Ivy Briefs: True Tales of a Neurotic Law Student

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9780743288392: Ivy Briefs: True Tales of a Neurotic Law Student
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From first-day nerves to first-year grades, from bizarre job interviews to bar exam insanity, Ivy Briefs pulls back the curtain on the marbled halls of law school, revealing the absurdity often bubbling beneath the surface.

Meet Martha Kimes: a naïve small-town girl with strong neurotic tendencies who has (due to an inexplicable stroke of luck) been admitted to Columbia Law School. She's a Midwesterner in the middle of Manhattan, a student on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In her candid memoir -- the best of its kind since One L and the only one written by a woman -- Kimes makes her way through law school, doing battle with a memorable cast of characters:

The Sadistic Professor: Every law student's nemesis, the Sadistic Professor takes pity on no one. The Socratic Method is his favorite torture device, and he's got staying power that rivals that of the Energizer Bunny.

The Gunner: So enamored with the sound of his own voice, he finds it physically impossible to keep his hand from gunning up into the air every time a professor asks a question. Ten minutes into the start of the school year, everyone is already sick of the Gunner.

The Do-gooder: Lurking behind a kind exterior is a pit bull ready to pounce on those who don't plan to devote their legal careers to public service. But would she be so quick to categorize all those who dare go into corporate law as loathsome, soulless warriors for the devil if she, too, had student loans to repay?

The Boarding School Bastard: He wears a firmly pressed pin-striped oxford shirt and has a condescending attitude bigger than most European countries. By definition he is better than you because he went to Exeter. And he'll never let you forget it.

With sharp wit, dead-on aim, and a healthy dose of self-deprecation, Kimes proves that it is possible to survive law school with both your sense of humor and your sanity intact.

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About the Author:

Martha Kimes is a graduate of Columbia Law School. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband, Joe, and their two sons.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue

THE THICK AND THE THIN

"When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers."

-- Oscar Wilde

The letter that arrived in the mail on that early December day was thin. More than thin. It was sickly, it was malnourished, it was positively anorexic. I knew at first glance what that meant. Good news from law school admissions offices does not come in anorexic envelopes. Good news comes in thick, heavy packages of impressive heft, packages that look like they've just feasted on filet mignon and chocolate soufflé, packages that scream out "We want you!" The thin envelopes? Those quietly whisper in your ear "You suck." You might as well just toss them into the trash, as there's no sense in torturing yourself with letters that are certain to begin with the overly polite "After a careful review of your application, we are sorry to inform you that..." and always finish with a nice version of "We've decided you're not worthy. But thanks for trying, and we do appreciate having received your $60 application fee." They only need one page to tell you that.

But I am a sucker for punishment, so I opened the anorexic letter. To my sheer and utter shock, the words on the crisp ivory page read "Congratulations. We are happy to welcome you into the Columbia Law School Class of 1997." Accepted. Not rejected. Accepted? To an Ivy League school? OH. MY. GOD. But what kind of law school sends acceptance letters in skinny envelopes? Are these people living in some sort of alternate reality where they don't understand the universal significance of the thin envelope? Or is this all some sort of cruel joke?

With shaking hands, I called my husband, Joe.

"I got in," I croaked.

"What?" he replied.

"Accepted not rejected got in Columbia early admission law school accepted they said yes Ivy League oh shit!!!!!!"

"What?" he asked. "Honey, slow down -- I can't understand you."

I believe it was then that I started hyperventilating. "Columbia. Wheeze. Law school. Wheeze. Columbia Law School? Accepted? Wheeze. Early decision program? New York City? CAN'T BREATHE."

"Take a cleansing breath, Martha. Slowly. Breathe in and out."

"Why? Is that how they do it in the Ivy League? Wheeze. Are you trying to tell me that I don't even know how to breathe like the other fancy students there? You don't think I'm good enough? Wheeze wheeze. I mean, I know that I don't exactly come from a long line of Harvard-educated lawyers, but, my God, what kind of person are you? We're still newlyweds -- the ink is barely dry on the marriage license. You're not allowed to be cruel yet. You're supposed to be supportive! Wheeze. Congratulatory! And instead you criticize? How dare you? Wheeeeeeze!"

Yeah, that was a harbinger of things to come.

There's no doubt that I'm a smart enough person, but I hardly border on the brilliant. If you skip class and are looking to borrow a day's worth of notes, I'm a good person to ask. But if you're desperate for an A and hoping to copy from someone's test, you might have better luck looking elsewhere. Unless, of course, it's a standardized test, in which case I'm your woman. (Not that there's a chance in hell that I'm letting you copy.) You know how people always argue that standardized tests are unfair because "they don't test people's intelligence or knowledge, they just test people's ability to take standardized tests?" Well, I'm a proud supporter of that system because, intelligence and knowledge be damned, I happen to have a spectacular ability to take standardized tests.

