One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School

One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School

by Scott Turow

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One L, Scott Turow's journal of his first year at law school introduces and a best-seller when it was first published in 1977, has gone on to become a virtual bible for prospective law students. Not only does it introduce with remarkable clarity the ideas and issues that are the stuff of legal education; it brings alive the anxiety and competiveness--with others and, even more, with oneself--that set the tone in this crucible of character building. Turow's multidimensional delving into his protagonists' psyches and his marvelous gift for suspense prefigure the achievements of his celebrated first novel, Presumed Innocent, one of the best-selling and most talked about books of 1987.

Each September, a new crop of students enter Harvard Law School to begin an intense, often grueling, sometimes harrowing year of introduction to the law. Turow's group of One Ls are fresh, bright, ambitious, and more than a little daunting. Even more impressive are the faculty: Perini, the dazzling, combative professor of contracts, who presents himself as the students' antagonist in their struggle to master his subject; Zechman, the reserved professor of torts who seems so indecisive the students fear he cannot teach; and Nicky Morris, a young, appealing man who stressed the humanistic aspects of law.

Will the One Ls survive? Will they excel? Will they make the Law Review, the outward and visible sign of success in this ultra-conservative microcosm? With remarkable insight into both his fellows and himself, Turow leads us through the ups and downs, the small triumphs and tragedies of the year, in an absorbing and throught-provoking narrative that teaches the reader not only about law school and the law but about the human beings who make them what they are.

In the new afterword for this edition of One L, the author looks back on law school from the perspective of ten years' work as a lawyer and offers some suggestions for reforming legal education.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429939560
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 08/03/2010
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 337
Sales rank: 29,887
File size: 372 KB

About the Author

Scott Turow, a graduate of Amherst College and Harvard Law School, is the author of four worldwide bestselling: Presumed Innocent, The Burden of Proof, Pleading Guilty, and The Laws of Our Fathers. He lives with his family outside of Chicago, where he is a partner in the law firm of Sonnenschein, Nath&Rosenthal.
Scott Turow is the author of worldwide bestselling novels including Presumed Innocent, Innocent, Ordinary Heroes, The Burden of Proof, Reversible Errors and Limitations. His works of nonfiction include One L, his journal from his first year at law school, and Ultimate Punishment, which he wrote after serving on the Illinois commission that investigated the administration of the death penalty and influenced Governor George Ryan’s unprecedented commutation of the sentences of 164 death row inmates on his last day in office. Ultimate Punishment won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He lives outside Chicago, where he is partner in the firm of SNR Denton (formerly Sonnenschein, Nath&Rosenthal).


Chicago, Illinois

Date of Birth:

April 12, 1949

Place of Birth:

Chicago, Illinois


B.A. in English, Amherst College, 1970; M.A., Stanford University, 1974; J.D., Harvard University, 1978

Read an Excerpt

One L

An Inside Account of Life in the First Year at Harvard Law School

By Scott Turow

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1977 Scott Turow
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3956-0



Meeting My Enemy

* * *

9/3/75 (Wednesday)

... a warm place, a good place ... I think.

They called us "One Ls," and there were 550 of us who came on the third of September to begin our careers in the law. For the first three days we would have Harvard Law School to ourselves while we underwent a brief orientation and some preliminary instruction. Then, over the weekend, the upper-year students would arrive, and on Monday all classes would officially commence.

A pamphlet sent in August to all first-year students — the One Ls (1Ls) as they are known at HLS — instructed me to be at the Roscoe Pound Classroom and Administration Building at 10:00A.M. to register and to start orientation. I took the bus into Cambridge from Arlington, the nearby town where my wife and I had found an apartment.

I had been to the law school once earlier in the summer when David, a close friend who'd recently graduated, had given me a tour. HLS occupies fifteen buildings on the northern edge of the Harvard campus, and is bounded on one side by Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge's clogged main thoroughfare. The architecture is eclectic. The student commons and dormitories are square and buff-colored and functional. Old Austin Hall, a classroom building, looks like a sooty fortress with arches. Langdell, the school's largest building, is a long gray expanse of concrete. When I toured the law school in the summer, it had all looked so solid, so enduring, that I'd felt a majestic thrill to think I'd soon be allied with this and the time-ennobled traditions of the law. Now, getting off the bus, I felt mostly my nerves, which were lit all the way down to my knees.

In the Pound Building, a modern affair with exposed brick walls and a lot of glass, I was handed a thick packet of registration materials as soon as I came through the door. Then I was directed down the hall to a classroom where my section — Section 2 — was being loosely assembled for the first time to fill out the variety of cards and forms in the packets.

