Scare you to death, work you to death, and bore you to death

When I decided to attend law school, my family and friends were happy for me — they hoped the experience would make me respectable or wise or something like that (talk about wishful thinking). Attorneys, however, weren’t so excited. They listened politely, but then they told me how they really felt.

You should consider all your options, especially not going to law school . . . I’m sure you’d be a good doctor or dentist…or veterinarian…

I don’t understand…well, I mean, I do understand…but that’s three years of your life…in law school . . .

You know, they first scare you to death, then work you to death, and finally bore you to death…

Well, here I am, still alive. Law school’s been a rough ride, sure, but it hasn’t been the all-consuming hell that the attorneys said it would be. I like most of my professors and classmates, and I’ve learned a ton, both inside and outside the classroom. Still, there’s some truth to the third comment: that law professor’s first scare you to death, then work you to death, and finally bore you to death.


In my first year, Professor Whaley kicked off my contracts class with Hawkins v. McGee, better known as the “hairy hand” case. He called on a guy and asked him to recite the facts. That guy (we’ll call him Mr. Jones) did a pretty nice job, but what happened next made me cringe. 

Whaley: “Mr. Jones, is it true that because the estimates were exceeded, that would impose no liability on the defendant?”

Jones: “I’m not…well…I don’t know. I mean, the doctor said he would make the hand 100 percent.”

Whaley: “Right…but does that create liability?”

Jones looked to his book.

Whaley: “Mr. Jones, please look up from your book.”

Jones: “I just didn’t…I…”

Whaley, smiling: “I’m not in your book. Do you see me in your book?”

Jones: “I’m sorry…no…I…umm…”

Whaley: “You don’t need to apologize, Mr. Jones. You just need to help me find the correct answer.”

That back-and-forth continued, at an excruciating pace, with the student shifting in vain in his seat, for the next 40 minutes. I should mention that Mr. Jones was (and is) a terrific guy, unassuming and very smart. Same goes for Professor Whaley. It scared me senseless, though, to watch someone unravel like that, an audience looking on. After all, it was just a matter of time before Whaley called on me…


Two words: appellate advocacy. 


I’m sick of the Socratic Method and bored of the case method. Each served its purpose in my first and second years, but this year they leave something to be desired. I’m ready (well, maybe not ready, but eager) to apply what I’ve studied.

It reminds me, in one sense, of my hockey days. At the beginning of each season, we practiced endlessly — we ran drill after drill, offense and defense and neutral zone and special teams. We skated around cones until they were covered in snow, and eventually we got sick of it…we wanted to play games.   

That’s why, this year, I’m taking two clinics: prosecution in the fall, and legislation in the spring.  Prosecution has let me lace up my skates and face off against a real opponent (I deserve 10 cents for this amazing analogy). And, so far, I haven’t been knocked through the boards or kicked outta the game. I just need to make up in preparation what I lack in experience.

And fortunately, preparation hasn’t been a problem for me…ever since Professor Whaley scared me senseless. 

Jon Peters, an award-winning columnist, is student editor of The National Jurist and a third-year student at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law.