Law in Contemporary Society

The Lazy Genius

-- By JustinChung - 17 May 2009

If you watch enough anime, you’ll start to notice that every series uses the same character archetypes. There’s the well-meaning orphan(usually the hero), the defiant tomboy, and the wise old master. This can get repetitive after awhile, but there’s one model that I never get tired of – the sleepy dude. There’s always this one guy who doesn’t train, takes naps all the time, and avoids the action at all costs. Inevitably, this guy turns out to be the biggest badass of them all. It doesn’t matter if the show’s about boxing, go, or ninjas, this guy will wake up and display some astounding natural talent that makes him nigh-unbeatable. It’s the dream of every student- to walk into the test having done nothing all semester and pull it out through sheer unadulterated genius. While we all likely realize that this deity is a flight of fancy, the persistence of this myth is a significant contributing factor to the aura of pervasive competition that many feel negatively affects the law school experience.


There’s a funny group interaction phenomena that occurs most often in the educational setting. At every level of school I’ve ever attended, 90% of the people in 90% of situations will swear up and down that they are not now and never will be sufficiently caught up with their work. No one’s ever read to where they’re supposed to and the paper has yet to be written that gets finished two days before it’s due. No doubt a lot of this is actually true, but it often seems like the true level of un-preparedness is far outstripped by how often it is discussed. Even odder, it’s usually the people doing the best who end up talking the most about how behind they are. In the law school setting, where the best and brightest come together under a fat pile of reading, hallway conversations are dominated by proclamations of impending scholastic doom. Now some of this is probably that we just don’t know each other very well and there’s nothing much else to say to classmates whom you only know peripherally. But a lot of it also stems from a fear of social stigmatism and failure which leads to a reflexive effort to project the image of the lazy genius described above.

Cool Kids

On one level, the concept of the lazy genius is inherently cool. However, the motivation for declaring a lack of preparation comes not from wanting to actually be him, but from being fearful of being seen as the opposite- the hard-studying social outcast. Communal distaste for academic success is nothing new, though it usually dies out as life moves on. In fact, the heavy veneration of first-year grades and achievements in law school seems like it ought to create a venue where a reputation for hitting the books would be sought after quite dearly. If anything, though, it ends up having the opposite effect.

For one thing, letting people know how on top of things you are implies that you are buying into the system. In spite of being well-publicized in terms of what it consists of, law school(curves, competitions, Socratic questioning, EIP) takes a pretty hard beating in evaluations from the people who choose it. As discussed in class, many students see it no matter how it is marketed, as a necessary annoyance to secure steady future employment at a nice wage rather than a learning opportunity. Constant complaining about the ludicrousness of what’s going on serves as a way to vent frustrations and innocuously rebel without disowning visions of that 160k starting salary. People like the goal but hate the path and an open acceptance of the system runs counter to that general mindset.

Similarly, this general consensus about how overwhelming everything is provides a common point of agreement that helps to form a sort of community in an environment of individualism. Sympathizing with one another’s pain makes us feel unified in our struggle and justified in our dissatisfaction. The problem with this is that this community of self-pity doesn’t really have any positive benefits. Bonding over a shared “woe-is-me” attitude helps to mollify the desire to fix what’s wrong with the system by providing support for the conception that this is “normal” and since everyone feels the same way, this is just how things are.

Obscuring the defects of law school is bad, but the worst aspect of this habit is that it actually works to prevent worthwhile community formation. It serves as a crutch so that you don’t have to actually learn anything about anyone. It constantly focuses your dialogue on negative thoughts about ultimately inconsequential classes rather than other opportunities that could be explored. It perpetuates depressing feelings of inadequacy and comparison to others that lead to isolation. More than anything it’s just boring. While I can sympathize, I don’t really care about how your classes are going and I’m pretty certain you don’t care about mine. And it’s hard to really be friends with someone when you don’t care about what they have to say.

Something New

Andrew Case has a paper up that discusses the lack of collaboration and the mindset that blocks it more generally. I like that he ends with a fairly simple suggestion rather than advocating changing your worldview and I’d like to do the same. Cut back on talking about how behind you are. Too little too late for this semester, I realize, but I believe this one change will improve the general atmosphere around the school. Ask me how it’s going next year- I bet it’ll be more interesting that how much evidence sucks.

P.S – The sleepy guy never ends up being THE strongest. The hero's always stronger because he’s fighting for his friends, or he’s put in the dedicated training, or he’s fighting for love and peace.

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r3 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:48:55 - IanSullivan
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