Every year at Harvard the 1Ls are divided into four sections of 140 students each. With that same group, I would have all my classes throughout the year, except a single elective course in the spring. The members of my section, I'd been told, would become my friends, my colleagues, the 140 people on earth who would know best the rigors I was going through daily. They would also be the individuals with whom I would be constantly compared, by the faculty and probably by myself. Relations within the section would be close. Most 1Ls, even those who live in the on-campus dorms — about half the first-year class — have only passing contact with the members of the other three first-year sections or with upper-class students. For the most part, friends had said, it would seem as if I were in a separate school, a tiny universe centered on the professors, with the 140 of us in a dense and hectic orbit about them.

My first view of my section mates was inauspicious. In the classroom most of the people were seated, dutifully emptying their packets and filling out cards. A few students who seemed to have known each other, probably as undergraduates, stood about in clusters or called to one another across the room. I had few distinct impressions. For the most part, they were a little bit younger than I'd expected. There were a number of women, a number of blacks. Most of the men wore their hair quite short.

On the blackboard a notice had been written, naming the cards and forms in the pack and giving the order in which they were to be received by the representatives of the registrar's office who awaited them on the far side of the room. When I finished, I looked at the man seated beside me. I watched him count his cards three times. Then I did the same thing myself. When I looked up he was watching me.

"They're all here," I told him. He nodded. I introduced myself and we shook hands. His name was Hal Lasky and he was from Ashtabula by way of Ohio State. He asked if I knew anything about our professors. Their names had been announced in the August pamphlet. I told him I didn't.

"What do you hear?" I asked.

"Not much," he said, "except about Perini in Contracts. He's supposed to be pretty tough. And Morris in Civil Procedure — people like him."

After handing in our cards, all of us, in a peculiar ceremony, were required to "sign in" to the law school, registering our name, age, and previous degrees in a large ledger. As I wrote, I scanned the page to see about my classmates. Two listed their undergraduate college as Oxford. Another person had a Ph.D. The woman who'd signed above me was an M.D.

That's only one page, I told myself.

When I finished signing, a woman handed me a plastic ID card. I was enrolled.

I walked outside for a moment. It was a fine day, sunny and mild. I sat down on a brick retaining wall near the Pound Building.

So here you are, I told myself, the famous Harvard Law School, alma mater to many of the great men of American law — Supreme Court justices, senators, a president — and more persons influential in contemporary life than I could remember or keep count of.

"El numero uno," a friend of mine had called HLS the spring before, in trying to persuade me to come here. Every detail about the place suggested its prominence. HLS is the oldest law school in the nation. It has the largest full-time enrollment — 1,800, including graduate students. The more than sixty-five professors constitute the biggest full-time law faculty in the country, and, perhaps the most illustrious. As a place actually to undertake a legal education, Harvard is sometimes criticized, especially when compared to schools, like Yale, that have more flexible curricula and lower ratios of students to faculty. But for whatever it was worth, I knew that a poll the previous winter of the deans of all the law schools in the country had revealed that among them, Harvard was still most often thought of as the best.

But despite having become part of that lustrous setting, as I sat there on that wall I did not feel entirely self-satisfied. Doubt — about themselves, about what they are doing — is a malady familiar to first-year law students and I arrived already afflicted. I was not sure that I was up to that tradition of excellence. And I was still not absolutely positive that law school was the place where I should be. For me, the route to law school had been somewhat roundabout. I was twenty-six, three or four years older than most of the other 1Ls, for it had taken me somewhat longer than it had taken them to realize that I wanted to study law.

For the past three years I had been a lecturer in the English department at Stanford where, before that, I was a graduate student. I had spent my time as lecturer teaching courses in creative writing and doing my best to write on my own. It was not a bad life. But I found myself with a deepening interest in law. Some of the writing I was doing had involved a good deal of legal research, and contrary to my expectations I found much of the work intriguing. In college, at Amherst, in the era of Vietnam and the civil rights struggle, the law had seemed to me the instrument by which the people in power kept themselves on top. When many of my friends had decided to go to law school, I had been openly critical of their choices. Now, five years later, I saw the law less as a matter of remote privilege, and more a part of daily affairs. Getting married, renting an apartment, buying a car — legal matters were all around me. I was fascinated by the extent to which the law defined our everyday lives. And the friends whose decisions I'd criticized were now in practice, doing things which pleased them and also seemed absorbing to me.

