by Christina Glon
Finals have started here at Emory Law and, while we can all feel the tension in the library, this is still my favorite time of year. Not because my class is over and all I have to do now is wait for final papers to come in, but because this is the time of year where I feel I can really make an immediate difference in our students’ lives.
Student stress levels are through the roof right now and with good reason. For those of you who have never lived through a law school exam, allow me to set the stage for you. You’ve worked hard all semester. Gone to every class, done every reading assignment, participated in class discussion, talked with the professor during office hours. You’ve really given it your all. Now, you go into a classroom with all of your peers, receive a fact pattern or two, and are told to write for the next four hours. Go.
Oh, and you can’t put your name on your exam, only your randomly assigned exam number, to prevent any unconscious bias from the professor during grading. That’s right, it’s anonymous. And it’s worth 100% of your grade. It doesn’t matter if your professor thinks you are the star of the class, your professor has no idea who drafted the legal analysis they are grading.
Oh, about the grading – it is “competitively graded,” too. For every A awarded, a B- must be given in order to achieve the law school’s target class average and that beautiful, yet unforgiving, bell curve. Add on top of all of that, for the first year law students who came to law school right out of undergrad, their law school GPA is all they have to offer potential employers for how qualified they are for the job. Now that is stressful.
There is some logic to this – a method to the madness if you will. In the “law,” someone wins and someone loses. When you go to court, the judge doesn’t say, “Oh, you both worked so hard, you both win.” No, he has to decide who is right and who is wrong. You win and you lose. As the attorney, you get one shot to plead your case. Go. Thus is the nature of law school.
So why on earth is this my favorite time of the year? Because as law librarians, we have walked a mile in those shoes. And now we get the chance to offer some words of support and encouragement beyond the traditional empty “good luck!” Students have to walk fairly close to the Reference Desk to get in and out of the library. We say “hi” all day long and all semester long. This time of year, I go out of my way to ask students sincerely, “How are you doing?” The ones that stop, immediately drop the smile and look at me with faces full of exhaustion and fear. I smile and remind them that they have worked hard all semester. When they roll their eyes, I tell them I know this because I have watched them work hard all semester. It may take a few seconds to sink in, but you can see their faces change when they realize that maybe they did work hard all semester. I remind them they’ve done their best all semester long. To prepare them for this moment. And I tell them, with confidence, that they are ready. They’ve got this! And the truth is, they really do. When you’ve done your best, there is nothing left to do. If they score top of the class, good for them. If they score in the middle of the class, still good for them. If they score in the bottom of the class, no worries, they were good enough to be in the class to begin with and by definition, not everyone can be top of the class. Someone has to be at the bottom. And if it goes really, really badly, well, maybe the law isn’t really for them. Better to find out your first semester then your last semester.
I also try to help them keep it all in perspective. It is perfectly normal to think that if you mess up this exam, it will be the end of the world. And that is fine for motivation in the weeks leading up to the exam. But on exam day, you do not need that kind of pressure. So if they are still feeling the overwhelming stress, I ask them, “Besides, what is the worst that can happen?” Then I wait for an answer. After a few seconds, they realize it may not actually be the end of the world. Yeah, it would suck. Some bad things would happen, sure. But, really, is it the end of the world? No. Then, to get them to laugh, I top it off with, “Well, they can’t take away your birthday, so how bad can it be?” By this point, their shoulders have relaxed, they’ve smiled a few times, maybe even laughed. They’ve gotten out of their head a bit and are ready for the confidence to creep back in. I tell them again, “You’ve got this,” maybe offer a high five or some other victory demonstration, and tell them to go out there and kill it. They’ve worked hard; they are ready. Bam!
It’s the little things like this that make this the best job ever. I love being a law librarian and making a difference in our student’s lives. Truth be told, no one else in the entire law school has the ability to have this type of interaction with the students. Only the JD librarians. Faculty were likely top of their class anyway and haven’t had the opportunity to watch them work hard all semester like we have. While the staff care deeply about our students, they may not have developed the rapport with the students like we have. I truly believe that being a law librarian is the best job in the law school, and for all the reasons above, finals is my favorite time of year.