The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Emma Philbrook
the Times 

Our at-home law student is apprehensive about final exams


April 16, 2020

Courtesy photo

Notre Dame's law library where Philbrook would be studying for finals.

I've been home for just over a month now-and I mean that quite literally. Our family picked a "designated extrovert" to do all the errands fairly early on, and those of you who know me know that my extrovert qualifications come up short. So with the exception of one trip to get coffee back when Ten Ton could still offer sit-down service, my house is the only building I've been in since I got back from Seattle.

I'm still adjusting-not so much to being stuck at home as to being home in the first place. About once a week I wake up confused as to which bedroom I'm in. And it has recently occurred to me that while I've been scrubbing down doorknobs and washing my hands to the point where they resemble sandpaper, I've been inadequately reacting to that other looming threat to my world as I know it: finals.

Law school finals are frightening even under the most ideal circumstances. Imagine, if you will, a four-hour test that constitutes your entire course grade. Now imagine that only a miniscule percentage of your class, heedless of their efforts or performance, can walk away with an A; in other words, imagine a curve that even the best efforts of an entire community can't flatten. Imagine being stuck in a room with your classmates-six feet apart, because even in the absence of social distancing you can't be close enough to peek-flipping frantically through your notes in an effort to make heads or tails of a three-page-long story problem. As you're doing so, your classmates are hammering effortlessly away at their keyboards as though they're in training to be court reporters, not lawyers. Oh, and that pre-test grande latte to keep your synapses firing? Probably should've gone for a small...

Imagine the same scenario at home. The good news is that nobody is peeking at your notes. The bad news? You've had three hours less sleep than your friends on the east coast-who, remember, are in direct competition for a finite number of good grades. The internet-connected testing software is at the mercy of your flaky home internet whether or not somebody else in the house is in a teleconference. The cats will want to be let in. The dog will want to be let out. In the weeks leading up to the test, all those helpful study aids in the law-school library were beyond your reach, but you're pretty sure at least some of your classmates have managed to get their hands on them. In fact, even though you'd trust your fellow law students with your life, you can't quite shake the terrifying image of somebody calling up their hotshot lawyer uncle during the test and asking for help. Maybe more than one somebody. After all, who's going to know?

I take a little bit of comfort in the fact that potential employers will know exactly what I was going through-after all, the whole field of law has been impacted. The Supreme Court, for example, has decided to hear arguments via telephone. According to the press, this marks a huge change for the tradition-bound deliberative body. (One can only hope SCOTUS will find a way to maintain such time-honored conventions as Justice Ginsburg cutting speakers off before they can get more than a couple paragraphs' worth of argument out, Justice Kavanaugh getting interrupted by anybody and everybody, and Chief Justice Roberts telling dad jokes.)

In fact, many other law schools have decided not to assign grades at all this semester. Notre Dame isn't one of them, but I think I can work that to my advantage. ("Well, yes, potential employer, it's a B-, but how many applicants got a higher grade that semester?)


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