Ivy Briefs: True Tales of a Neurotic Law Student [NOOK Book]

Overview

From first-day nerves to first-year grades, from bizarre job interviews to bar exam insanity, Ivy Briefs pulls back the curtain on the marbled halls of law school, revealing the absurdity often bubbling beneath the surface.

Meet Martha Kimes: a naïve small-town girl with strong neurotic tendencies who has (due to an inexplicable stroke of luck) been admitted to Columbia Law School. She's a Midwesterner in the middle of Manhattan, a student on...
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Ivy Briefs: True Tales of a Neurotic Law Student

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Overview

From first-day nerves to first-year grades, from bizarre job interviews to bar exam insanity, Ivy Briefs pulls back the curtain on the marbled halls of law school, revealing the absurdity often bubbling beneath the surface.

Meet Martha Kimes: a naïve small-town girl with strong neurotic tendencies who has (due to an inexplicable stroke of luck) been admitted to Columbia Law School. She's a Midwesterner in the middle of Manhattan, a student on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In her candid memoir -- the best of its kind since One L and the only one written by a woman -- Kimes makes her way through law school, doing battle with a memorable cast of characters:

The Sadistic Professor: Every law student's nemesis, the Sadistic Professor takes pity on no one. The Socratic Method is his favorite torture device, and he's got staying power that rivals that of the Energizer Bunny.

The Gunner: So enamored with the sound of his own voice, he finds it physically impossible to keep his hand from gunning up into the air every time a professor asks a question. Ten minutes into the start of the school year, everyone is already sick of the Gunner.

The Do-gooder: Lurking behind a kind exterior is a pit bull ready to pounce on those who don't plan to devote their legal careers to public service. But would she be so quick to categorize all those who dare go into corporate law as loathsome, soulless warriors for the devil if she, too, had student loans to repay?

The Boarding School Bastard: He wears a firmly pressed pin-striped oxford shirt and has a condescending attitude bigger than most European countries. By definition he is better than you because he went to Exeter. And he'll never let you forget it.

With sharp wit, dead-on aim, and a healthy dose of self-deprecation, Kimes proves that it is possible to survive law school with both your sense of humor and your sanity intact.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

First time author Kimes is entertaining and funny in recounting her three years at one of the country's premier law schools. A smart young woman with a good, but not always engaged, sense of perspective, Kimes jumps from the University of Wisconsin to Columbia Law School on the wings of a spectacular showing on the LSATs. Once there, she faces the predictable sadistic professor, hypercompetitive fellow students and, of course, rampant elitism. Kimes is happy to treat with an equal measure of humor the highly stylized courting dance between summer law clerks and mega law firms, as well as the foreboding horrors of the bar exam. Though some stories seem hyperbolic and re-created conversations can be suspiciously pat, Kimes captures with accuracy the gestalt of the law school experience. Kimes did get a job at what she calls "Lavish Law Firm." But she eventually left to join the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which may be her final comment on the world of big-time law. The self-deprecating wit, catty observations and healthy sense of the absurd with which Kimes describes her approach-avoidance reactions to the world of law school raise the book above the ordinary. (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
The path from LSAT to license, traced in a coming-of-age, full-of-panic-attacks memoir from a graduate of Columbia Law, class of '97. Fresh from the University of Wisconsin, Kimes had the notion that lawyers simply argue. Arriving at New York's Morningside Heights with a new husband, new hairdo and much trepidation, she joined her fellow bewildered freshmen in their peculiar competition. Each aspiring counselor was a strong character, and hastily formed friendships were as likely to expire as to thrive amid the first-year terror at an institution replete with top-tier Ivy prestige. Kimes describes the fear saturating the lecture halls as cases were dissected in the ancient Socratic way. She coped by maintaining a close relationship with study outlines, casebooks, texts and hornbooks. Preparations for the first set of exams were especially stressful. Happily, things improved for our lawyer-in-training. She nabbed a summer clerkship with a federal judge, the executive editor's post on Columbia's transnational law journal (though not the Law Review) and, ultimately, a job at a "Lavish Law Firm." All that remained was the bar exam. She passed. This edgy, solipsistic narrative will help explain why Ivy League lawyers tend to have a self-reverential sense of entitlement-they picked it up in law school. An antic case study illuminating how a lawyer is made in frisky prose infused with attitude. Agent: Laurie Abkemeier/DeFiore & Company
From the Publisher
"A must-read for anyone contemplating law school; and for those who have already graduated, a sidesplitting review of the law school experience — torts and all." — Karen Quinn, author of The Ivy Chronicles and Wife in the Fast Lane

"Martha Kimes's candid tale of attending Columbia Law School is Legally Blonde meets One L. Told with sweet self-awareness and pervasive wit, I couldn't help but cheer Kimes on as she faced every daunting law school challenge, transforming herself from fearful Midwesterner to cool and confident Ivy League grad. Ivy Briefs makes me want to hug Kimes...and then hire her as my attorney." — Jen Lancaster, author of Bitter Is the New Black and Bright Lights, Big Ass

"With pitch-perfect dialogue and witty observations, Martha Kimes delivers a funny and charming look at the trials and tribulations of law school. I give Ivy Briefs an A." — Alison Pace, author of Pug Hill and Through Thick and Thin

"Martha Kimes has written a One L for the next generation. Ivy Briefs is a great addition to the reading list for anyone even thinking about law school." — Jeremy Blachman, author of Anonymous Lawyer

"The self-deprecating wit, catty observations and healthy sense of the absurd with which Kimes describes her approach-avoidance reactions to the world of law schol raise the bok above the ordinary ." — Publisher's Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416538783
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 5/15/2007
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 1,149,939
  • File size: 324 KB

Meet the Author

Martha Kimes is a graduate of Columbia Law School. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband, Joe, and their two sons.
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Read an Excerpt

Prologue

THE THICK AND THE THIN

"When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers."

— Oscar Wilde

The letter that arrived in the mail on that early December day was thin. More than thin. It was sickly, it was malnourished, it was positively anorexic. I knew at first glance what that meant. Good news from law school admissions offices does not come in anorexic envelopes. Good news comes in thick, heavy packages of impressive heft, packages that look like they've just feasted on filet mignon and chocolate soufflé, packages that scream out "We want you!" The thin envelopes? Those quietly whisper in your ear "You suck." You might as well just toss them into the trash, as there's no sense in torturing yourself with letters that are certain to begin with the overly polite "After a careful review of your application, we are sorry to inform you that..." and always finish with a nice version of "We've decided you're not worthy. But thanks for trying, and we do appreciate having received your $60 application fee." They only need one page to tell you that.

