Published by Penguin, December, 2010
Paperback, 304 pages, ISBN:9780143119029
, Scott Turow's journal of his first year at law school and a best-seller when it was first published in 1977, 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 marvelous gift for suspense prefigure the achievements of his celebrated first novel, Presumed Innocent
, one of the best-selling and most talked about books of 1987.
Each September, a new crop of students enter Harvard Law School to begin an intense, often grueling, 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 stresses 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-competitive 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.
In the new afterword for this edition of One L
, the author looks back on law school from the perspective of ten years' work as a lawyer and offers some suggestions for reforming legal education.
"A sensitive, dramatically paced account of the author's first year at Harvard Law School ... I read the book as if it were the most absorbing of thrillers, losing track of the time I spent with it, and resenting the hours I had to be away from it… It should be read by anyone who has ever contemplated going to law school. Or anyone who has ever worried about being human." —Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, The New York Times
"One L is compelling and even suspenseful reading… Turow evokes the tone and substance of one of the finest professional schools in the world. In so doing, he raises larger questions about the nature of law and legal practices that a general public might well ponder." —Business Week
"One L is a compelling and important book. It is compelling in its vivid portrayal of the high-tension competitiveness of Harvard Law School and of the group madness it seems to induce in the student body. It is important because it offers an inside look at what law students do and don't learn and who they are and are not equipped to represent when they graduate." —Philip M. Stern, The New York Times Book Review
"For those who have not been to law school, Turow makes the experience breathe; for those who have, he recalls it vividly. His book is an important document, albeit a personal one, because it raises disturbing questions about the means and ends of legal education." —Michael Wheeler, Chronicle of Higher Education Review
"The most accurate, complete, and balanced description yet of a century-old rite of passage in America." —Bruce Bortz, Baltimore Sun
"An elegant report from the graduate school battlefield and from the heart." —Boston Sunday Globe
"Absorbing… for the layman as well as lawyers, One L is compelling and even suspenseful reading." —Business Week
"A fascinating account." —Dallas-Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"Gripping… candid and straightforward." —Sunday Oregonian
"An important document… for those who have not been to law school, Turow makes the experience breathe; for those who have, he recalls it vividly." —Chronicle of Higher Education Review
"A sensitive, dramatically paced account." —New York Times
"Exciting." —Kansas City Star
Excerpt from Chapter One:
… a warm place, a good place … I think.
They called us "One Ls," and there were 550 of us who came on the third of September to begin our careers in the law. For the first three days we would have Harvard Law School to ourselves while we underwent a brief orientation and some preliminary instruction. Then, over the weekend, the upper-year students would arrive, and on Monday all classes would officially commence.
A pamphlet sent in August to all first-year students — the One Ls (1Ls) as they are known at HLS — instructed me to be at the Roscoe Pound Classroom and Administration Building at 10:00 A.M. to register and to start orientation. I took the bus into Cambridge from Arlington, the nearby town where my wife and I had found an apartment.
I had been to the law school once earlier in the summer when David, a close friend who'd recently graduated, had given me a tour. HLS occupies fifteen buildings on the northern edge of the Harvard campus, and is bounded on one side by Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge's clogged main thoroughfare. The architecture is eclectic. The student commons and dormitories are square and buff-colored and functional. Old Austin Hall, a classroom building, looks like a sooty fortress with arches. Langdell, the school's largest building, is a long gray expanse of concrete. When I toured the law school in the summer, it had all looked so solid, so enduring, that I'd felt a majestic thrill to think I'd soon be allied with this and the time-ennobled traditions of the law. Now, getting off the bus, I felt mostly my nerves, which were lit all the way down to my knees.
In the Pound Building, a modern affair with exposed brick walls and a lot of glass, I was handed a thick packet of registration materials as soon as I came through the door. Then I was directed down the hall to a classroom where my section — Section 2 — was being loosely assembled for the first time to fill out the variety of cards and forms in the packets.
Every year at Harvard the lLs are divided into four sections of 140 students each. With that same group, I would have all my classes throughout the year, except a single elective course in the spring. The members of my section, I'd been told, would become my friends, my colleagues, the 140 people on earth who would know best the rigors I was going through daily. They would also be the individuals with whom I would be constantly compared, by the faculty and probably by myself. Relations within the section would be close. Most 1Ls, even those who live in the on-campus dorms — about half the first-year class — have only passing contact with the members of the other three first-year sections or with upper-class students. For the most part, friends had said, it would seem as if I were in a separate school, a tiny universe centered on the professors, with the 140 of us in a dense and hectic orbit about them.
