded into a conservative lawyer dress. And there are some with Birkenstocks, sort of hippish/granola, who look like they'll take a hike after class." Put Tom in the latter class.

Since school started, he's been looking for the guy who graduated high school when he was only 12. "I figure this Doogie Howser is 16 now, if he spent four years in college. I've killed a lot of brain cells . . . how am I supposed to compete?"

He also enjoyed watching one stylishly-dressed young man who organized a kegger the first week. "He would work his way around class before it started, stopping at the young, cute girls to introduce himself, and give out invitations."

More intimidating was a woman who sat in front of him in one class. Tom said he felt like he was fairly organized before he saw her notebook: "She had a big binder. On the front was the name of the class (Criminal Law), the teacher's name, the date and the time of class, then she had gotten some clip art of a pair of handcuffs. I was amazed she had time to do that."

So far, the "professors seem very cool, laid back. They're definitely there to help you rather than torment you, although they may enjoy that a little." The only prof reputed to throw tantrums is (reputed to be) on sabbatical this year, he said.

Tom hasn't been called on yet, but one prof is going alphabetically and reminds students that their time is coming. Another has 3" x 5" cards and calls at random, but told them if they're not prepared, he would try to remember not to call on them.

For this first year, Tom borrowed $34,000. "I've never owned anything that cost more." He will try to get clerkships or other jobs and hopes not to borrow more than $90,000 before graduation.

Tom's girlfriend Ange was immediately offered a job with Lucent Technologies and loves Colorado. In years past, Tom has been hiking, backpacking, kayaking and skiing at various times in Colorado and they both are looking forward to skiing. "I've already done some research on ski passes."

He vows that law school will "not run his life." During orientation, some upperclassmen and some former DU students talked about not worrying about being in the top 10 percent.

"They said you've got to balance law school with life. Even if you study 24/7, you're not going to get it all done. I guess some people are taking that seriously and some aren't."

In the meantime, he and Ange have explored LoDo, found The Hornet, played in Wash Park and the Pearl Street area. He wants to go to the Bucksnort Saloon and looks forward to DU hockey (while keeping up on his beloved Texas Tech and Dallas Stars).

Tom, who had a severe speech impediment when he was a child and wore casts on his legs because his feet turned in, may have a more balanced outlook than most.

He has already been called a "stupid Texan" in traffic (well, he did have that Texas Tech plate holder) and shrugged it off.

"I come from a profession--engineering--where we get blamed for everything. Come to think of it, going into law is the perfect jump."

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