But I am a sucker for punishment, so I opened the anorexic letter. To my sheer and utter shock, the words on the crisp ivory page read "Congratulations. We are happy to welcome you into the Columbia Law School Class of 1997." Accepted. Not rejected. Accepted? To an Ivy League school? OH. MY. GOD. But what kind of law school sends acceptance letters in skinny envelopes? Are these people living in some sort of alternate reality where they don't understand the universal significance of the thin envelope? Or is this all some sort of cruel joke?

With shaking hands, I called my husband, Joe.

"I got in," I croaked.

"What?" he replied.

"Accepted not rejected got in Columbia early admission law school accepted they said yes Ivy League oh shit!!!!!!"

"What?" he asked. "Honey, slow down — I can't understand you."

I believe it was then that I started hyperventilating. "Columbia. Wheeze. Law school. Wheeze. Columbia Law School? Accepted? Wheeze. Early decision program? New York City? CAN'T BREATHE."

"Take a cleansing breath, Martha. Slowly. Breathe in and out."

"Why? Is that how they do it in the Ivy League? Wheeze. Are you trying to tell me that I don't even know how to breathe like the other fancy students there? You don't think I'm good enough? Wheeze wheeze. I mean, I know that I don't exactly come from a long line of Harvard-educated lawyers, but, my God, what kind of person are you? We're still newlyweds — the ink is barely dry on the marriage license. You're not allowed to be cruel yet. You're supposed to be supportive! Wheeze. Congratulatory! And instead you criticize? How dare you? Wheeeeeeze!"

Yeah, that was a harbinger of things to come.

There's no doubt that I'm a smart enough person, but I hardly border on the brilliant. If you skip class and are looking to borrow a day's worth of notes, I'm a good person to ask. But if you're desperate for an A and hoping to copy from someone's test, you might have better luck looking elsewhere. Unless, of course, it's a standardized test, in which case I'm your woman. (Not that there's a chance in hell that I'm letting you copy.) You know how people always argue that standardized tests are unfair because "they don't test people's intelligence or knowledge, they just test people's ability to take standardized tests?" Well, I'm a proud supporter of that system because, intelligence and knowledge be damned, I happen to have a spectacular ability to take standardized tests.

The Law School Admission Test changed the course of my life. Before I took that exam, I was just an average Midwestern girl with average grades and a degree from an average college. Sure, my parents had stressed the importance of education, but always within certain limits. I was expected to do well in my studies and I consistently did, without ever trying all that hard. I was the product of public schools, and that was just a given in my house — when your parents drive a used Ford Escort, there's not a lot of extra money to throw around for private school tuition. (Not that there was a private school anywhere near the small town where we lived.) When it came time to go off to college, it was not a matter of researching universities near and far in order to choose the very best school to fit my needs and allow me to grow personally, socially, culturally, and intellectually. My mailbox was not filled with glossy brochures from small liberal arts colleges across the country picturing gorgeous quads and ivied buildings. That just wasn't our style. In my house, it was more a matter of "Okay, which state school do you want to go to? And don't go giving some crazy answer like UCLA or Colorado State. We mean which state school in this state that we now live in called Wisconsin where resident tuition is inexpensive."

To my parents' credit, their philosophy pretty well matched that of most other families in my town. Except for a privileged few, we kids were destined to be Wisconsinites for at least four more years. My high school fantasies about breaking away mostly involved sitting around on the burnished orange velvet couch in the living room of my family's modest ranch home with my best friend Leah, snacking on Doritos and off-brand diet cola, and dreaming about the virtual Eden that was Madison, where the main campus of the University of Wisconsin was housed — all of ninety-nine miles away. Sure, I would have rather ventured off far away, but you can make a lot out of ninety-nine miles' worth of distance if you try. Especially if your parents are on the verge of a divorce and you're trying the best you can to separate yourself from all of their issues.

During high school, I waited tables at the local Pizza Hut three or four nights a week, serving carbo-loaded food to overweight people, and squirreling away tip money into my college savings account. Each extra basket of breadsticks that I could talk a table into ordering would transfer into an extra twenty cents or so tip-wise, so I always tried to do the hard sell. I came home each night exhausted, stinking of sweat, dough, and pepperoni, but bounded into my bedroom, dumped the tips out of my waitress apron onto my bed, and excitedly counted up the pile of one-dollar bills and heaps of change that I had earned.

Leah and I both applied to and were accepted by the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and we excitedly headed off to be college roommates. A few months later, she began sleeping with my ex-boyfriend, to whom I had lost my virtue the year before, and with whom I had not parted on pleasant terms. As one might imagine, that roommate arrangement turned out rather disastrously. Aside from lamenting the demise of my friendship with Leah, college meant long-awaited freedom from my parents and the glorious opportunity to experience life on my own. (Read: drink lots and lots of beer, skip lots and lots of classes.) When I wasn't going to house parties, attending college football games, or acting like a poseur doofus smoking clove cigarettes in the Rathskeller of the student union, I attended class, studied enough but not too much, and managed to earn respectable but not write-home-about grades. I divided my time between studying, partying, and working to earn tuition money.

For some reason, it never really occurred to me to stop and focus on what I was going to do once college was over. Wisconsin was a very large state school, with over 40,000 students enrolled, and it wasn't as though career counselors were purposefully wandering the 933 acres of campus, hunting down random undergraduates and forcing them to face the music. They were there if you sought them out, but if you didn't, you could survive in peaceful, ignorant bliss until graduation.

In the movies, after you get your college diploma, you are handed an entry-level job in a mysterious field like marketing or banking or human resources or pharmaceutical sales, along with a cubicle that you can call your very own, a bulletin board upon which you can tack Dilbert cartoons, and a box of business cards that make you feel more important than you actually are. To this day, I wonder why it is that at no point during my four years at college did one person (be it a career counselor, professor, or parent) say to me, "You know, you're going to have to find a job and a way to pay your rent after graduation, because student loans and two-dollar all-you-can-drink parties don't go on forever, missy." Possibly they assumed that such a statement was self-evident. If so, they were mistaken.

I was barely three steps off the stage at college graduation, diploma proudly in hand, when that fact did become obvious to me. I was armed with a B.A. in psychology and philosophy, neither of which was the most practical or marketable field of expertise, and I was suddenly hit with the realization that I had no idea what to do with my life. And that I had bills to pay. And that soon I would be getting a little rumbly in the tumbly with hunger, and that even ramen noodles cost money. And that this here piece of paper that I got in the mail says that in six months they expect me to start paying back the student loans I took out? Don't they know I'm not even employed?

