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Back to School: A 58-Year-Old’s Thoughts on the One-L Year - (

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  • Back to School: A 58-Year-Old’s Thoughts on the One-L Year - (

    The “outsider-goes-to-law-school” theme worked well for Reese Witherspoon. Could it work for Steve Cohen?

    Let’s explain. Cohen is 58 and is currently a first-year student at New York Law School. He’s already had a successful career in marketing and has taught marketing and management at a handful of schools. As he describes it in this piece, law school was a bit of a lark; he’d always been interested in law, but the recent departure of his youngest son to college made him an empty-nester. Suddenly he had the time to take on something like law school.

    And the movie? That’s just our pipe-dream. We love movies about law school and think a tale of an older fellow trying his hand at a young-person’s game just might work. Especially given the following tidbits.

    Cohen on law school and work:
    I’m working harder in law school than I ever worked as an undergraduate or graduate student. Moreover, the workload is heavier, and the expectations tougher, than at any of the programs I taught in. As a night student, I go to class four evenings a week – two classes each night, totaling three hours. In addition to an hour of review before each class, my preparation on weekends is never less than 12 hours, and often more.

    Cohen on law school and stress:
    From the very first week of law school, assorted deans stressed that our job prospects upon
    graduation would be directly related to our first-year grades. This is particularly salient inasmuch as we attend a “second tier” law school. Our grades are almost entirely dependent on the four-hour, closed-book final exam. (A tiny number of classes include a midterm exam that counts for about 25 percent of one’s grade.) And class participation can affect a student’s grade only marginally.

    So, coupled to a seriously demanding workload, a largely new “language,” and the need to learn how to “think like a lawyer,” is the regular reminder that grades really count. Not surprisingly, the stress level among first-year law students is scarily high.

    Cohen on computers in the classroom:
    I am utterly shocked by the number of students who spend the entire class on their Blackberry or Facebook account. I find it both stupid and rude. Some surfers actually have the chutzpah to say to the professor they need their computers during class because their handwriting/note-taking is so poor. The professors aren’t oblivious, but only once did a prof tell a student to put away her Blackberry. I wanted to climb over the desk and dope-slap my classmate.

    Cohen on the merits of the Socratic method:
    . . . I did have one mini-course where the old-fashioned Kingsfield approach was used. I never worked harder preparing for that class, and my learning curve soared. As one tenured colleague reminded me, there is no need to embarrass students by not letting them off the hook when they choose to pass. (Though he notes in his grade book who is not prepared.) But the fear of embarrassing oneself by not being prepared for every case really did motivate me to work harder. As a teacher, I’m inclined to find my inner Kingsfield.

    Cohen on his colleagues and social life:
    I am not a teetotaler. But I am amazed by how much people in their 20s drink. And how often they drink to excess. Getting sick from alcohol is neither a badge of honor – as it is among underage drinkers – or a stigma. But for me it is disturbing. I just don’t get it. It is one area of my law school experience where I can’t find common ground with my classmates. Maybe I’ll just have to reinstitute sherry hour as a means to encourage moderation.

    This would make a great movie, don’t you think? Some possible titles: 58L? The Old Man and the C+ (though Cohen reports his first-semester grades were good)?

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