Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

A Tale of Two Cold Calls

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

So begins Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities.” So begins Becca’s tale.

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Let’s get beyond the definitions first. “Cold calls” are exactly what they sound like. Professors call on students without us necessarily expecting it. We don’t know if the question(s) will be straightforward or completely abstract. We don’t know how many questions we’ll get asked before the professor moves on. Cold calls are part of the Socratic method of instruction, with the purpose being to guide us through the thought processes we should exercise when critically examining legal problems in the future. In other words, they utilize this method in an attempt to teach us how to “think like lawyers.”

I had my first two cold calls this week. The first one was the worst of times, and the second was the best (relatively speaking, of course) of times.

The worst of times: We had to read two cases for one particular class. One was considerably longer, both in actual case length as well as the subsequent analysis devoted to it in the casebook, while the other seemed rather trivial. (After one week of law school, I apparently considered myself fully qualified to deem a case as “rather trivial.” That was not a wise move.)  Therefore, I prepared pretty heavily for the first case but not nearly as much for the second. Of course, the universe supported this sound life choice by subjecting me to the first cold call on the second “rather trivial” case. I was asked to explain the case’s overall importance, the facts, as well as some of the broader implications on a policy standpoint. I did not do well. My answers were vague. Unconvincing. Not the slightest bit nuanced. I felt humiliated. The professor eventually moved on.

Law school isn’t college. It took me feeling humiliated to fully understand this. In college, especially in large lecture settings, one can often slide through lectures without having thoroughly done the reading. (Omit the word “thoroughly” and this still would be accurate for a number of classes.) Usually the more eager students who raise their hands get called on, and everyone else can continue to slouch in the back and troll Facebook. Law school isn’t like this. I read the case, but not thoroughly. I didn’t take the time to look up words I didn’t understand or to get a firm grasp on the case. I felt crushed upon leaving class. This is professional school. I owe it to myself to be as prepared as I can each day. I owe it to the amazing friends and family members who support me with those little texts/emails/calls just to make sure I’m doing ok, to let me know they’re thinking of me, and to cheer me on. I owe it to the mystery person/people who decided I was worthy of a scholarship to this school. I owe it to my future clients. I won’t do this again.

The best of times: In this class, we usually discuss two cases per day, with roughly half the class period spent on each. I learned my lesson from “the worst of times” two days prior. This time, I was called on for the second case…and I was ready. I was “on call” for about 30 minutes. While this was about six times longer than the previous cold call, I did not embarrass myself once. Victory was mine, and it felt GREAT.

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Dickens was right. He’ll continue to be right. I’m going to continue to have those bright, beautiful dreams of using what I’ve learned someday in a way that will change the world. (And it WILL happen someday. I never dream more than I work.) I’m going to have several days where I’ll go home at night and just want to cry out of stress, frustration, and maybe a little dose of loneliness. Some days, my heart will feel both the unbridled promise and the bouts of pain at a very intense level. This will, for better or for worse, be my law school experience…and I’m going to embrace it! Wholeheartedly. I will one day look back upon the experience, remember Little Becca the 1L, and smile as I realize how far I’ve come.

“…it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.”

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