In the spring of 1974 — purely speculatively, I told myself — I took the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), the nationally administered exam required of all law school applicants. I did well on the test — 749 out of 800, a score near the ninety-ninth percentile — but I was still reluctant to give up my career in writing and teaching. It was only later that spring, when I was offered a better job as an assistant professor at another university, that I forced myself to think about the lifelong commitments I wanted to make. I came to realize how much I would regret allowing my interest in law to go unfulfilled.

The following fall, I filed applications at law schools across the country. When it became apparent that I would have a choice among schools, there was another period of hard decision. I had many college friends who had gone to law school at Harvard and most had found the place large, harsh, and stifling. But I admired Harvard's reputation and its resources. I often told myself that my friends had been younger and less mature law students than I would be, that at the end of the 1960s they had brought different expectations to law school than I would now. Nevertheless, my doubts remained. Ultimately, I shunned any ideal choice among schools and let the decision rest on the prestige of a Harvard degree and the fact that the job market for my wife Annette, a schoolteacher, was far the best in Boston.

Now and then as the year ran down at Stanford, I worried that I had made the wrong choices — in giving up teaching, in going to Harvard. I talked about it one day to a friend, a graduate student in the department whom I knew had thought seriously of going to law school himself.

"Look," he told me, "if I was going to law school, I would be going because I wanted to meet my enemy. I think that's a good thing to do. And if I wanted to meet my enemy, I would go to Harvard, because I'd be surest of meeting him there."

I smiled weakly at my friend. I was not sure what he meant by "meeting my enemy." It seemed like one of those cleverly ambiguous things people were always saying around the English department. But in the following weeks the phrase recurred to me often. I realized that somehow it summed up the feelings I had about law school: the fear, the uncertainties, the hope of challenge, triumph, discovery. And somehow with that name on what was ahead I became surer that my decisions were correct.

Thinking it over once more as I sat on the wall, I felt that sureness again. Meeting my enemy. It was what I wanted to do. I could only hope I would come out all right.

The schedule I'd found in my registration pack directed me next to the third floor of Pound, where coffee and doughnuts were being served and the representatives of various student organizations sat behind banks of tables, introducing themselves to the 1Ls milling by. I joined the married students' group, as Annette had requested. We had already received mail from them which promised that they would run a number of activities for the husbands and wives of first-year students. The 1Ls' spouses, the letters had said, often found themselves spending long periods alone.

With that done, I moved next door to Harkness Commons, where there is a student lounge and a sundries store and, on the second floor, a dining hall where I was heading for lunch. As I started up, I saw a tall, blond-haired man whom I thought was a friend from college. I called out. I was right — it was Mike Wald.

"I had no idea you were here," I told him, and pumped his hand enthusiastically. The last I'd heard, he was a graduate student at Yale. It was good to see a friend, especially on the first day.

With our meals, we sat down together. Mike told me he'd come to law school last year, after concluding that the condition of the academic job market meant that he would never get the kind of work he wanted, as a historian. On the whole, he said, he still felt law school was the right choice.

He explained that he was in school now, before other upper-year students, because he was a member of the Board of Student Advisors, the group of second-year and third-year students — 2Ls and 3Ls — who traditionally helped steward 1Ls through the year. BSA people would assist in the teaching of our Legal Methods classes, the small informal course on legal writing and other lawyering skills, which would meet for the first time this afternoon. BSA would also be in charge of the Moot Court competition, in which all first-year students were required to take part, in the spring.

When we finished lunch, Mike asked me what section I was in. When I told him Section 2, he looked at me.

"You've got Perini?" he asked.

I nodded. "I hear he's tough."

"You said it. I had him last year," Mike said. "He's something else."

"What does he do — beat his students?"

"You'll see." Mike smiled, but he shook his head as if someone had given him a blow. "You'll live through it. Besides, a lot of people think he's a great teacher."

I asked Mike about my other professors. He did not know much, except about Nicky Morris, the Civil Procedure professor. He was young, Mike said, progressive, well liked by students.

At two, I left Mike and went to the first meeting of Legal Methods. Rather than a full-blown law school course, Methods was regarded as an introductory supplement to the first-year curriculum. It would run for only ten weeks, a little longer than half of the first term, and the instructor would be a teaching fellow, instead of a member of the faculty. For the next three days, though, Methods would be at the center, concentrated instruction aimed at bringing us to the point where we could start the work of our regular courses, which would begin meeting on Monday.

