Thursday, June 22, 2006

Brainwashing

Naivety can lead people to do some dangerous things. One minute you are a lonely college freshman who gets invited to a Bible study, and the next thing you know you are getting your head shaved, changing your name to Elmo, and are a full fledged member of the local cult.

I admit that I was pretty na├»ve about the whole thing when I was a 1L, and that’s how I came to join the law school version of a cult: The study group. Like a cult, the study group exists mainly for the comfort of the members. They gain no actual benefits, aside from a false belief that they are on the path to enlightenment. Both the cult and the study group are led by one person, who acts like they are all knowing but in reality are full of shit. And like cult members, study groupers are quick to attribute their academic success to their membership, but are quick to absolve the study group of any blame when their grades don’t turn out as they hoped.

Halfway into my first week as a law student, the people with whom I shared a row in Torts asked me if I wanted to join them for lunch. I had been talking to these people, two guys and two girls, since orientation, and they seemed alright, so I accepted. After lunch, one girl pulled me aside and said, “Would you like to join our study group? We meet every day at 8am.” I didn’t know what to say. I have never liked studying in groups, but everyone seemed to be dividing off, and I didn’t want to be left out. So like the lonely college freshman invited to the Bible study, I told them I would.

The next day, I strolled in around 8:45, found the room they had reserved, and went in. The four of them all looked at me, annoyed. I set up my little work station, and we got down to business. The topic at hand was a case assigned for property. I don’t remember what it was about exactly, something to do with land use rights. The leader of the group started off by saying, “Okay, first lets figure out the procedural history.” They all scanned the case for clues as to how it reached the state supreme court, while I informed them that from what was given, it was not readily ascertained from the case. They tried to piece together the few bits of information about it that were included, but could not come to a consensus. All the while I was suggesting we move on to the important part of the case, which fell upon deaf ears. For 45 minutes, the argument continued. Lexis and Westlaw were pulled up, a civil procedure book was retrieved from the other side of the library, the librarian was consulted, but still, the procedural history could not be figured out. Finally I snapped. “Look, there isn’t some clue you have yet to discover, it just isn’t there. So quit wasting all your time trying to figure it out, and worry about the important part of the case.”

“But what if he asks us about it,” one guy whined.

“Then tell the asshole that you spent 45 fucking minutes trying to figure it out, admit you are a failure as a law student, and then explain the important parts of the case, the parts that actually matter.” They all looked at me with half-shocked expressions, and without saying another word, I packed up my stuff and left. As I was walking out of the room, I heard one girl say, “Maybe it was an appeal by the defense….”

I left the study group like people leave all religions: still confused about the world and my place in it, but at least having eliminated one dumb way to go through it. Three years later I can safely say I never drank any of the law school's kool-aid.

One more thing: when one of them asked the professor about the procedural history after class, he said, “I don’t know…It doesn’t matter anyway.”