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Hard work keeps law-school fears away

| Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007

For weeks before arriving at Wake Forest law school, I heard rumors about one difficult professor. "He'll give you 400 pages of reading the first weekend," one girl told me. "Then, he picks one kid to stand up in class and recite information about the case, and he asks questions until the kid either doesn't know it or is too confused to respond."

"He asks about the most specific details," said a fellow Duke alum, who is also attending Wake. "You can read forever and still not know the answer." After hearing these comments, I began to pray -- hoping that I wouldn't be assigned to this professor, worrying about the possibility of endless amounts of reading and the subsequent in-class interrogation.

On the day that our class schedules became available online, I held my breath as I waited for the Web page to load. In several seconds, I would know my fate, would discover whether I'd have to face this dreaded professor. Silently, I implored God and the Registrar's Office to make my day, to keep me out of this much-discussed classroom. As the names of my professors flashed on-screen, my hopes were dashed: I had (of course) been scheduled into his class.

Throughout orientation week, I received mixed reviews from upperclassmen when I told them of my fate. Some people looked actually frightened at the mere mention of the professor's name; others patted me on the back and wished me luck in the semester ahead; still more simply laughed at me. Could it really be that bad• My worries had turned into something closer to all-out fear.

The professor's first assignment, to be completed by the first class on Monday, was posted Friday afternoon. Inexperienced with legal research, it took me nearly two hours to gather all the necessary materials. As my pile of paper grew from 20 pages to 300, so did my sense of trepidation.

I tried to reason that there was only a 1-in-40 chance of being selected to recite case facts, holdings and legal theories on the first day. But as I attempted to convince myself that I wouldn't be called on, I came to a sudden realization: just as my prayers hadn't kept me out of this class in the first place, neither would my reliance on statistics keep me from getting called on. There was only one way to ease my fears, to lay my anxiety to rest -- I would have to set anticipation aside and focus on reality. I would not allow myself to be unpleasantly shocked. Instead, I would prepare.

I got ready the only way I knew how, reading the assigned material, rereading, taking copious notes and studying. Save for church, and eating meals, I worked throughout the weekend. I managed, somehow, to finish the reading. And I showed up at class fully expecting the professor to call my name.

He didn't -- well, at least not at first. Instead, he called on a classmate, who survived his first brush with the famed Socratic method. Later, the professor did ask me to answer a number of questions, but I tried to stay calm. After all, I hadn't relied on luck -- I had done the best I could to prepare.

As I walked out of class that day, I realized that I'd learned an important lesson. Hope and prayers wouldn't be enough to get me through in any situation. Perhaps, in some instances, a little faith might help -- but in the end, the best way to make sure I'm not stuck with a disagreeable result is to work hard.

Not enough is said these days on behalf of preparation: It's not uncommon to hear people talk about what they should get, or what they deserve, but we rarely hear about rewards that must be earned.

Maybe this lesson is what's important about law school (and life, in general) -- the idea of taking responsibility for ourselves, and working hard to earn, not just receive, what we deserve.

Megan Bode, 22, of Upper St. Clair, is a first-year law student at Wake Forest University.

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