The Law School Admission Test changed the course of my life. Before I took that exam, I was just an average Midwestern girl with average grades and a degree from an average college. Sure, my parents had stressed the importance of education, but always within certain limits. I was expected to do well in my studies and I consistently did, without ever trying all that hard. I was the product of public schools, and that was just a given in my house -- when your parents drive a used Ford Escort, there's not a lot of extra money to throw around for private school tuition. (Not that there was a private school anywhere near the small town where we lived.) When it came time to go off to college, it was not a matter of researching universities near and far in order to choose the very best school to fit my needs and allow me to grow personally, socially, culturally, and intellectually. My mailbox was not filled with glossy brochures from small liberal arts colleges across the country picturing gorgeous quads and ivied buildings. That just wasn't our style. In my house, it was more a matter of "Okay, which state school do you want to go to? And don't go giving some crazy answer like UCLA or Colorado State. We mean which state school in this state that we now live in called Wisconsin where resident tuition is inexpensive."

To my parents' credit, their philosophy pretty well matched that of most other families in my town. Except for a privileged few, we kids were destined to be Wisconsinites for at least four more years. My high school fantasies about breaking away mostly involved sitting around on the burnished orange velvet couch in the living room of my family's modest ranch home with my best friend Leah, snacking on Doritos and off-brand diet cola, and dreaming about the virtual Eden that was Madison, where the main campus of the University of Wisconsin was housed -- all of ninety-nine miles away. Sure, I would have rather ventured off far away, but you can make a lot out of ninety-nine miles' worth of distance if you try. Especially if your parents are on the verge of a divorce and you're trying the best you can to separate yourself from all of their issues.

During high school, I waited tables at the local Pizza Hut three or four nights a week, serving carbo-loaded food to overweight people, and squirreling away tip money into my college savings account. Each extra basket of breadsticks that I could talk a table into ordering would transfer into an extra twenty cents or so tip-wise, so I always tried to do the hard sell. I came home each night exhausted, stinking of sweat, dough, and pepperoni, but bounded into my bedroom, dumped the tips out of my waitress apron onto my bed, and excitedly counted up the pile of one-dollar bills and heaps of change that I had earned.

Leah and I both applied to and were accepted by the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and we excitedly headed off to be college roommates. A few months later, she began sleeping with my ex-boyfriend, to whom I had lost my virtue the year before, and with whom I had not parted on pleasant terms. As one might imagine, that roommate arrangement turned out rather disastrously. Aside from lamenting the demise of my friendship with Leah, college meant long-awaited freedom from my parents and the glorious opportunity to experience life on my own. (Read: drink lots and lots of beer, skip lots and lots of classes.) When I wasn't going to house parties, attending college football games, or acting like a poseur doofus smoking clove cigarettes in the Rathskeller of the student union, I attended class, studied enough but not too much, and managed to earn respectable but not write-home-about grades. I divided my time between studying, partying, and working to earn tuition money.

For some reason, it never really occurred to me to stop and focus on what I was going to do once college was over. Wisconsin was a very large state school, with over 40,000 students enrolled, and it wasn't as though career counselors were purposefully wandering the 933 acres of campus, hunting down random undergraduates and forcing them to face the music. They were there if you sought them out, but if you didn't, you could survive in peaceful, ignorant bliss until graduation.

In the movies, after you get your college diploma, you are handed an entry-level job in a mysterious field like marketing or banking or human resources or pharmaceutical sales, along with a cubicle that you can call your very own, a bulletin board upon which you can tack Dilbert cartoons, and a box of business cards that make you feel more important than you actually are. To this day, I wonder why it is that at no point during my four years at college did one person (be it a career counselor, professor, or parent) say to me, "You know, you're going to have to find a job and a way to pay your rent after graduation, because student loans and two-dollar all-you-can-drink parties don't go on forever, missy." Possibly they assumed that such a statement was self-evident. If so, they were mistaken.

I was barely three steps off the stage at college graduation, diploma proudly in hand, when that fact did become obvious to me. I was armed with a B.A. in psychology and philosophy, neither of which was the most practical or marketable field of expertise, and I was suddenly hit with the realization that I had no idea what to do with my life. And that I had bills to pay. And that soon I would be getting a little rumbly in the tumbly with hunger, and that even ramen noodles cost money. And that this here piece of paper that I got in the mail says that in six months they expect me to start paying back the student loans I took out? Don't they know I'm not even employed?

Nervously, hesitantly, I visited the university's career services center, where I met with a counselor named Delores who wore a gauzy, flowing purple tunic and chunky turquoise jewelry. Delores asked me a litany of What Color Is Your Parachute?-type questions about my ideal work environment and my personal communication style, sat me down to take a Myers-Briggs personality test, pronounced me a "type INTJ," and then explained that I would do well at a job that allowed me to use my "creativity and originality" within a "structured environment." The world was wide open to me, she said, and she wanted me to consider all my options. Where would I be happiest working? Might I like the climate in San Francisco? H...

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