When I was a child, the only dictionary in our house was Webster’s. Should I ask my dad how to spell a word, he would say, “Look it up,” and point to Webster’s on the bookshelf. Frankly, I thought that was the most ridiculous response to give to someone who just asked for help on how to spell the word. Now that I am older—and somewhat wiser—I understand what dad was doing, and I confess to tormenting my own children with a similar version of that game.
Times have changed. Webster’s is no longer the only dictionary on the shelf. Today we have rhyming dictionaries, Scrabble dictionaries, reverse dictionaries, and the infamous urban dictionary. There seems to be a dictionary for every occasion. I propose that we add a law school lingo dictionary to the crowded shelf with the other reference books. In no particular order, here are a few of my favorite expressions that would need to be included in the first edition:
Tadpole. Tadpole is a synonym for a 1L because he is young, blind, and he is adapting to his habitat as his body and brain continue developing. Many tadpoles do not survive the burden of metamorphosis. If you are a tadpole, that is fine. Recognize that the next three years will be a time of growth and change, and both of these can be difficult. Befriend a levelheaded upperclassman so that the transition will not be too traumatic.
All-nighter. A term commonly used by students describing an all-night study session for exams. However, in law school, the term is not only applicable to exam season. A classmate may “pull an all-nighter” to complete a brief, prepare for mock trial, apply for jobs, etc. When a classmate states, “I pulled an all-nighter,” there are usually a few shrugs of acknowledgement, but it is not an extraordinary event. Law school all-nighters are rarely synonymous with words like “party” or “fun.”
Fall on the grenade. The student who protects his classmates by facing the professor’s wrath. The student may deflect the professor’s attention by feigning interest in an off-hand subject or ask questions that take the professor down a rabbit trail. Those that fall on the grenade—rather than passing it like a hot potato—earn the admiration of their classmates. Please note, throughout history, military heroes have literally fallen on a grenade to save their comrades. The terminology may be the same, but the sacrifice is not.
Gunner. The student who voluntarily sits on the front row, center. The one who must comment on every question posed by the professor, even when posed to another student. The student who regularly monopolizes the professor’s time during the 5-10 minute break between classes. Classmates will call this student the gunner. The gunner will be an A student with a high class ranking; and, during the course of law school, you may find yourself envious of the gunner. But, there’s an old saying to keep in mind when you are distracted by the gunner: In law school, the A students become law professors, the B students become judges, and the C students become millionaires. (Caveat: This saying may have originated with the C students.)
Sponge. In marine biology, the sponge is the simplest of animals. It is a bottom-dweller. It attaches to a solid surface in order to feed and grow. In law school, the sponge is a similar, simple animal that “sponges” off your work. The sponge does not prepare for class, but asks for your notes. The sponge does not outline properly, but begs for your work product as the exam nears. The sponge will come to your study group and contribute nothing. Avoid the sponge.
Every trade has its own lingo, including the legal profession and its schools of law. These are just a few of the words that you will hear during those three blissful years of law school. What words would you add to this list of law school lingo? All good dictionaries have to start somewhere.
Jackie Houser has enjoyed working as an associate with Walker, Allen, Grice, Ammons & Foy in Goldsboro, North Carolina, since 2009. Prior to quitting her job and selling her house to attend law school, Jackie was a certified paralegal and college instructor. Contact Jackie via email at email@example.com or via phone at 919-734-6565.