Nervously, hesitantly, I visited the university's career services center, where I met with a counselor named Delores who wore a gauzy, flowing purple tunic and chunky turquoise jewelry. Delores asked me a litany of What Color Is Your Parachute?-type questions about my ideal work environment and my personal communication style, sat me down to take a Myers-Briggs personality test, pronounced me a "type INTJ," and then explained that I would do well at a job that allowed me to use my "creativity and originality" within a "structured environment." The world was wide open to me, she said, and she wanted me to consider all my options. Where would I be happiest working? Might I like the climate in San Francisco? Had I ever considered working abroad or traveling? Did I prefer a bustling, big-city atmosphere or a more laid-back, small-town life? Would I prefer the predictability of working for a large corporation or the informality of a smaller business? Had I ever considered an entrepreneurial venture?

These were all questions that were lovely to ponder in the abstract, but not too practical to my real-life situation. I lived in Madison. My boyfriend, Joe, lived in Madison. We lived together in Madison. Neither of us had any money to move away from Madison, even if we were so inclined. And I needed a job right away. I didn't have time to spend months exploring the depths of my psyche to try and determine what sort of career would help me become completely self-actualized. All of this information seemed quite disappointing to Delores. But sometimes the truth hurts. And the truth definitely hurt me, because Madison was a college town flooded with overqualified, underemployed workers — people with master's degrees and Ph.D.s could be found tending bar and waiting tables all over the city.

As a stopgap measure, I took an eight-dollar-an-hour job stuffing envelopes at a small local nonprofit organization (a job that provided me with neither my very own cubicle nor my very own set of business cards), and considered my options as I stuffed. Fold paper, fold paper, stuff envelope, seal. Become an oral surgeon? No. I don't really like mouths. Fold paper, fold paper, stuff envelope, seal. Astronaut? Nah, you probably need to know something sciencey to do that, and I barely made it through Chemistry 101. Fold paper, fold paper, stuff envelope, seal. Insurance adjuster? Oh, please. Fold paper, fold paper, stuff envelope, seal. Philosopher? I'm qualified to do that, but I'm not seeing many "philosopher needed" ads in the paper...Fold paper, fold paper, stuff envelope, seal. Law school? Maybe I should go to law school. That's not a half-bad idea. With a law degree, maybe I could even do some good in the world!

I had always enjoyed a good argument, and the thought of becoming a lawyer had crossed my mind on a few occasions — the prospect of practicing law intrigued me. But I must admit that my decision to go to law school was made by default more than it was fueled by a raging desire to practice law. I wanted so badly to be an adult, to be a professional, to be taken seriously, but I had no idea how to go about it. With no other real clues, hints, or prospects for a professional future, law school seemed like a respectable, practical option that might actually land me a real job — one that didn't involve opening someone else's mail, learning how to operate a telephone switchboard, or standing in cushy, orthopedic shoes saying "Hi, my name is Martha, and I'll be your waitress this evening." A job with not only my own business cards and my own Dilbert-ready bulletin board, but probably even my own office (maybe with a window) and possibly even my own secretary.

"Law school opens so many doors," my uncle Mark said.

"Don't do it," my aunt Elaine, Uncle Mark's wife, said.

"If you were a lawyer, you could work to achieve social justice," said the director of the nonprofit organization I worked for.

"With a law degree, you will have infinite opportunities," proclaimed the new, no-nonsense career counselor who I had gone to see behind Delores's back.

"I have no idea what to do with my life," I responded. "Count me in!"

"I don't know what to do with my life either," Joe told me. "Let's get married. I'll stand by your side while you get your law degree, then I'll get to ride the gravy train once you're a highly paid attorney!"

"Yes!" I answered, to the world's most romantic proposal. The dual coups of marriage and law school would undoubtedly transform both of us into serious, respectable, mature adults.

The problematic part of the whole scenario was that Joe and I would be paying for the nuptials ourselves. Although our parents were happy to hear of the planned union (they found it infinitely preferable to our sinful cohabitation over the previous year) and surely would have loved to help us out financially if they could have, that just wasn't in the cards. We didn't even bother to broach the subject, as it was understood from the beginning. Chances are, if your parents don't pay for your college education, they're not paying for your wedding.

I had visions of a candlelit ceremony where I would stand, radiating a beautiful bridal glow, costumed in a flowing white silk wedding gown. In my dreams, the ceremony would be followed by a lovely reception at a lakeside hotel (with an open bar and champagne fountain), complete with a tiered cake adorned with fresh strawberries and roses, with a miniature bride and groom perched on the top. The reality was that we were stretching it to even think we could afford a wedding at the courthouse followed by a reception at the local VFW with pitchers of foamy beer, a greasy fish fry, and an Entenmann's Iced Devil's Food Cake. The disparity was troublesome, to say the least.

I didn't really need the fanciest of weddings — I'm not one of those girls who began collecting back issues of Modern Bride magazine at age fourteen — but I did want something memorable in its own way. It was the beginning of an exciting new adventure for Joe and me, and I wanted something that would do it justice. Ultimately, we decided that we'd either find a way to do the traditional white dress down the aisle or would do something altogether unconventional. Not that we really knew what "unconventional" would be. Vegas? A beach in Mexico? I just hoped that we'd be able to afford the wedding before gray hairs began sprouting from our heads.

The solution came via fax one day while I was at work, answering phones and stuffing yet more envelopes. An unsolicited facsimile, an advertisement, boasting of discounted airfares to locations near and far. Incredibly discounted airfares. Airfares that even Joe and I could begin to afford. Clutching the paper between white knuckles (because I knew that what I was about to propose was a long shot), I took the advertisement home and presented my case to Joe, using my best lawyer-to-be voice.

"Joe, you know how much I've always wanted to visit New York City, right? Well, I saw this ad today that says that we could fly there for only $120 each. Round trip. I think we should go. If we stayed with your sister and her husband, it wouldn't cost us a penny. It would be fabulous! And you know how we've been worrying about how we'll ever afford to get married? Well, I was thinking...why don't we get married while we're there? We talked about doing something exotic. New York is exotic, right? Maybe we could find a judge to marry us in Central Park. Central Park!"

Joe said nothing.

Nervously, I kept pitching.

"I'm thinking a sort of elopement. Tell people afterward and let the chips fall where they may. We wouldn't have to deal with the awkwardness of getting both of my parents together in the same room for our wedding or with the drama of our two families actually meeting. And, seriously, how cool would it be to say that we eloped in Central Park? Plus, it would be like a wedding and honeymoon all wrapped up in one. And all for less than $300! Or for sure for less than $500. How can we ever beat that? I know we can't really afford even that right now, but we do have credit cards we could use. In the long run, it would be way cheaper than any of our other options."

Anxiously, I awaited his response.

"Let me call my sister to make sure it's okay," Joe said. "But I'm in."

