You history majors or just history buffs out there will instantly recognize the phrase, “going over the top” and how it was used by soldiers in WWI to describe to act of climbing out of their trench and out into deadly No Man’s Land. While not as deadly as trench warfare, law school class skirmishes can be quite contentious, and the apprehension I felt this summer before starting my 1L year was akin to waiting for a sergeant to blow the whistle. So, why would I do such a thing to myself?
That’s a question that I ask during late night reading sessions for Contracts when terms like offer, acceptance, and mailbox rule all get blended up in a molten mash of brain matter and are forgotten the next morning. When I told co-workers and family members my plan to attend part-time while working full-time as a librarian who has experienced increasing duties at the office, their advice was similar to Lawrence Block’s advice for aspiring fiction writers: “The best thing you can do is take two aspirins, lie down in a dark room, and wait for the feeling to pass.” But I’m stubborn, love a difficult challenge, and I think I have a few good reasons for doing this.
The main one is the obvious career benefit. I won’t go into the well-worn arguments of whether or not a JD is a requisite to be a good law librarian. The short answer to that debate is that the degree is not needed to be an effective law librarian, but it is needed to be an advancing law librarian. It is an empirical fact that a JD is essential for more career opportunities and potential advancement, and this American pragmatist understands that. No amount of discussion is going to change the fact that a JD is needed for all directorship, assistant director, public services department head, and most entry level law librarian positions in academic law libraries. The profession could do more to recruit MLIS-only librarians into the field and better support them if they try to acquire a JD, but that is a soapbox type article I intend to write another time.
Secondly, learning more about the law has helped me understand my job better. Even though I was hired back in 2008 to run the circulation and interlibrary loan departments, I have since been thrust into working reference and teaching sections of legal research and writing. Where before I was just trying to quickly find an opinion or track down hard to find materials via interlibrary loan for a professor without understanding a scintilla (my favorite new word picked up from reading opinions) of the material, now I maybe skim over the opinion and sometimes discuss it with the professor if we have time, and only if I find the material interesting. It has made my job a hundred times more interesting, and my relationships with the faculty have improved.
Another area that has improved as a result of attending law school is my teaching of legal research. I do not attend the same law school where I work, so there are no conflicts of interest in doling out grades to fellow 1L’s, but I am able to pull from material that I know they are learning in other classes. The examples I use in class are generally taken straight from what we all learned in Torts or Criminal Law during the previous few weeks. Reading through cases and preparing memos in Legal Writing has also shown me the importance of conducting proper legal research. Where before I would pay lip service during my legal research classes to the importance of legal research in an attorney’s career, I can now pull specific examples where lousy research lost a case or got the practitioner into a lot of trouble.
So, to sum up, I am sticking by my choice of trying to earn a JD despite the long nights and increased stress because the benefits, even only after two months, have been a boon to my career. There is a chance that I may become the first person to sue themselves for intentional infliction of emotional distress after my first round of final exams, but until then, Tommy Atkins can blow the whistle and pass the rum ration because I’m going back over the top.