A Film Review: The Trials of Law School

In the summer before my first year of law school I had a lot of opportunities to go the extra mile by reading books, going to orientations, taking campus tours and enrolling in prep courses in order to investigate ahead of time what was going to begin in just a few months. Some of us simply can’t wait, but I opted to take the more relaxed approach and couldn’t be bothered.

There is no shortage of law school “preparation” for students about to enter their first year. And unfortunately there is also no shortage of naïve, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, go-getting, soon-to-be first-year law students who buy into all of that crap.

That statement should make it clear that I’m sceptical about such things. I generally find it all to be a waste of time and money. It seems as bizarre to me as a prisoner on death row who would pass up the opportunity for a final meal. Not to paint too bleak a picture of law school.

But I recognize that these people exist and I can’t blame them for having a hard time fighting the urge to learn as much as possible about the dragons they’ll soon be slaying. So how about the lesser of two evils? If you must waste time and money on learning what you’re going to find out eventually anyway (free of charge), you might as well make it short and sweet. You might want to pick up The Trials of Law School, a brief film that follows the year-long journey of eight first-year law students at the University of Oklahoma.

Watching this film wasn’t as helpful for me as it might be for someone entering first year, because I’ve already been through it. However, being a second year does enable me to judge the film’s accuracy, and I’d say it’s spot-on. I found that I identified with a lot of the trials and tribulations that our eight subjects struggled with throughout their first year.

A Summary

The Trials of Law School provides an accurate and comprehensive glimpse into the life of the first year law student. Porter Heath Morgan, the film’s director, was sure to select a diverse group of individuals for his documentary, adding to the film’s value for obvious reasons.

It shines light on the experience for mature students (including a mother of six, a single mother of one, and a father of four who is also an undergraduate professor), as well as students in their early to mid 20s. The former understandably have a harder time fitting in because of the age gap, while the latter suffer from a relative lack of life experience in dealing with stress.

It also covers the sadistic evaluation methods employed by most law schools: The 100% final. The majority of the students aren’t pleased with it, but this portion of the film, as with the rest, is riddled with professor commentaries that are meant to explain the various traits that are unique to law school, including such weighty evaluations, the Socratic method of teaching and the difficulty most students face in adjusting to the new intellectual atmosphere.

“It’s not undergrad anymore,” quips one of the students. “The reading done and the time put in isn’t worth the result,” complains another. There is no more spoon-feeding, and more often than not, law students are presented with questions rather than answers. The frustration this can potentially result in is made clear.

The Trials of Law School also helps to dispel some of the ridiculous horror stories out there about law school, such as those illustrated in The Paper Chase. “I haven’t ever seen the kind of cut throat competition that is sort of legendary in law school,” says Randy Barnett of Boston University, for example.

The most gripping moments of the film occur in the portions leading up to and including final exams. I personally found it hilarious that these students, in a different school, in a different city, in a different country, say the exact same things my peers and I did when we went through it. I won’t repeat them here, because if you don’t hear that nonsense in the movie you’ll likely hear it in real life.

The Ending: Warning, Spoiler Alert!

My personal favourite bit is nearing the end, when the camera focuses individually on each of the eight law students while they check their final grades for the first time. Ah… memories.

This may come as a shock to those of you who haven’t yet started law school, but I doubt it’s much of a shock to anyone who has finished: Everyone passed, everyone did fine and everyone got a job. That is perhaps the most valuable lesson any of us can gleam from this movie.

The Verdict

If you’re spoiled by big budget documentaries and Hollywood movies, an amateur production like this could come off as a bit cheesy. But that wasn’t an issue for me. The closest thing I had to a problem with it was the unbelievably corny soundtrack which took a bit away from what should have been dramatic scenes by making them hard to take seriously. But these slight imperfections don’t really speak to the overall quality of the film.

A film like this can be seen as positive, even if not perfect, in that it gives law school hopefuls who are awaiting their first years a glimpse at what it’s like. But most importantly, it’s done quickly. A little bit of personal advice has to come with the recommendation to catch this flick.

I recommend watching this movie rather than wasting your time on all of the aforementioned law school preparation. Your last summer before law school might be your last free one. A little flick like this takes about an hour and a half, and it’ll give you a good overview of what you can expect.

Don’t waste your last few days of freedom. There will be plenty of time for law school come September. Trust me.


About the Author

Thomas Wisdom
Second-year law student at Osgoode Hall Law School, York University (Toronto, Canada).