I was not a studious law student. I may have been the last applicant to be accepted to the University of Montana School of Law, which was no surprise based upon my undergraduate grade point average and mediocre entry exam results. I am a grateful recipient of the Montana School of Law’s preference granted to Montana kids who apply to law school (50 of the then 75 seats in my law school class were reserved for Montana kids).
I viewed law school as simply a means to an end and did not take the classes seriously. I was known to wear my pajamas to class when my classmates donned suits, and from time to time brought beer to afternoon classes. Indeed, I never took the cellophane wrapping off of my Estates book, and the contents remain a mystery to me. First-year law students pledge not to work more than 10 hours per week outside of the law school due to the perceived rigor of the course study. I couldn’t commit to that pledge because I was opposed to excess loan debt, so I worked 25 hours a week tending bar to get by. For this choice, I suffered several trips to the Dean’s office where I was politely warned of the consequences of expulsion from the program should I fail to obtain the required GPA due to my work “distractions.”
Indeed, my law school experience may be best defined by my absence. An attendance policy was implemented by the faculty while I was a student, and I can’t help but think it was due to my lackadaisical approach to consistent class attendance. My third year of law school is a blur; my husband was diagnosed with cancer and we spent most of the year traveling for his treatment. My classmates and professors graciously supported me academically, and I attended class primarily by email and fax. Even my class picture aptly reflects my law school experience; it is missing the “live” version of me, replaced by my printed head shot glued to a stick held between two classmates.
Against this colossally apathetic approach to academics, I was still able to pass the Bar Exam. At that time, the Bar was a three-day gauntlet of regurgitation of memorized legal maxims, most of which I have never used over the course of my 20-year legal career. The content wasn’t particularly challenging; it was the fear, anxiety, and the consequence of losing our first professional jobs if we failed that made the exam seem overwhelming. Last week, a group of Montana Law graduates petitioned the Montana Supreme Court to not have to ever take the bar exam due to COVID-19. I typically have sympathy for law students, but to these petitioners I say: suck it up, study hard and take the test. If I passed, anyone can.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.