by Jessica Unger
As previously noted, two of our current first-year students will be periodically blogging about their experiences at W&L Law. Today, Jessica Unger takes on the subject of carrels. What is a carrel? Admittedly, this is something with which most of our incoming students are not completely familiar. A carrel (pronounced care-ull) is “a small desk (usually) featuring high sides,” and at W&L Law, each and every one of our students has her own carrel. That’s right. Not a locker or the possibility of commandeering a table for an hour or two. But her own carrel.
My carrel is my spot in the library. It even has my name on it. 24 hours a day, seven days a week, I know I have a place where I can put my things, where I can keep my books, where I can study.
Admittedly, when I was applying to law school I didn’t give things like carrels much thought. When you are thinking about all of the big, complicated questions that come with choosing the right law school, it’s easy to overlook something comparatively simple like a carrel. But now that I am two months into my first-year, I probably should have paid it more attention. Carrels are, of course, an important part of life at W&L. But beyond their obvious practical uses, carrels arguably matter more for what they symbolize, or perhaps more specifically, what they mean for your time at W&L.
It’s easy to take this luxury for granted. Why wouldn’t you be able to find a place to study? There is a library, right? There are tables in the library, right? Well, yes. But think about it this way: Having a carrel is the difference between having to find somewhere to study and knowing you have somewhere you can always study. It’s peace of mind. It’s one less thing to worry about. And it’s one more thing that allows you to really focus on the work you have to do.
I honestly cannot imagine law school without my carrel. Given how central the carrel is to many of our lives here at W&L Law, it’s a little strange to me it didn’t cross my mind more when I chose to attend. I’m really not sure what it would be like to have a locker or to have to fight for table space. As a W&L student, that’s just not something with which I have to contend. Of course, as a 1L, it is where I do a lot of my work, but it also has many other functions. Some people use their carrel as storage space. Every carrel has an overhead shelf and a longer cabinet on the left-hand side that locks. Carrels covered in law books and papers (and probably a laptop, iPod, bag and wallet for good measure) are one of the more common sights at our law school. Because of the Honor System, we know we can leave all sorts of things out on our carrels, and they will be there when we get back.
Other people use the carrels to track down friends. Carrel numbers are posted publicly, and if you are looking for someone, her carrel is a great place to start. Furthermore, if your “carrel-mates” (or the people in the carrels near yours) study at their carrels, you will see them regularly and, as a result, get to know them well. For me, these were some of the first friends I made at W&L. During a late night or an early morning, it’s pretty common for people to take a break or stop and talk, and during these moments, you begin to understand why we have a slightly different community than every other other law school. And on rougher days (you will have these occasionally during your first-year of law school), your carrel can be used for a much-needed nap. Believe it or not, when one is utterly exhausted, law books can actually make decent pillows.
Strangely enough, the carrel is also an opportunity for self-expression. It’s plain wood and laminate exterior is something of a blank canvas. Some carrels are decorated with photos of friends and family or other personal effects. Others are completely bare. After Orientation, I was so excited by this prospect, I rushed across campus to the bookstore to buy accessories for my carrel. I bought a pen and paper-holder that I have not used once. Yep. And I will be going back for more.
If you visit the law school, you will likely notice just how much library space the carrels occupy. Your tour guide may even point this out. If a school is willing to devote this much of its building to making sure each and every one of its students has her own study space, that says something about the school, and how it feels about its students. It also says something about the student experience at that school. Carrels are one of many, many things at W&L that make it MUCH easier for you to focus on the what’s truly important: doing the best work you possibly can.
Of course, when you visit the law school, if you would like to talk about any of this, please feel free to stop by and chat. You can find me at my carrel. I’m #400. It even has my name on it.