By: Christine DiCrocco
This is the second time I’ve seen “The Paper Chase.” The first time was during first semester of my 1L year. Upon someone’s insistence, I rented the movie and watched, horrified, as Hart gets ripped to shreds by that evil, evil man, Kingsfield, whose infamous line, “Mister Hart, here is a dime. Take it, call your mother, and tell her there is serious doubt about you ever becoming a lawyer”, made me simultaneously cower with fear in front of the tube and seethe with rage at the professor’s audacity. After the film was over, I was completely terrified to return to school the next day. I think I may have even cried. If that was what was in store for me, I had some serious doubts about my choice to go to law school.
When the opportunity presented itself to watch the movie for a second time, I thought it would be interesting to see how my perception of law school has changed now that I am almost halfway done. Viewing the film for the second time conjured up a very different response. Instead of fear and bewilderment, I felt anger and frustration. It struck a chord with me and brought me right back to how I felt as a 1L. I remember thinking during my first year that there had to be a better way to teach law school. Especially as a 1L, it can be very frightening to know that you will be called on at any moment and be expected to know the answer to the question and to be able to explain your reasoning with all of the appropriate legal jargon. I agree that the goal behind this is an admirable one: to get students accustomed to thinking on their toes, but, I found that this knowledge (of being “on call” all the time) made me more nervous and less able to focus on what was being said in the classroom because I was so freaked out that I would be called next. I was hardly at ease my first year.
People say certain realities about law school are “rights of passage.” I’ve never been too keen on this rationale. Just because this is the way something has traditionally been done does not mean it is the only way or even the best way. Seeing the value placed on precedent, stare decisis, and predictable outcomes, it seems that law schools and the legal profession don’t really have an interest in changing the way things have always been done. Many students do very well and are not bothered by it, I suppose. However, “The Paper Chase” is one of those movies for me that invokes a lot of disturbing feelings and a general feeling of discontent. Suffices to say, I will not be watching it for a third time.