So, on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon in early September, we flew out of Madison and landed at LaGuardia Airport. I had my face pressed so tightly into the tiny airplane window, craning to see my first glimpse of New York City, that I'm surprised my nose ever recovered its natural shape. I took in every detail of the foreign-feeling taxi ride through Queens and Brooklyn, and we were in line at the City Clerk's Office at nine the next morning to get our marriage license. After a day and a half of wandering around Manhattan — me with my mouth hanging open and a tiny bit of excited, overwhelmed, New York-jealous drool dripping from my cheek the entire time — Joe and I got married in a cozy nook of Strawberry Fields in Central Park, with Joe's sister, her husband, and their nine-week-old daughter as our witnesses. I wore a short, strappy, bright red dress that I had purchased, on clearance, for $39 at The Limited. Joe wore a plaid jacket and a thin black tie that were, in retrospect, both quite regrettable.

We wandered around the park for several hours afterward, enjoying the perfect, sunny seventy-two-degree weather and eating ice-cream sandwiches purchased from a curbside vendor. That night we stayed at the now-defunct Hotel St. Moritz in a deeply discounted room overlooking Central Park. Two days later we returned to Wisconsin. Joe had to drag me back kicking and screaming. I was in love with New York. I wanted to stay.

Once we were home, I turned my attention to the law school portion of the Martha Adulthood Plan. My 3.35 undergraduate grade point average was within the realm of the acceptable, and as long as I could get a respectable score on the entrance exam and write a coherent application essay, I figured that I shouldn't have a problem getting into law school somewhere. My expectations weren't too high, and I wasn't spending too much time overanalyzing the whole situation by worrying about pesky little things like, you know, how I was going to pay for this whole endeavor or the fact that I could legitimately stand to be about $100,000 in debt if I ended up going to a private school. Those were mere quibbling details! To be worried about later! Meanwhile, this plan offered an end to the otherwise endless fold paper, fold paper, stuff envelope, seal.

The first step was to take the Law School Admissions Test, better known as the LSAT. The LSAT is a standardized exam designed to test students' critical and analytical thinking skills. Unlike every other college or graduate school entrance exam in existence, all of which question students' understanding of actual subjects like math or science or history, the LSAT requires absolutely no concrete knowledge of any subject matter whatsoever. It doesn't test what you know, it tests the way you think. This makes the LSAT the perfect gig for intelligent people who really don't know anything. People like me. It's nice to know that the world accommodates us, too, even if it does relegate us to a life in the law.

Under the guise of examining your logical reasoning skills, the LSAT ties your brain into intricate knots. It does so by asking questions not far removed from this:

A man walks into a bar, and the bartender tells him that he will serve him five free beers if he can answer one question correctly. The man readily agrees. The bartender lines up eight beers on the bar: an Amstel Light, a Budweiser, a Corona, a Dixie, an El Toro, a Fosters, a Guinness, and a Heineken. He sets forth the following rules: If you drink the Amstel and the Guinness, you must also drink the Heineken. If you drink the Dixie, you may not drink the Fosters or the Guinness. If you drink the El Toro, you may not drink the Budweiser. You must drink exactly two of the three bottles of Budweiser, Corona, and Fosters. Now, you have three minutes to come up with a complete and accurate list of the five beers that you can drink to follow all of these rules. Go! (Note: you may not change your mind and ask for a shot of Jack Daniel's instead.)

Because I am the type of geek who gets an instant endorphin high when presented with a task that involves making checklists or graphs, with solving puzzles or logic games of any sort, or with answering any type of question asked in a multiple-choice format, the LSAT was my friend.

I spent several months mastering the art of working out these mind-bending problems, and each Saturday afternoon I could be found sitting at my bright blue-painted desk taking a three-hour-long sample exam, scoring my test, and then analyzing my answers. Although I had consistently been doing well on my practice exams, when test day arrived, I woke up in a clammy sweat, my stomach a bundle of clenched nerves. I was so afraid that I honestly didn't think I was going to be able to make my legs walk the mile and a half to the campus classroom where the exam was to be held. But I had no choice. I was counting on this plan to work. I forced myself to put one leg in front of the other, did some deep breathing to try and calm my nerves, and motored through the exam, which turned out to be not too terrible. Uncharacteristically, I left thinking that I hadn't done half bad, even though I hadn't been afforded the luxury of taking a Kaplan test prep class like many of the other people in the room. I had done all I could; there was nothing else to do but sit back and wait for my score.

I agonized terribly during the monthlong wait, which seemed interminable. When the results of the test finally arrived, I was speechless. I had scored a 172 out of a possible 180 points. This placed me in the 98th percentile of all test-takers nationwide — a truly stellar score. A score that, I quickly realized, was probably good enough to counteract my less-than-fabulous college grade point average and gain me admission into a better-than-average law school. My mind started racing with the possibilities. Suddenly I was catapulted into very unfamiliar territory. I was face to face with the prospect of admission to an esteemed institution instead of a continuation of my relative mediocrity. I had a brief vision of myself driving a Jaguar XJS someday instead of a used Ford Escort.

I spent the next few months in frenzied excitement, sitting with Joe on our sagging couch and poring through mountains of glossy law school brochures, each exclaiming the diversity of the student body, the breadth of the curriculum, the brilliance of the faculty, and the wholly unique experience that I could get from that school and that school alone. Phrases such as "There is no other law school that brings together such intellectual talent and commitment, from such a remarkable diversity of cultural perspectives, in such an exciting campus, so never mind the enormous price tag" and "Our commitment to rigorous and exciting legal training and to pathbreaking scholarship has no parallel, so try to ignore the fact that you will have to mortgage your entire future to attend" peppered my dreams. Needless to say, I didn't sleep well.

Law school catalogs always feature photos of people looking so fascinating, so brilliant, so intellectually desirable that even if I had been a conceptual artist hell-bent on producing postmodern sculptures made entirely out of recycled metal for a living with absolutely no interest in the law whatsoever, after an hour locked in a room with a stack of those brochures, I'm pretty sure I would have had pen to paper filling out an application. A shorthaired and severe-looking woman pictured in a lecture hall, mouth caught agape in speech, hands gesturing wildly, surely making a brilliant observation about the true meaning of Justice. A bespectacled man, older than your typical law student, photographed in animated conversation with a professor, clearly having a meaningful discussion about the intellectual pitfalls in the Supreme Court's most recent decision. A gorgeous woman with a shocking head of dark curls pictured reading a book in the law library, undoubtedly digesting legal precedent dating back hundreds of years and formulating ideas for changes in the American penal system that would make our entire society a better, happier, more peaceful place in which to live. I wanted to be one of those people.

