Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Cold Call

There is a phenomenon in law school called "The Cold Call." It is the most feared experience of the first semester of 1L. By the second semester, no one cares. Your cold call doesn't determine your grade during 1L. Moreover, everyone's given up trying to impress each other. Your peers will judge you for everything that you say and do anyway. In and out of class, no one is safe.

Most professors savor the moment when they cold call an eager, fresh-faced law student. Even the most confident break down over the course of the hour where our professors stare us in the eyes, ask probing questions, and pause in anticipation of the answer. The pause is the best part. The whole class waits for you to open your mouth. No one moves a muscle. No one types. No one breaths. Everyone stares straight ahead. Some turn around to look at you. No biggy.

When I was cold called in Criminal Law--although it was the third time I had been cold-called last semester and I should have been a pro--I'm pretty sure I had some sort of panic attack.

I had lunch with my professor the day before and he asked me if I had done a case yet. Reluctantly, I said no and he told me that my day of reckoning was coming. (My words, not his.) The next morning, as I was showering, I considered just not showing up for class. If I'm not there, he can't call on me, I reasoned. But I knew he was going to be looking for me and I sat at eye-level in the center. I walked into class shaking, sat down in my seat, and pulled my books out of my bag with trembling hands. I tried to start typing notes but my fingers kept spazzing on the keyboard.

I had read the case four times. Briefed it. Re-briefed it. Knew that shit like the back of my hand. I can't remember the case name now but I know it was about burglary. Did I mention it's my professor's favorite case of all time? He re-reads that case for fun. He loves burglary. (I personally prefer rape and murder, but to each his own.)

The common knowledge definition of burglary and the legal definition of burglary are very different. We all have the vision of the burglar: swift like a jaguar, perfectly camouflaged for every environment, stealthy, smart, quick-footed. He would have to be in order to breach the sanctity of our homes, gaining access to the most intimate parts of our lives. Burglars cannot be stupid or slow or fat. They must be the picture of fitness, deftly twisting and turning their way through the laser beams that cross in front of the Hope Diamond. Burglars are crafty. And they steal things. At least that's what I thought when I read the case about burglary.

Burglary is not the act of stealing. It is the entry of a building with the intent to commit a felony. It's a pretty broad crime. And when I was put on the spot in front of my ninety some-odd peers, all I could think about was my pre-law school definition of a burglar. The professor's questions kept flying past me. I answered yes or no with no further analysis, silently praying that the torture would be over shortly. He asked me something along the lines of "Can a man burglar his own house if he enters with the intent to kill someone?" All I could think was: 'That's the most ridiculous question I've ever heard because burglary isn't entry with the intent to kill.' After that, my next thought was: 'You're a fucking idiot. Pull it together. Entry with intent to kill is burglary. But, can a man burglarize his own home?' From there, I blacked out. I don't remember a thing. The next thing I remember is my friend Victoria leaning over and asking if I was okay.

I wish I could answer that question for you right now. I guess technically he can but it just doesn't seem right. Moreover, if you're going to burglar your own home, you're probably about to do something that is far more serious than burglary. Like murder. I think first-degree murder takes precedence. No one goes to jail for the rest of their lives because they burglarized their own home.

In any case, he had me on the spot for forty minutes while I sweated through my clothes, turned bright red (really, people asked afterwards if I was dying), and mumbled incoherent answers for all to hear and judge my intelligence on. My first cold-call went far better than this one, but when I fondly reflect on law school I will always remember my epic fail at the burglary case.

It didn't really matter though. When the final came, I didn't for one minute forget what burglary was. Our professor loves burglary and it was all over that test. Shazaam!

tl;dr Blacking out during your cold call just means the information was sent to your subconscious brain. No worries :P


  1. Awesome. Made me feel better today :D

  2. made me feel much better today. really screwed up in class today.

  3. Glad to hear, law school peeps! Keep truckin'!

  4. It's my understanding that "burglary" isn't just entry into a building to commit an offence but rather ILLEGAL entry into said building to commit an offense. You can't burgle a residence that you have a legal right to gain entry to.

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