Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Personal History

Dear OOTJ Readers, Here at Suffolk, it's hiring season again. That is, we are interviewing faculty candidates. I sit and listen to amazing brilliant faculty candidates speak at length on all sorts of topics and engage my faculty colleagues in analyzing cases and all manner of legal topics.

And I wonder, what is wrong with me? I just HATE this sort of thing. I think back to law school. And the first semester, I was truly excited, and really engaged. I was so interested in using my mind to think about the issues that were raised in class. But by the second semester, I was starting to get sick with what would now be diagnosed as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I would run a low-grade fever for five or six weeks in a row, ached all over, and was exhausted. I felt like I had the flu on a permanent basis. And then for one or two days, I would feel, gloriously normal. But then, it would all start again. This lasted all the way through law school: 3 years!
I went to so many different types of doctors. And many doctors, when they cannot figure out what is wrong with you (maybe especially a with a woman), they get snarky, and start talking about hypochondriac, and maybe you need to get out more. I was really, really frustrated! But I was really, really sick, too. By the time I graduated, my 3-L portrait showed me looking pretty ragged, with my hair so limp that I decided to get a
Poodle Perm before I went to my first job. The only time I ever had a perm!
But I think the ultimate effect on me was that I became more and more alienated from the law school experience. I had always thought of school as my refuge from an unhappy home, and now it was becoming a very difficult, grim grind, largely because I was so sick. I just dragged through the school, and found my refuges instead, in the library , where I had made friends as I did part-time work, and at the local Legal Aid office where I also did part time work, and made other friends. Both refuges channeled what I did after graduation: I worked for 2 years as a Reggie Fellow for Legal Services and then went back and finished my library degree and became a law librarian.
That feeling of alienation has never left, though, and even when I worked as a lawyer, I did not do legal analysis in a clear-thinking, dispassionate way. I approached my cases in a berserker kind of all-out emotional commitment. It was a very dangerous way to work, and I certainly was a burn-out victim after a mere 2 years! I was actually quite good in the courtroom, though, while it lasted. But I can see why I sort of worry (appall? terrify?) the more careful and corporate sorts who tend to fill the law school world.
It's one of the wonderful things about libraries that we are a group enterprise, not the solo show that (especially Legal Services or small law offices) law practice so often is. Especially in a law law school library, we do things where I can get feedback or groups working together with me on projects. I realize that I have strengths and weaknesses, and others do, too. Libraries are like complex machines made up of lots of different moving parts (people!). So are associations of librarians. We like to do things together, and to cooperate. It's been one of the great revelations in my life, that I can be so much more productive and effective by working together with others, and by delegating, by sharing the work, or by asking advice, I can get such better end results. But I also have a real weakness for just going ahead and DOING IT. So I am still learning, after all these years!
A Poem: In the House of the Law
I have made for myself
A small mouse’s nest
Beneath a cornice
In the grand house of the Law.
Comfortably curving
Walls that hold
The trembling sound
Like a bird held
In a gentle hand.
Betsy McKenzie 32 Legal Studies Forum 207 (2008)


Betsy McKenzie said...

I am so annoyed. For some reason that continues to elude me, my blogspot account, at whatever computer I use, fails to format spacing or paragraphs. So, apologies for the funky forced spacing in the last few posts!

Marie S. Newman said...

We're also in the hiring process at the moment and so I read your post with a flash of recognition and sympathy. So many amazing candidates for our faculty, but they all seem to be clones of each other. Same credentials--elite schools, federal clerkships, white shoe law firm experience, impressive records of scholarship even before joining the academy, same job talks about incredibly arcane subjects--all so very impressive. Do these candidates really want to work with our students? Are they going to come here and do the hard work of building our institution, or is their goal to burnish their resumes and move on to a Tier II or Tier I school? It's hard to know. In my cocoon at the library, I am physically separated from the rest of the faculty, but I also feel increasingly detached in other ways. The hiring process makes me realize that what I think the school needs and what everyone else seems to think it needs are not the same.

Anna Blaine said...

I think your hair looks awesome in that picture.