Enjoying the opportunity that I hadn't been given when selecting an undergraduate institution, I argued the relative merits of close to a hundred different law schools with Joe. Together we distilled the information in the catalogs that I had received, then I studied the lists of law school rankings until I had them practically committed to memory. Finally, I came up with complex lists of "safety" schools, "reasonable target" schools, and "pipe dream" schools to which I might apply. The final product reflected nothing so much as my desire for the two of us to leave Wisconsin and start our lives over somewhere else. My choices were scattered liberally all across the country, with a noticeable gap in the flyover states: Harvard, New York University, the University of Southern California, Loyola, the University of Washington, Northeastern, Georgetown, Florida State University, and Columbia — my very first choice of school.

I approached college professors who were complete strangers to me, but who had at some point decided to give me good grades in my classes, and asked them to consider writing letters of recommendation attesting to my intellect, character, and overall fitness to practice law. I shed tears of frustration when attempting to write some sort of meaningful and insightful personal statement that would, in three double-spaced pages or less, provide a glimpse into my true self and demonstrate exactly why it was that Saint Peter should open the pearly gates of an elite law school for me and allow my entrance.

I filled out a financial aid application two miles long that asked me questions about how much money my parents had made at their high school jobs and whether or not I had properly invested the babysitting money I had earned when I was thirteen, and then I fervently prayed that somehow, some way, I would figure out a way to finance this whole endeavor. I knew it would involve taking out staggering amounts of student loans. But at the time it kind of felt like Monopoly money — it wasn't like the twelve actual dollars occupying my wallet at that moment. It was theoretical money. Plus, no one would lend me more than I would be able to afford to repay, right?

In the end, I sent out one application and one application alone. I had fallen in love with New York City on my brief marital visit, and I had taken to fantasizing about living there someday. Columbia was the best law school in New York City, and that was where I wanted to be. Even with my high LSAT scores, I didn't think my chances of admission were particularly good, but I was determined to try. And I soon found out that Columbia had an early decision program that I hoped might just be my way in. Essentially, they promised to give me an early answer (and, by implication, a potential leg up in the selection process) if I promised them my soul. If they accepted me, I promised to enroll, withholding any other applications and forsaking all others who might say yes to me down the line. I knew it was a long shot, but I had nothing to lose. I'd get Columbia's answer in December, and if they said no, I would still have plenty of time to send in applications to my other chosen schools. If they said yes, well, I couldn't even let myself imagine what I would do if they said yes.

I waited with bated breath each day as I checked my mailbox, hoping to see a fat envelope from the admissions office. Although the envelope was thin when it arrived, it contained the magic word Congratulations. I was going to the Ivy League.

I had absolutely no idea what I was in for.

Copyright © 2007 by Martha Kimes

Prologue: The Thick and the Thin

"When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers."

— Oscar Wilde

The letter that arrived in the mail on that early December day was thin. More than thin. It was sickly, it was malnourished, it was positively anorexic. I knew at first glance what that meant. Good news from law school admissions offices does not come in anorexic envelopes. Good news comes in thick, heavy packages of impressive heft, packages that look like they've just feasted on filet mignon and chocolate soufflé, packages that scream out "We want you!" The thin envelopes? Those quietly whisper in your ear "You suck." You might as well just toss them into the trash, as there's no sense in torturing yourself with letters that are certain to begin with the overly polite "After a careful review of your application, we are sorry to inform you that..." and always finish with a nice version of "We've decided you're not worthy. But thanks for trying, and we do appreciate having received your $60 application fee." They only need one page to tell you that.

But I am a sucker for punishment, so I opened the anorexic letter. To my sheer and utter shock, the words on the crisp ivory page read "Congratulations. We are happy to welcome you into the Columbia Law School Class of 1997." Accepted. Not rejected. Accepted? To an Ivy League school? OH. MY. GOD. But what kind of law school sends acceptance letters in skinny envelopes? Are these people living in some sort of alternate reality where they don't understand the universal significance of the thin envelope? Or is this all some sort of cruel joke?

With shaking hands, I called my husband, Joe.

"I got in," I croaked.

"What?" he replied.

"Accepted not rejected got in Columbia early admission law school accepted they said yes Ivy League oh shit!!!!!!"

"What?" he asked. "Honey, slow down — I can't understand you."

I believe it was then that I started hyperventilating. "Columbia. Wheeze. Law school. Wheeze. Columbia Law School? Accepted? Wheeze. Early decision program? New York City? Can't breathe."

"Take a cleansing breath, Martha. Slowly. Breathe in and out."

"Why? Is that how they do it in the Ivy League? Wheeze. Are you trying to tell me that I don't even know how to breathe like the other fancy students there? You don't think I'm good enough? Wheeze wheeze. I mean, I know that I don't exactly come from a long line of Harvard-educated lawyers, but, my God, what kind of person are you? We're still newlyweds — the ink is barely dry on the marriage license. You're not allowed to be cruel yet. You're supposed to be supportive! Wheeze. Congratulatory! And instead you criticize? How dare you? Wheeeeeeze!"

Yeah, that was a harbinger of things to come.

There's no doubt that I'm a smart enough person, but I hardly border on the brilliant. If you skip class and are looking to borrow a day's worth of notes, I'm a good person to ask. But if you're desperate for an A and hoping to copy from someone's test, you might have better luck looking elsewhere. Unless, of course, it's a standardized test, in which case I'm your woman. (Not that there's a chance in hell that I'm letting you copy.) You know how people always argue that standardized tests are unfair because "they don't test people's intelligence or knowledge, they just test people's ability to take standardized tests?" Well, I'm a proud supporter of that system because, intelligence and knowledge be damned, I happen to have a spectacular ability to take standardized tests.

The Law School Admission Test changed the course of my life. Before I took that exam, I was just an average Midwestern girl with average grades and a degree from an average college. Sure, my parents had stressed the importance of education, but always within certain limits. I was expected to do well in my studies and I consistently did, without ever trying all that hard. I was the product of public schools, and that was just a given in my house — when your parents drive a used Ford Escort, there's not a lot of extra money to throw around for private school tuition. (Not that there was a private school anywhere near the small town where we lived.) When it came time to go off to college, it was not a matter of researching universities near and far in order to choose the very best school to fit my needs and allow me to grow personally, socially, culturally, and intellectually. My mailbox was not filled with glossy brochures from small liberal arts colleges across the country picturing gorgeous quads and ivied buildings. That just wasn't our style. In my house, it was more a matter of "Okay, which state school do you want to go to? And don't go giving some crazy answer like UCLA or Colorado State. We mean which state school in this state that we now live in called Wisconsin where resident tuition is inexpensive."

