Law in Contemporary Society
-- AndrewMcCormick - 23 May 2009

A story:

I had a Monday, Wednesday, Friday Econ class my freshman year. It took me a week to realize my professor was a hack, and while attending would be necessary to earn a decent grade (this professor thought of himself as a personal bulwark against grade inflation,) I decided I had better things to do. I barely got a C- in the class. I learned the things I wanted to learn later.

Many Fridays and Mondays, in lieu of class, I knocked on doors in Mississippi to keep Haley Barbour out of the governor’s mansion. He raised money with the CofCC? —white supremacists-and I thought it was a lousy idea to put him in charge of a state. We lost. We were trying to change things with words, and we lost because of poor organizational management and badly allocated (however plentiful) resources. I thought law school could help with that.

I skipped more classes, made more crappy grades, and lost with Wes Clark, too. But, I served a party I care about. My academic adviser was not amused. I decided to get a new academic adviser.

About a year later I found myself in an interview for the most fulfilling job I have ever had – they asked about my grades, but they asked about my priorities, too. I got the job, working for a non-profit in the Mississippi Delta. As an economist.

Our choices and prioritization will define our law school experiences. Competition and risk-aversion distract from real goal setting and make it less likely we will find useful, enjoyable things to do with the law.

Law school has tricked us all into wanting to find rules and play by them, as though education is fundamentally competitive, and many of us take up the role presented. By giving up autonomy and viewing this experience as a three-year pie-eating contest, we lose.

While reading “fuck this stupid rule,” I was struck by the direction of the comments; I understood the OP to mean something different than the comments assumed – I do not think an important message is “I don’t care what grade I get in Property.” We all know some people will care what grades we get in all of our classes, and will treat our GPA’s as a scorecard. Luckily, we are empowered to decide “I don’t care if people judge me for a poor grade – I have better things to do with my time.” It may be trite, but Geisel’s “those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind” has some truth to it: truth that is threatening to risk-averse beliefs. If we make decisions actively, we are likelier to be happy.

Granted, as pointed out in the thread, it is useful to remember some people will care about our grades. But, it is something to be aware of, not obsess over. For better or worse, good grades were generally a prerequisite for getting where we are; it would be a mistake to assume great grades are necessary to get us where we wish to be. To be truthful, although grades and LSAT were critical for getting here, as the first exercise of this class demonstrated, they are not why any of us are here.

Moglen often spoke about our different personalities, shifting between them, and using awareness of changes to our advantage. But shaking the overarching posture of the risk-averse, hedging, opportunity maximizing law school applicant, and not letting those traits dominate decision-making as a law school student is a considerable challenge. The nature of law-school-as-a-contest does not make it easier – but I am inclined to think the experiences we had as undergraduates and in the working world that provided us with why we are here were probably not found whilst playing undergrad-as-a-contest, and I propose that the same is true of law school and finding meaning in what comes next.

And what it may demonstrate:

To me, this demonstrates three things. First, as Moglen said, we do have time to become an expert in something we care about, and that expertise will serve us in the long run. Pursuing interests will require other academic sacrifices, but it opens more doors than it closes. Second, mentoring is critical to success, and, as mine was, the advising we receive here is lacking; this course regularly demonstrated the variation among students, and the single track, consensus built wisdom of the law school is insufficient for a diverse body of students. We must be proactive at finding help if we wish to be successful and giving feedback to professors about wanting more casual office hours, encouraging timid 1L’s to come and chat would improve CLS’s environment for future 1Ls. Third, committing to being good at something requires throwing other things overboard – luckily, they will float, and the consequences are less scary than they seem.

The most recent buzz I have heard in the law school is that there are not enough courses/sections in bankruptcy next year. I suspect this is more a result of groupthink and social expectations than any desire to actually work in bankruptcies – I also suspect such buzzing is perennial. I often hear people (me, mostly) complaining that the first year curriculum is unsatisfying because it does not relate to the reasons they (I) came to law school. It would be disappointing to feel that way about the second year, too.

  • Your prefatory note is a pretty clear signal that there is something you have already left behind and should remove from the draft. It's a weakness in the current draft, I think, that you haven't done so.

  • I think a little reorganization would strengthen the piece; you could make your experience do the work of introducing your concerns, if you wanted to. You could also decide whether topicality (including the latest buzz in the law school) is important, or whether the thought process you are reflecting has a longer shelf life.

  • Your conclusion that mentoring is critical to success should be a spur to action: you must find mentoring, and you must demand of the law school that it help you do so. If the faculty is unwilling to provide mentoring directly (one might want to ask what more significant role the faculty could be choosing to play instead), they must at least afford you an organized way to obtain it, on their assurance of its quality. Otherwise, the law school is leaving you to organize on your own a critical component of your professional success, as to which they should possess superior knowledge and are holding themselves out to you as providing both knowledge and service. This would be intolerable. Yet the demand for mentoring was muffled, during the period when large metropolitan law firms hired everybody the law school produced, because the employer postured as a mentor and students were convinced that they would receive more than forcing-house "training" from the employer. This was, in general, cruelly incorrect, but it prevented faculty from feeling the pressure to provide mentoring, which is expensive in time and energy. Now, if students demand mentoring in return for their tuition, the institution will have to make powerful changes. If not, you will have missed out on something critical to your success. Is it hard for you to decide what you ought to do?


Webs Webs

r4 - 07 Jan 2010 - 21:35:46 - IanSullivan
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