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The 5.5 Stages of Writing a Law Paper

Dylan Robertson (2L)

 This semester, I enrolled in Anti-Corruption Law, with Professor Hutchinson. I wish I could tell you that I did so because I am passionate about improving safeguards surrounding the misuse of public office or protecting our democracy by updating federal access to information laws, but I’ll level with you: I decided to take it because it was a paper class. Five exams per semester is so last year.

Naturally, this plan backfired. While I was volunteering for Orientation on the 4th, I discovered from classmates that our first paper was due on the 18th. With less than two weeks to go, I began the process of writing my first ever law school paper. What follows is the whirlwind of emotions I felt in my attempt to do so. While I have no way to back myself up on this, I’m pretty sure this is universal.

 Stage 1 – Disbelief

This was how I felt during Orientation. People were telling me we already had a paper due and I laughed it off. It couldn’t be right, I thought. Class hadn’t even started yet. Besides, nearly everyone I talked to said that 2L is much easier than 1L, so there had to have been a misunderstanding.

Even if there was a paper due so soon, it would be easy.  I was sure I could get it done and so I pushed it out of my mind to make way for Subway sandwiches and the names of 1Ls that I have already managed to forget.

 Stage 2 – Panic

Once I checked TWEN and saw for myself the assignment, I began to feel a little stressed. The assignment was a 2000-word reflective essay on an issue related to uncovering and publicizing corruption, and it was due before we did any class discussion on the topic. I had many questions, such as “why does LRW make me feel so unprepared for this?” and “what on Earth does a reflective essay look like in law school? Can I title it ‘Much Ado About Publicizing Corruption’ or would that be too Arts-major of me?”

This stage was something of a blur, although that might be because it coincided with First Friday Back. In hindsight, a few less pints of Guinness and a few more hours of preparation would probably have been smart, but hey, what can you do?

 Stage 3 – Undeserved Confidence

This was a nice stage to be in.

Once the readings were released, things turned around. While I hadn’t found the exact issue I wanted to write about, the readings were making sense and I found them interesting. There was a lot of good stuff on defamation and updating Canada’s archaic access to information legislation that I felt would make a great topic for a paper. Pretty soon, I was 100 pages into the readings and feeling good about my chances. I tried to keep in mind my favourite law school mantra: if Ezra Levant could graduate law school, then so could I. The Rebel would scoff at 2000 words, and so should I.

 Stage 4 – Panic once Again

I quickly came to my senses and realized that, due to the course’s heavy coverage of defamation, Mr. Levant probably never took it. And I found myself back at square one. While the readings were going well, the issue simply was not coming to me. I spoke to several other classmates who were already well on their way to finishing and I had yet to have anything good on paper. Definitely not how I wanted to start the school year.

 Stage 5 – Acceptance

A few days before the deadline, I reached a state of Zen. Not exactly pure bliss, but sort of like that feeling you get after you eat a really hot pepper and the burning starts to go away.  This was law school, I realized. As a lawyer, I’d be facing deadlines a lot stricter than this and it was something that I had to get used to. At the end of the day, it was a short paper based on my own reflections about the material I read. It was something that I was capable of doing, and any feedback I would get would help prepare me for the next one. There was literally no downside, and nothing left to do but bite the bullet and finish an assignment that countless other people had done before me.

 Stage 5.5 – Ill-Advised Procrastination

As it turned out, the paper was optional. If I didn’t write one in September, I could write one in October. Empowered by this new knowledge, I proceeded to sit on the couch and play Super Mario RPG like the enterprising and ambitious law student I am.

As of writing, the readings for October have been released. I will be starting them once this article is finished. Wish me luck! If you see me procrastinating at all this month, feel free to tell me to get to work. I’ll probably need it.