To my parents' credit, their philosophy pretty well matched that of most other families in my town. Except for a privileged few, we kids were destined to be Wisconsinites for at least four more years. My high school fantasies about breaking away mostly involved sitting around on the burnished orange velvet couch in the living room of my family's modest ranch home with my best friend Leah, snacking on Doritos and off-brand diet cola, and dreaming about the virtual Eden that was Madison, where the main campus of the University of Wisconsin was housed — all of ninety-nine miles away. Sure, I would have rather ventured off far away, but you can make a lot out of ninety-nine miles' worth of distance if you try. Especially if your parents are on the verge of a divorce and you're trying the best you can to separate yourself from all of their issues.

During high school, I waited tables at the local Pizza Hut three or four nights a week, serving carbo-loaded food to overweight people, and squirreling away tip money into my college savings account. Each extra basket of breadsticks that I could talk a table into ordering would transfer into an extra twenty cents or so tip-wise, so I always tried to do the hard sell. I came home each night exhausted, stinking of sweat, dough, and pepperoni, but bounded into my bedroom, dumped the tips out of my waitress apron onto my bed, and excitedly counted up the pile of one-dollar bills and heaps of change that I had earned.

Leah and I both applied to and were accepted by the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and we excitedly headed off to be college roommates. A few months later, she began sleeping with my ex-boyfriend, to whom I had lost my virtue the year before, and with whom I had not parted on pleasant terms. As one might imagine, that roommate arrangement turned out rather disastrously. Aside from lamenting the demise of my friendship with Leah, college meant long-awaited freedom from my parents and the glorious opportunity to experience life on my own. (Read: drink lots and lots of beer, skip lots and lots of classes.) When I wasn't going to house parties, attending college football games, or acting like a poseur doofus smoking clove cigarettes in the Rathskeller of the student union, I attended class, studied enough but not too much, and managed to earn respectable but not write-home-about grades. I divided my time between studying, partying, and working to earn tuition money.

For some reason, it never really occurred to me to stop and focus on what I was going to do once college was over. Wisconsin was a very large state school, with over 40,000 students enrolled, and it wasn't as though career counselors were purposefully wandering the 933 acres of campus, hunting down random undergraduates and forcing them to face the music. They were there if you sought them out, but if you didn't, you could survive in peaceful, ignorant bliss until graduation.

In the movies, after you get your college diploma, you are handed an entry-level job in a mysterious field like marketing or banking or human resources or pharmaceutical sales, along with a cubicle that you can call your very own, a bulletin board upon which you can tack Dilbert cartoons, and a box of business cards that make you feel more important than you actually are. To this day, I wonder why it is that at no point during my four years at college did one person (be it a career counselor, professor, or parent) say to me, "You know, you're going to have to find a job and a way to pay your rent after graduation, because student loans and two-dollar all-you-can-drink parties don't go on forever, missy." Possibly they assumed that such a statement was self-evident. If so, they were mistaken.

I was barely three steps off the stage at college graduation, diploma proudly in hand, when that fact did become obvious to me. I was armed with a B.A. in psychology and philosophy, neither of which was the most practical or marketable field of expertise, and I was suddenly hit with the realization that I had no idea what to do with my life. And that I had bills to pay. And that soon I would be getting a little rumbly in the tumbly with hunger, and that even ramen noodles cost money. And that this here piece of paper that I got in the mail says that in six months they expect me to start paying back the student loans I took out? Don't they know I'm not even employed?

Nervously, hesitantly, I visited the university's career services center, where I met with a counselor named Delores who wore a gauzy, flowing purple tunic and chunky turquoise jewelry. Delores asked me a litany of What Color Is Your Parachute?-type questions about my ideal work environment and my personal communication style, sat me down to take a Myers-Briggs personality test, pronounced me a "type INTJ," and then explained that I would do well at a job that allowed me to use my "creativity and originality" within a "structured environment." The world was wide open to me, she said, and she wanted me to consider all my options. Where would I be happiest working? Might I like the climate in San Francisco? Had I ever considered working abroad or traveling? Did I prefer a bustling, big-city atmosphere or a more laid-back, small-town life? Would I prefer the predictability of working for a large corporation or the informality of a smaller business? Had I ever considered an entrepreneurial venture?

These were all questions that were lovely to ponder in the abstract, but not too practical to my real-life situation. I lived in Madison. My boyfriend, Joe, lived in Madison. We lived together in Madison. Neither of us had any money to move away from Madison, even if we were so inclined. And I needed a job right away. I didn't have time to spend months exploring the depths of my psyche to try and determine what sort of career would help me become completely self-actualized. All of this information seemed quite disappointing to Delores. But sometimes the truth hurts. And the truth definitely hurt me, because Madison was a college town flooded with overqualified, underemployed workers — people with master's degrees and Ph.D.s could be found tending bar and waiting tables all over the city.

As a stopgap measure, I took an eight-dollar-an-hour job stuffing envelopes at a small local nonprofit organization (a job that provided me with neither my very own cubicle nor my very own set of business cards), and considered my options as I stuffed. Fold paper, fold paper, stuff envelope, seal. Become an oral surgeon? No. I don't really like mouths. Fold paper, fold paper, stuff envelope, seal. Astronaut? Nah, you probably need to know something sciencey to do that, and I barely made it through Chemistry 101. Fold paper, fold paper, stuff envelope, seal. Insurance adjuster? Oh, please. Fold paper, fold paper, stuff envelope, seal. Philosopher? I'm qualified to do that, but I'm not seeing many "philosopher needed" ads in the paper...Fold paper, fold paper, stuff envelope, seal. Law school? Maybe I should go to law school. That's not a half-bad idea. With a law degree, maybe I could even do some good in the world!

I had always enjoyed a good argument, and the thought of becoming a lawyer had crossed my mind on a few occasions — the prospect of practicing law intrigued me. But I must admit that my decision to go to law school was made by default more than it was fueled by a raging desire to practice law. I wanted so badly to be an adult, to be a professional, to be taken seriously, but I had no idea how to go about it. With no other real clues, hints, or prospects for a professional future, law school seemed like a respectable, practical option that might actually land me a real job — one that didn't involve opening someone else's mail, learning how to operate a telephone switchboard, or standing in cushy, orthopedic shoes saying "Hi, my name is Martha, and I'll be your waitress this evening." A job with not only my own business cards and my own Dilbert-ready bulletin board, but probably even my own office (maybe with a window) and possibly even my own secretary.

"Law school opens so many doors," my uncle Mark said.

"Don't do it," my aunt Elaine, Uncle Mark's wife, said.

"If you were a lawyer, you could work to achieve social justice," said the director of the nonprofit organization I worked for.

"With a law degree, you will have infinite opportunities," proclaimed the new, no-nonsense career counselor who I had gone to see behind Delores's back.

