'The Merits of Applause'

April 8, 2019
A story of positive affirmation at law school merits recognition

When Dorie Arthur and her fellow 1L students in Section B of the Class of 2021 walked into their first Contracts course with Professor David Epstein, they received a surprising directive: At the close of the lecture, instead of packing up their books and rushing out the door, Professor Epstein asked the students to applaud. At the end of every class.

That special request became the focal point of an article that Arthur wrote for the Brigham Young University’s new LawStories program, a competition that invites law students from across the country to participate in a non-fiction storytelling initiative. Arthur was one of nine students selected to take part in this year’s program. 

The task was to write a short, nonfiction narrative that tied together students’ lives and the law. “In the legal profession, we do analysis,” explained Arthur. “I think, to most people, and even to lawyers, that seems awfully rigid.” But, as Arthur explained, “Even though we’re doing rigid analysis, being able to coherently tell a story generally is important,” because “if you really want to make an impact, you have to move people – that’s important in the law.” 

Arthur and the other participants traveled to Provo in March for a storytelling workshop, as well as a live reading that was recorded for broadcast on BYUradio. And during that trip, she was able to share an important message about the camaraderie that can be part of life in law school. 

The subject of Arthur’s story – “The Merits of Applause” – came easily to her because of the immediate impact it had on her and her classmates. 

“This was forced affirmation! I mean, aren’t we supposed to be grown-ups? After all, this is grad school, you’re a professor and you want me to applaud? We’re not stupid; this man, in an obvious attempt was actively trying to wear down our callused hearts. Too late, we’ve worked tirelessly to harden ourselves and prepare for three years of sabotage, starvation, and struggle.”

But for a group that had already steeled themselves in preparation for the hardness of law school life, this post-class ritual had a surprising effect. 

“We loved it. … We generously distributed to each other the affirmation and support that gets lost in the busy hallways of academia. We rewarded our professors for bringing us from confusion to clarity with their masterful discourse. On tough days, the applause jolted our spirits with the kind of roar one might take into battle, or, alternatively, into the library to figure out what exactly you’re supposed to do when a compulsory counterclaim destroys diversity in federal court.”

More than just a spirit jolt, the applause proved to be a unifying force for the 1Ls. 

“Something more than the clapping of hands happens in a section B classroom at the University of Richmond and it’s something you cannot find at many law schools in this country. We are actually friends. Classrooms are deafeningly loud with laughter and conversation before and after class. We share correct outlines, we whiteboard concepts for each other, and when someone CALIs a class, he or she is a champion for all of us. The world is complex, ferocious, and cruel but the world is also warm, kind, and full of opportunities for camaraderie (even in law school).”  

During the trip to BYU to present her story, Arthur had the chance to connect with law students from around the country. And in hearing from her colleagues, Arthur realized that her story stood apart from the others: more light-hearted, yes, but also wholly affirming, as she described in detail not just what drew her to law school – but what’s kept her there, sustaining and uplifting her in the process: 

“We want to live in a world where people with different opinions, backgrounds, and expertise work together for a common goal and common good while still appreciating the nuances of humanity and behaving with respect and acceptance. To that end, we applaud.” 

You can hear Arthur read her story at the live reading at BYU here (1.01.45 mark).