Monday, January 12, 2009

One L

What a relief to be a student again, particularly in San Diego!

In the summer of 2000, my family and I settled in the community of Ocean Beach and I began preparing for my first year of law school (or "One L"). The first thing I did upon arrival was to buy a mountain bike, which I used to commute to school each day.

With few exceptions, for the next three years I'd wear shorts and t-shirts every day. Hard to beat that.

As for law school itself, for better and for worse, it wasn't what I had expected. On the bright side, I found the experience nothing like the brutal experience described by Scott Turow in his classic memoir of his first year at Harvard Law: One L. That's probably because I didn't go to Harvard, and because my personal disposition was a little more laid back than Scott's was when he started school.

At the outset, I had decided to treat law school like a job. I kept bankers' hours (and not lawyers' hours). Typically, I got to school around 9 a.m. and left by 4:30 or 5 p.m. I didn't do weekends and didn't do homework. I either got my work done during the day or I didn't do it. The only exception being the end of each semester, when I studied for final exams.

On the downside, I didn't find my first year of law school as stimulating as I had hoped. I was learning a lot, no doubt, but I had imagined law school as a place to debate the great issues of the day -- for example, Bush v. Gore. In this I was disappointed. There was too much material to cover and most of my classmates just didn't seem interested in much else.

As it turned out, the most provocative, intellectually demanding, and influential books I read during my three-year law school career were esoteric: Sri Aurobindo's Essays on the Gita, Synthesis of Yoga, and his magnum opus The Life Divine. If I were to identify a canon of my spiritual life, then these books, along with Autobiography of a Yogi, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, Isherwood's My Guru and His Disciple (and post-law school, Aurobindo's Savitri) would be it.

I can't do justice to these books in this simple post -- each rightly deserves an entire blog site of its own. But, the message I took home is crystallized in the short quote I've inserted just beneath the title of this blog site: "All life is Yoga."

To me, that had become true. I no longer distinguished between the "inner life" and the "outer life," between the "spiritual" and the "worldly" as I once had done in the Center. Those distinctions carried implicit value judgments -- "spiritual" was good, "worldly" was bad. Whatever their earlier value, such distinctions no longer had any utility for me.

With the advent of my law school career, I began the process of not only integrating the disparate members of my psyche -- body, life force, mind, and psychic -- but also of synthesizing myself with the world at large. The motto "All life is Yoga" -- and the underlying canon of Sri Aurobindo supporting it -- was key to that process of mine, which spanned my three years in school.

Interestingly, law school made Sri Aurobindo's works -- particularly The Life Divine -- accessible to me. Studying law the American way, using the casebook method, requires law students to read thousands of pages of obtuse, jargon-heavy, and at times complicated legal opinion and reasoning. That was exactly the kind of training it took for me to be able to read and follow Sri Aurobindo's tightly reasoned explication of the occult process and purpose of the human experiment.

During the summer break after my first year of law school, I spent six weeks interning for the local public defender's office, the highlight of which -- for a first-year law student anyway -- came every Friday, when I took an active role in felony arraignment. Arraignment is typically a criminal defendant's first appearance in court, at which time he or she usually enters a plea of not guilty.

The court then decides whether to remand the defendant into custody, set bail, or (rarely) to release the defendant on his or her own recognisance (i.e., without having to post any bail at all). Along with my fellow student interns, my job was to interview defendants being held in custody in a small, oppressively hot cell just beside the courtroom. The cell, which measured about 15 feet deep by ten feet wide, usually held ten to 15 defendants wearing orange jumpsuits inside.

The defendants were hot, tired, and stressed. Most had been in custody at least a day and had not showered. None had lawyers and we were sent in to get basic information about them, which might aid in lowering their bail requirement. For example, if you have a job, a family, and a house, it's assumed that you are less likely to go on the lam if released, thus your bail is likely to be lower.

The sheriff's deputies, who controlled the prisoners in and around the courthouse, got a kick out of locking us frightened looking law students in the cell (and then ignoring our banging on the door to be let out once the interviews were complete). It was a good experience for me though. Working for the public defender gave me a practical opportunity to, among other things, work though and eliminate my subtle prejudices. With that, my first year of law school was complete.

Before I began my second year classes, though, I decided to make a trip to New York. It was Nirbachita's birthday and I figured that she needed a morale boost.


Anonymous said...

Go on the Lam, not on the Lamb.

Y. said...

"Lam" -- thank you, good catch.