"I have no idea what to do with my life," I responded. "Count me in!"

"I don't know what to do with my life either," Joe told me. "Let's get married. I'll stand by your side while you get your law degree, then I'll get to ride the gravy train once you're a highly paid attorney!"

"Yes!" I answered, to the world's most romantic proposal. The dual coups of marriage and law school would undoubtedly transform both of us into serious, respectable, mature adults.

The problematic part of the whole scenario was that Joe and I would be paying for the nuptials ourselves. Although our parents were happy to hear of the planned union (they found it infinitely preferable to our sinful cohabitation over the previous year) and surely would have loved to help us out financially if they could have, that just wasn't in the cards. We didn't even bother to broach the subject, as it was understood from the beginning. Chances are, if your parents don't pay for your college education, they're not paying for your wedding.

I had visions of a candlelit ceremony where I would stand, radiating a beautiful bridal glow, costumed in a flowing white silk wedding gown. In my dreams, the ceremony would be followed by a lovely reception at a lakeside hotel (with an open bar and champagne fountain), complete with a tiered cake adorned with fresh strawberries and roses, with a miniature bride and groom perched on the top. The reality was that we were stretching it to even think we could afford a wedding at the courthouse followed by a reception at the local VFW with pitchers of foamy beer, a greasy fish fry, and an Entenmann's Iced Devil's Food Cake. The disparity was troublesome, to say the least.

I didn't really need the fanciest of weddings — I'm not one of those girls who began collecting back issues of Modern Bride magazine at age fourteen — but I did want something memorable in its own way. It was the beginning of an exciting new adventure for Joe and me, and I wanted something that would do it justice. Ultimately, we decided that we'd either find a way to do the traditional white dress down the aisle or would do something altogether unconventional. Not that we really knew what "unconventional" would be. Vegas? A beach in Mexico? I just hoped that we'd be able to afford the wedding before gray hairs began sprouting from our heads.

The solution came via fax one day while I was at work, answering phones and stuffing yet more envelopes. An unsolicited facsimile, an advertisement, boasting of discounted airfares to locations near and far. Incredibly discounted airfares. Airfares that even Joe and I could begin to afford. Clutching the paper between white knuckles (because I knew that what I was about to propose was a long shot), I took the advertisement home and presented my case to Joe, using my best lawyer-to-be voice.

"Joe, you know how much I've always wanted to visit New York City, right? Well, I saw this ad today that says that we could fly there for only $120 each. Round trip. I think we should go. If we stayed with your sister and her husband, it wouldn't cost us a penny. It would be fabulous! And you know how we've been worrying about how we'll ever afford to get married? Well, I was thinking...why don't we get married while we're there? We talked about doing something exotic. New York is exotic, right? Maybe we could find a judge to marry us in Central Park. Central Park!"

Joe said nothing.

Nervously, I kept pitching.

"I'm thinking a sort of elopement. Tell people afterward and let the chips fall where they may. We wouldn't have to deal with the awkwardness of getting both of my parents together in the same room for our wedding or with the drama of our two families actually meeting. And, seriously, how cool would it be to say that we eloped in Central Park? Plus, it would be like a wedding and honeymoon all wrapped up in one. And all for less than $300! Or for sure for less than $500. How can we ever beat that? I know we can't really afford even that right now, but we do have credit cards we could use. In the long run, it would be way cheaper than any of our other options."

Anxiously, I awaited his response.

"Let me call my sister to make sure it's okay," Joe said. "But I'm in."

So, on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon in early September, we flew out of Madison and landed at LaGuardia Airport. I had my face pressed so tightly into the tiny airplane window, craning to see my first glimpse of New York City, that I'm surprised my nose ever recovered its natural shape. I took in every detail of the foreign-feeling taxi ride through Queens and Brooklyn, and we were in line at the City Clerk's Office at nine the next morning to get our marriage license. After a day and a half of wandering around Manhattan — me with my mouth hanging open and a tiny bit of excited, overwhelmed, New York-jealous drool dripping from my cheek the entire time — Joe and I got married in a cozy nook of Strawberry Fields in Central Park, with Joe's sister, her husband, and their nine-week-old daughter as our witnesses. I wore a short, strappy, bright red dress that I had purchased, on clearance, for $39 at The Limited. Joe wore a plaid jacket and a thin black tie that were, in retrospect, both quite regrettable.

We wandered around the park for several hours afterward, enjoying the perfect, sunny seventy-two-degree weather and eating ice-cream sandwiches purchased from a curbside vendor. That night we stayed at the now-defunct Hotel St. Moritz in a deeply discounted room overlooking Central Park. Two days later we returned to Wisconsin. Joe had to drag me back kicking and screaming. I was in love with New York. I wanted to stay.

Once we were home, I turned my attention to the law school portion of the Martha Adulthood Plan. My 3.35 undergraduate grade point average was within the realm of the acceptable, and as long as I could get a respectable score on the entrance exam and write a coherent application essay, I figured that I shouldn't have a problem getting into law school somewhere. My expectations weren't too high, and I wasn't spending too much time overanalyzing the whole situation by worrying about pesky little things like, you know, how I was going to pay for this whole endeavor or the fact that I could legitimately stand to be about $100,000 in debt if I ended up going to a private school. Those were mere quibbling details! To be worried about later! Meanwhile, this plan offered an end to the otherwise endless fold paper, fold paper, stuff envelope, seal.

The first step was to take the Law School Admissions Test, better known as the LSAT. The LSAT is a standardized exam designed to test students' critical and analytical thinking skills. Unlike every other college or graduate school entrance exam in existence, all of which question students' understanding of actual subjects like math or science or history, the LSAT requires absolutely no concrete knowledge of any subject matter whatsoever. It doesn't test what you know, it tests the way you think. This makes the LSAT the perfect gig for intelligent people who really don't know anything. People like me. It's nice to know that the world accommodates us, too, even if it does relegate us to a life in the law.

Under the guise of examining your logical reasoning skills, the LSAT ties your brain into intricate knots. It does so by asking questions not far removed from this:

A man walks into a bar, and the bartender tells him that he will serve him five free beers if he can answer one question correctly. The man readily agrees. The bartender lines up eight beers on the bar: an Amstel Light, a Budweiser, a Corona, a Dixie, an El Toro, a Fosters, a Guinness, and a Heineken. He sets forth the following rules: If you drink the Amstel and the Guinness, you must also drink the Heineken. If you drink the Dixie, you may not drink the Fosters or the Guinness. If you drink the El Toro, you may not drink the Budweiser. You must drink exactly two of the three bottles of Budweiser, Corona, and Fosters. Now, you have three minutes to come up with a complete and accurate list of the five beers that you can drink to follow all of these rules. Go! (Note: you may not change your mind and ask for a shot of Jack Daniel's instead.)