Normally, Legal Methods would gather in classes of twenty-five, but today for the introductory session three groups had been joined and the small classroom was crowded. There was a lot of commotion as people went about introducing themselves to each other. I sat down next to a man who was glad-handing everybody around him. It was only a moment before he got to me.

"Terry Nazzario," he said, grasping my hand. He was a tall, slim man in his mid-twenties, coarse-skinned but quite handsome. His black hair was combed back behind his ears and he reminded me a lot of the kids we'd called "greasers" when I was growing up in Chicago. He looked a little out of place amid the Ivy League ease of Harvard Law School. Apparently, he thought so himself. When I asked where he was from, he told me Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Montclair State College, then added, "Hey, man, the only reason I got in here was cause they thought I was Puerto Rican."

I looked at him.

"No jive," he told me. "My mailbox is full of stuff from the Latin Students Organization."

He might have been serious, I decided, but he did not appear disturbed. A character, I figured. Your basic hustler. I smiled cautiously. Nazzario watched me a moment, then laughed out loud and gave me a wink. I had passed.

At the front of the room the instructor was calling us to order.

"I'm Chris Henley," he said. He was short and had a full beard. He looked to be in his early thirties. "I'd like to welcome you to Harvard Law School. This'll be a brief session. I just want to give you a few ideas about what we'll be doing for the next few days and then in the rest of the course."

Before he went on, Henley told us a little about himself. He had been a lawyer with OEO in Washington for seven years. Now he was here, working on a graduate law degree; next year he would probably move on to another school to become a law professor. Then he introduced the three members of the Board of Student Advisors who would be working with each of the Methods groups. A lean, dark man named Peter Geocaris, a 3L, had been assigned to mine. After that, Henley described the course.

"In the Legal Methods program," he said, "you'll be learning skills by practicing them. Each of you will act as attorney on the same case. You'll assume the role of a law firm associate who's been asked to deal with the firing of an employee by a corporation."

It would all be highly fictionalized, but we'd follow the matter through each of its stages, gaining some taste of many aspects of a lawyer's work. Among other things, Henley said we would be involved with a client interview, the filing of suit, preparing and arguing a brief for summary judgment. At the very end we would see how two experienced attorneys would handle the suit in a mock trial. I had only the vaguest idea of what many of the words Henley used meant — depositions and interrogatories and su mmary judgment — and perhaps for that reason alone, the program sounded exciting.


Excerpted from One L by Scott Turow. Copyright © 1977 Scott Turow. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Registration / Meeting My Enemy,
September and October / Learning to Love the Law,
October and November / Disgrace,
December and January / Exams (First Act),
February and March / Getting By,
April and May / Exams (Last Act),

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One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a student starting law school I found this book inspiring.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although I have no interest in entering law school, the story of Scotts experience was really informative. I always wondered what it was like in HLS, and even if this exp. is decades old...well, its much better than what Legally Blonde tells you.
Pastormom More than 1 year ago
Great read for a parent of a One L. Although many things have changed with the style of law education it gives you a good idea what your daughter or son is going through. It also helps you understand the "lingo" of law school so you don't have to keep asking them "anyoing" questions. It is a fast and fun read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
nikki1CO More than 1 year ago
I read One L when it first came out, having just re read it, it still inspires the same feelings of admiration, fear & virtual nausea, thinking about my own college days. Law school has changed in the ensuing years, however school has not, the same feelings, the same issues with others that you are competing with. There are no dull moments in this book, I literally read it in one sitting. The writer has gone on to write mysteries that gave been made into successful movies (Presumed Innocent for one); he was a successful attorney for many many years. There is nothing pompous about this book. you cheer for the students, you empathize with the author & you understand the dilemma of wanting to do something so much that you will give up your entire life, your emotional life, to make this possible. Excellent read, I highly recommend
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a wonderful read. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in attending law school.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book the summer after my first year of law school, and I laughed out loud as I read. I laughed not because the book was humorous, but because I couldn't believe how many experiences I shared with those relayed in the book. ONE L hit me like a happy confirmation that I had not been alone in my experiences. It made me proud that I had endured such an emotional roller coaster. And it reminded me of the good as well as the bad moments of the first year of law school. If you read it sooner, don't let it scare you - I LOVED law school!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm a few weeks from starting law school, and while Turow's account is riveting, its dark, stark realities into the world of law and academics can make one a bit unnerved, as the title suggests. If you're anxious before starting, this may make matters a little worse. Sometimes I regret reading it before school starts and not delaying til later in the year. It does contain important themes on not losing yourself as a whole person while in school, something every law student should keep in mind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey babe i wount be on tpday ill talk to u tommor