Some Lessons from One-L by Scott Turow 
Friday, April 17, 2009 at 05:34PM
Brad Dobeck


Some Lessons from One-L by Scott Turow

(The classic story about the first year of law school)

By Brad Dobeck, Esq., President,


I recommend the book One-L to all of my advisees. Through his account of his first year at Harvard Law School, author Scott Turow reveals many powerful lessons about the realities of law school. Here is my list of key points for you:


1. Page 81---“I don’t care if Bertram Mann doesn’t want to know how I feel about prostitution...I don’t want to become the kind of person who tries to pretend that my feelings have nothing to do with my opinions. It’s not bad to feel things.” (Lesson: The process of law school attempts to detach you from your emotions and strongly-held personal views.)

2. Page 87---“...the paramount importance of grades...grades were a kind of tag and weight fastened to you by the faculty which determined how high in the legal world you were going to rise at graduation.” (Lesson: The competition for high grades is fierce. Success is significantly rewarded—and failure punished—by the legal marketplace.”

3. Page 92---“I feel so damned uncertain about everything I’m doing anyway. Who can tell?” (Lesson: As a 1L, it can be difficult to understand the advantages and disadvantages of particular legal employers.)

4. Page 93---“...I know that people are sincere when they talk about how unhappy they are.” (Law school can be particularly unpleasant during the first year.)

5. Page 111---“The only end to that fear of failure would come when we were examined in January. There would be no grades until then, and the single test would be the sole basis for determining marks in each course.” (Lesson: Law school performance generally rides completely on the results of one test. Class attendance, contributions to class discussions, and keeping up with the reading typically don’t officially count at all.)

6. Page 121---“Whatever the reason for large classes, it is a safe bet that many students would prefer a more intimate setting...Most of the professors were loath to grant us any kind of praise in the large classes, no matter how extraordinary was a student’s performance.” (Lesson: This is the law school norm—large classes, impersonal treatment, hostile questioning by professors, and no praise. This is law school designed from the perspective of the seller of legal educational services, not the buyer.)

7. Page 123---“...the sheer numbers often spell great distance and formality in relations. At HLS, it is rare to be called anything but ‘Mr. or ‘Ms.’ by a professor and even rarer to address faculty members by their first names.” (Lesson: This distance and formality can be maddening. Students crave a more personal relationship, which can be tough to establish.)

8. Page 132---“Where were we shown images of lawyers as organizers, determined advocates, rather than the disinterested hired hands of whoever could throw the price?” (Lesson: Legal education tends to develop mercenaries. It is difficult to resist this pressure, particularly in a large law school. Yet law school seeks attracts idealists as applicants.)

9. Page 135---“At HLS exams are graded anonymously, with a private identifying number affixed to the test instead of the name.” (Lesson: In law school, any hope that you can influence your grade by your personality and character is usually eliminated.)

10. Page 153---“the course had been so disorganized that we had all been forced to agree that a collective effort was required to put it together.” (Lesson: Despite all the tuition dollars a law student is paying, it is not uncommon for first-year teaching to be abysmally bad.)

11. Page 157---“Superachievers in an era of grade inflation, many people ...were despondent about Bs.” (Lesson: Law school grading standards come as a shock to many 1Ls.)

12. Page 162---“ many first-year students I had heard about the Review so often that it had finally been digested as the emblem of a success which was otherwise hard to define.” (Lesson: Earning an invitation to join the mysterious, but highly sought-after Law Review—the most prestigious academic journal of the law school—becomes the great prize to be earned from first-year performance in law school.)

13. Page 163---“For me, the anxieties showed in a spending spree on hornbooks, outlines and prepared briefs.” (Lesson: Despite all the money students pay for official textbooks, almost every student invests even more money in the commercial products available to help first-year students master the basic law and cases.)

14. Page 169---“I’ve ...found it difficult to describe HLS to others.” (Lesson: The law school experience, particularly first year, can be isolating. It can be challenging to make outsiders understand one’s doubts, incomprehension, and fears.)

15. Page 171---“Little of what goes on in classes aims at developing intricate knowledge of rules.” (Lesson: Law school doesn’t teach you the ‘black-letter law.’ You have to learn it yourself.)

16. Page 173---“...studying sessions were of limited use. We tried on a couple of occasions to get together, but the variations in the way we were preparing and in the progress each of us had made seemed mostly to disquiet us all. We each seemed to leave those meetings with the sensation that we were doing something wrong.” (Lesson: First-year students struggle to discover the optimal approach to preparing for law school exams.)

17. Page 178---“I studied almost lethargically, sifting through the huge outline—it was over 400 pages—which we’d put together. Most of the pre-Christmas work seemed now to have been purposeless. Time and Torts had pushed almost all of it out of my head and I made a note to myself to avoid getting enmeshed in that kind of project in the spring.” (Lesson: 1Ls often engage in the frantic collective preparation of huge course outlines, which can prove to be much less beneficial than collective attacks on the old official tests—and their model answers—combined with solo personal review of the best commercial study aids and outlines.)

18. Page 179---“In the aftermath of exams...I’d seen how much of my elaborate daily preparation for classes had not been worthwhile. The finest points of the cases, which I’d stayed up to all hours struggling to comprehend, were not merely irrelevant to the exams, but had also proved to be beyond the grasp of my memory.” (Lesson: In the crush of studying, one can easily lose sight of what gets measured in law school—how well you can write exam answers. Keep the focus on mastering the exam format and learning the law from the most helpful sources.)

Article originally appeared on (
See website for complete article licensing information.