Because I am the type of geek who gets an instant endorphin high when presented with a task that involves making checklists or graphs, with solving puzzles or logic games of any sort, or with answering any type of question asked in a multiple-choice format, the LSAT was my friend.

I spent several months mastering the art of working out these mind-bending problems, and each Saturday afternoon I could be found sitting at my bright blue-painted desk taking a three-hour-long sample exam, scoring my test, and then analyzing my answers. Although I had consistently been doing well on my practice exams, when test day arrived, I woke up in a clammy sweat, my stomach a bundle of clenched nerves. I was so afraid that I honestly didn't think I was going to be able to make my legs walk the mile and a half to the campus classroom where the exam was to be held. But I had no choice. I was counting on this plan to work. I forced myself to put one leg in front of the other, did some deep breathing to try and calm my nerves, and motored through the exam, which turned out to be not too terrible. Uncharacteristically, I left thinking that I hadn't done half bad, even though I hadn't been afforded the luxury of taking a Kaplan test prep class like many of the other people in the room. I had done all I could; there was nothing else to do but sit back and wait for my score.

I agonized terribly during the monthlong wait, which seemed interminable. When the results of the test finally arrived, I was speechless. I had scored a 172 out of a possible 180 points. This placed me in the 98th percentile of all test-takers nationwide — a truly stellar score. A score that, I quickly realized, was probably good enough to counteract my less-than-fabulous college grade point average and gain me admission into a better-than-average law school. My mind started racing with the possibilities. Suddenly I was catapulted into very unfamiliar territory. I was face to face with the prospect of admission to an esteemed institution instead of a continuation of my relative mediocrity. I had a brief vision of myself driving a Jaguar XJS someday instead of a used Ford Escort.

I spent the next few months in frenzied excitement, sitting with Joe on our sagging couch and poring through mountains of glossy law school brochures, each exclaiming the diversity of the student body, the breadth of the curriculum, the brilliance of the faculty, and the wholly unique experience that I could get from that school and that school alone. Phrases such as "There is no other law school that brings together such intellectual talent and commitment, from such a remarkable diversity of cultural perspectives, in such an exciting campus, so never mind the enormous price tag" and "Our commitment to rigorous and exciting legal training and to pathbreaking scholarship has no parallel, so try to ignore the fact that you will have to mortgage your entire future to attend" peppered my dreams. Needless to say, I didn't sleep well.

Law school catalogs always feature photos of people looking so fascinating, so brilliant, so intellectually desirable that even if I had been a conceptual artist hell-bent on producing postmodern sculptures made entirely out of recycled metal for a living with absolutely no interest in the law whatsoever, after an hour locked in a room with a stack of those brochures, I'm pretty sure I would have had pen to paper filling out an application. A shorthaired and severe-looking woman pictured in a lecture hall, mouth caught agape in speech, hands gesturing wildly, surely making a brilliant observation about the true meaning of Justice. A bespectacled man, older than your typical law student, photographed in animated conversation with a professor, clearly having a meaningful discussion about the intellectual pitfalls in the Supreme Court's most recent decision. A gorgeous woman with a shocking head of dark curls pictured reading a book in the law library, undoubtedly digesting legal precedent dating back hundreds of years and formulating ideas for changes in the American penal system that would make our entire society a better, happier, more peaceful place in which to live. I wanted to be one of those people.

Enjoying the opportunity that I hadn't been given when selecting an undergraduate institution, I argued the relative merits of close to a hundred different law schools with Joe. Together we distilled the information in the catalogs that I had received, then I studied the lists of law school rankings until I had them practically committed to memory. Finally, I came up with complex lists of "safety" schools, "reasonable target" schools, and "pipe dream" schools to which I might apply. The final product reflected nothing so much as my desire for the two of us to leave Wisconsin and start our lives over somewhere else. My choices were scattered liberally all across the country, with a noticeable gap in the flyover states: Harvard, New York University, the University of Southern California, Loyola, the University of Washington, Northeastern, Georgetown, Florida State University, and Columbia — my very first choice of school.

I approached college professors who were complete strangers to me, but who had at some point decided to give me good grades in my classes, and asked them to consider writing letters of recommendation attesting to my intellect, character, and overall fitness to practice law. I shed tears of frustration when attempting to write some sort of meaningful and insightful personal statement that would, in three double-spaced pages or less, provide a glimpse into my true self and demonstrate exactly why it was that Saint Peter should open the pearly gates of an elite law school for me and allow my entrance.

I filled out a financial aid application two miles long that asked me questions about how much money my parents had made at their high school jobs and whether or not I had properly invested the babysitting money I had earned when I was thirteen, and then I fervently prayed that somehow, some way, I would figure out a way to finance this whole endeavor. I knew it would involve taking out staggering amounts of student loans. But at the time it kind of felt like Monopoly money — it wasn't like the twelve actual dollars occupying my wallet at that moment. It was theoretical money. Plus, no one would lend me more than I would be able to afford to repay, right?

In the end, I sent out one application and one application alone. I had fallen in love with New York City on my brief marital visit, and I had taken to fantasizing about living there someday. Columbia was the best law school in New York City, and that was where I wanted to be. Even with my high LSAT scores, I didn't think my chances of admission were particularly good, but I was determined to try. And I soon found out that Columbia had an early decision program that I hoped might just be my way in. Essentially, they promised to give me an early answer (and, by implication, a potential leg up in the selection process) if I promised them my soul. If they accepted me, I promised to enroll, withholding any other applications and forsaking all others who might say yes to me down the line. I knew it was a long shot, but I had nothing to lose. I'd get Columbia's answer in December, and if they said no, I would still have plenty of time to send in applications to my other chosen schools. If they said yes, well, I couldn't even let myself imagine what I would do if they said yes.

I waited with bated breath each day as I checked my mailbox, hoping to see a fat envelope from the admissions office. Although the envelope was thin when it arrived, it contained the magic word Congratulations. I was going to the Ivy League.

I had absolutely no idea what I was in for.

Copyright © 2007 by Martha Kimes

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Table of Contents


Contents

Author's Note

Prologue: The Thick and the Thin

One: Welcome to the Dollhouse

Two: Gunning for Glory

Three: The Letter of the Law

Four: Fear and Loathing

Five: The Agony and the Ecstasy

Six: The Point Is Moot

Seven: Gotcha!

Eight: Will Work for Food

Nine: Journalicious

Ten: Turning of the Tides

Eleven: Slacker Savant

Twelve: Belly Up to the Bar

Epilogue: The End of the Innocence

Acknowledgments

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