A buddy of mine from law school texted me on April 1st to remind me of a prank gone wrong during our 1L year. I figured I could pass this cautionary tale along to all the would-be April Fools jokesters out there. For those of you who are unaware, law school courses are typically graded on a curve. For each grade a professor gives a student that falls above a set median in a Bell Curve, that professor has to give another student a corresponding score that falls below median grade in most cases. This means that one person’s win is another person’s loss. Additionally, you only have a handful of grading opportunities in each class. Scoring well on any assignment is crucial to success. Hold on to this fact. It’s important.
***Writer’s note: To protect all innocent parties, and to protect myself from any additional civil exposure, I have redacted all names and replaced real people with fictional names. ***
If you know me, you know I love relationships. I say hello to almost everyone and I love striking up conversations. I particularly enjoyed speaking with teachers and professors. You can learn so much by listening to subject matter experts. Prior to a class in early spring, I overheard our Con Law prof joking with a colleague that our section didn’t read the assignments. I jokingly **wink** said that I read EVERY word of EVERY case, but that he should never call on me during class. Somehow, that snowballed into us talking about how funny it would be if he called on me and I gave a stumbling Johnny Cochran response that had nothing to do with the assignment. I then realized that April Fools’ Day was right around the corner and asked the professor if we could prank the class. Here is what we agreed to do: Professor Reid would call on me, and ask me to give the facts of the case. I would try to finesse my way through it while making it clear that I did not read any of the assignments. Professor Reid would get angry and say that he was going to give a pop quiz. Now, remember what I told you about the scarcity of grading opportunities, the Bell Curve distribution of good scores, and the adversarial nature of law school success. The joke should be funny because of the intensity of the situation.
At this point I need to pause and share a little about my particular section. Sections are the cohorts law students are divided into for classes. You see these people every day and take the required 1L courses together. Our section was pretty diverse. We had younger folks who were only a few years out of undergrad. There were older folks who had a decade of work experience, but decided to go back to school. And then there was a guy who was closer to retirement age than the rest of us were to high school. He was a serious, but good-natured guy who barely tolerated our snickers when we laughed at slip-and-fall cases in Torts. Remember this, too. It’s also important.
Law school is a stressful endeavor. You have to find little pockets of joy. Thankfully, I was born to search for and discover joy. To relieve stress I worked out, dove into the sweet escape of music, slept, and wrote articles for a Lampoon Law Review. A bunch of us would submit satirical, mock law review articles to make each other laugh. Omar McNulty would compile these articles and deliver them to our section before Friday classes as if they were true Law Review publications. Everyone would read their papers in silence, have a laugh, and forget that we were living in hell for just a few minutes. Those few minutes were enough to find joy.
With this is mind, I thought to myself: this is going to be hilarious. Everyone is going to love this joke. So, I was giddy. I had a little extra pep in my step over the next few days. The daunting task of trying to interpret the constitution felt a little less overwhelming. I had a mission and a goal to bring joy to my section with the help of Professor Reid. Life was good.
On the day of the prank I walked by Professor Reid and winked at him, but he did not wink back. I thought to myself: “Wow! This guy is really in character.” However, this was foreshadowing of a dark turn of events. As we settled into our seats, I looked around the room at all of my unsuspecting victims. All of their innocent faces were glued to their books and computers. They didn’t realize they were in the eye of the storm. Neither did I.
At this point Professor Reid bursts into the room. This usually pale-faced man’s complexion was beet red. He is furious about something and I wonder if he’s going to delay our prank. He then yells for the first time all semester and goes into this long-winded rant about how we are not working hard enough in his class and that real lawyers took professional school seriously. Now, Professor Reid is hopping mad and saying he knows we don’t read his assignments. I legitimately believe he has forgotten about our plan and I’m a little worried about where all of this is going. I don’t have much time to live with my thoughts because Professor Reid points at me and says: “Mr. McRae, tell me everything you know about **insert a case I have never heard of* and let me know how you would apply the precedent.”
Since I’d never heard of the case, was unsure of the status of our prank, and had the eyes of the whole class on me, I just calmly let him know that I hadn’t read that one. This is when things went left. Professor Reid demanded that we shut our books, power down our laptops, and gave us a pop-quiz that would be worth roughly 50% of our final grades. Remember that demographic data I provide earlier? Here is why that was important.
That older student I mentioned? He grabbed his heart because he thought he was having a heart attack because of the shock. As he keeled over, my mind raced. Would I be slightly responsible for a death? I didn’t have long to consider this as my mind also raced back to my grade. My peers? Some of them were literally praying out loud. Others fought back tears. All of the jokesters from the “Friday Funnies” mock Law Review? Ashen faces searching for help that would never arrive.
Me? Well, I was scared. I was looking into the face of death, and death was smiling from ear-to-ear. Professor Reid projected the questions to the front of lecture hall and we all did our best to answer questions that trial attorneys with 50 years of experience wouldn’t be able to discuss. When it was all over we turned in our work and you could see the souls of everyone in that room leave their bodies. You know that scene in “Saving Private Ryan” when the bomb goes off and the survivors are shell shocked? That was us.
And then Professor Reid yelled: “Gotha! April Fools! You can thank Mr. McRae for all of this. He’s a funny guy.” At this point the older student who thought he was suffering cardiac arrest finally drops his hand from his heart, let’s out an audible sigh, and maybe a single tear. Color returns to the faces of my peers, and a few “thank goodness” breaths escape those dreamers awaking from the nightmare. I looked at Professor Reid and he, from behind the biggest turd-eating-grin, mouths: “That was funny. Let’s do it again.” I had to laugh. I thought I was his accomplice. I was merely his victim. The case he asked me about doesn’t exist, but the pain he inflicted that day was real. To this day, I don’t participate in jokes on April 1st. Too much PTSD. However, many years later I, I can look back on this with joy.