My first view of my section mates was inauspicious. In the classroom most of the people were seated, dutifully emptying their packets and filling out cards. A few students who seemed to have known each other, probably as undergraduates, stood about in clusters or called to one another across the room. I had few distinct impressions. For the most part, they were a little bit younger than I'd expected. There were a number of women, a number of blacks. Most of the men wore their hair quite short.
On the blackboard a notice had been written, naming the cards and forms in the pack and giving the order in which they were to be received by the representatives of the registrar's office who awaited them on the far side of the room. When I finished, I looked at the man seated beside me. I watched him count his cards three times. Then I did the same thing myself. When I looked up he was watching me.
"They're all here," I told him. He nodded. I introduced myself and we shook hands. His name was Hal Lasky and he was from Ashtabula by way of Ohio State. He asked if I knew anything about our professors. Their names had been announced in the August pamphlet. I told him I didn't.
"What do you hear?" I asked.
"Not much," he said, "except about Perini in Contracts. He's supposed to be pretty tough. And Morris in Civil Procedure — people like him."
After handing in our cards, all of us, in a peculiar ceremony, were required to "sign in" to the law school, registering our name, age, and previous degrees in a large ledger. As I wrote, I scanned the page to see about my classmates. Two listed their undergraduate college as Oxford. Another person had a Ph.D. The woman who'd signed above me was an M.D.
That's only one page, I told myself. When I finished signing, a woman handed me a plastic ID card. I was enrolled.
I walked outside for a moment. It was a fine day, sunny and mild. I sat down on a brick retaining wall near the Pound Building.
So here you are, I told myself, the famous Harvard Law School, alma mater to many of the great men of American law — Supreme Court justices, senators, a president — and more persons influential in contemporary life than I could remember or keep count of.
"El numero uno," a friend of mine had called HLS the spring before, in trying to persuade me to come here. Every detail about the place suggested its prominence. HLS is the oldest law school in the nation. It has the largest full-time enrollment — 1,800, including graduate students. The more than sixty-five professors constitute the biggest full-time law faculty in the country, and, perhaps the most illustrious. As a place actually to undertake a legal education, Harvard is sometimes criticized, especially when compared to schools, like Yale, that have more flexible curricula and lower ratios of students to faculty. But for whatever it was worth, I knew that a poll the previous winter of the deans of all the law schools in the country had revealed that among them, Harvard was still most often thought of as the best.
But despite having become part of that lustrous setting, as I sat there on that wall I did not feel entirely self-satisfied. Doubt — about themselves, about what they are doing — is a malady familiar to first-year law students and I arrived already afflicted. I was not sure that I was up to that tradition of excellence. And I was still not absolutely positive that law school was the place where I should be. For me, the route to law school had been somewhat roundabout. I was twenty-six, three or four years older than most of the other 1Ls, for it had taken me somewhat longer than it had taken them to realize that I wanted to study law.
For the past three years I had been a lecturer in the English department at Stanford where, before that, I was a graduate student. I had spent my time as lecturer teaching courses in creative writing and doing my best to write on my own. It was not a bad life. But I found myself with a deepening interest in law. Some of the writing I was doing had involved a good deal of legal research, and contrary to my expectations I found much of the work intriguing. In college, at Amherst, in the era of Vietnam and the civil rights struggle, the law had seemed to me the instrument by which the people in power kept themselves on top. When many of my friends had decided to go to law school, I had been openly critical of their choices. Now, five years later, I saw the law less as a matter of remote privilege, and more a part of daily affairs. Getting married, renting an apartment, buying a car — legal matters were all around me. I was fascinated by the extent to which the law defined our everyday lives. And the friends whose decisions I'd criticized were now in practice, doing things which pleased them and also seemed absorbing to me.
In the spring of 1974 — purely speculatively, I told myself — I took the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), the nationally administered exam required of all law school applicants. I did well on the test — 749 out of 800, a score near the ninety-ninth percentile — but I was still reluctant to give up my career in writing and teaching. It was only later that spring, when I was offered a better job as an assistant professor at another university, that I forced myself to think about the lifelong commitments I wanted to make. I came to realize how much I would regret allowing my interest in law to go unfulfilled.
The following fall, I filed applications at law schools across the country.
Copyright © 1990 Scott Turow