Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Another Visual Metaphor for Law School

That's one of the orcs from the Lord of the Rings movies if you didn't already know.

The Obligatory "Realizations After Year X of Type of School Y"

I'll preface this post with two apologies to our enormous throng (which isn't as dirty as it sounds) of readers. First, I'm sorry I've only posted something like twice in the last month. Between working in the library and everyone being out of town, I just don't have anything major to write. Second, I would like to apologize to a particular reader, our resident Friendly Investment Banker. This post (and probably a lot of future ones) are likely to be less angsty than you want them to be. I've reached the nirvana of not really giving a shit about law school anymore. After a year of drama and BS, I've come to realize that the law school and legal employment systems treat most students students like garbage most of the time, and I just don't care anymore.

Some might say this amounts to passive acceptance of the same old BS and the perpetuation of the same system we've been bitching about for a while now. I say it's an enlightened state of mind.

1. The first major aspect of "the system" that everyone hates is grades. Grades mean absolutely nothing about the person who gets them except as an indicator of how good that individual is at writing law school exam answers. Note: this is not equivalent to being intelligent, knowledgeable, or even a good writer...in fact, being good at answering some exams may indicate the exact opposite of those positive qualities. The only people who think they really do mean something about anyone have anchored their identities squarely to their "academic success" which is defined by grades, not by actual intellect or knowledge. One student in our class actually told another student that his opinion about a question was less valid than hers because she was ranked higher than him. We've all been guilty of judgments about ourselves and others like this at one point or another and probably will be again in the future. High grades do provide some sense of validation to all the work and the associated stress we go through in our academic careers. However, when one starts believing that grades are determinative of intelligence, academic ability, and overall self-worth, it plows right through the line between healthy reinforcement and simple, ironic arrogance. There are entirely too many people in my class on the wrong side of this line.

2. The second systemic feature that burns a lot of people is the summer job search. At some point I realized that first year students in most parts of the country don't even HAVE a summer job search because no one hires first year clerks. It also became clear that employers care more about grades (and not even the ones relevant to clerking, like Legal Writing) than interpersonal skills, professional experience, or interviews in general. This makes COMPLETE sense just like everything else about law school. The ultimate insult was when one of the weirdest people in our class got one of the jobs for which I also interviewed, probably because he was ranked a few spots ahead of me just barely across one of those cutoff points they use to break down class ranks. I swear, if I'm ever in a position to interview students for clerkships, things are going to be different.
I also realized that firms in smaller markets have major inferiority complexes because firms in larger markets tend to snatch up the "best" applicants and often steal associates who work at the smaller firms for a few years. This leads these small firms to give ENORMOUS preference to applicants from their particular markets because they are more likely to stay at those firms in the long term due to family, sense of being at home, etc. I'm fairly sure I missed out on another clerkship for this reason.

Yet another issue with the summer job search is that it sort of sucks to be a white male. If anyone says "well, it's been a long time coming" or "now you know what it has always felt like to be (insert previously disadvantaged category)," you can die in a fire. Not a blazing fire either, but a nice simmering fire with lots of hot coals but not many flames. I have never been responsible for any of the previously mentioned historical disadvantages, so I don't think it's right for me to pay for them on an individual basis. We can discuss social policy and things of that nature in a different context, but the point is that it burns me as an INDIVIDUAL. OK, so maybe I dug up a little angst for Investment Banker's benefit. I mean none of this in any way offensive to those who may or may not benefit from such practices, but the truth of the matter is that it helps to be a member of a minority, have a vagina, or both. It wasn't necessarily a dispositive factor, but I'm fairly sure it DID have an impact on the process. Most of the people in our career services office would barely speak to you unless you were in the top 10% (and didn't need job search help in the first place) or were a minority. If you didn't fall into one of these categories and they DID speak to you, it was probably to belittle your resume in a non-constructive manner and generally make you feel like a peon with little hope of success or happiness in this mortal plane of existence.

The last major issue with the job search process is that despite all the previous issues and advantages given to some people in the class (mostly due to grades), very few people actually got jobs through on campus interviews. This includes some people in our top 10% and certainly a solid number in the top 25%. Most of the people who have jobs got them through previously existing connections in the legal field. I don't fault these people for taking the opportunities available to them, but it does suck for someone such as myself who comes from a family without any lawyers who come to mind. Ever...not a single know I know of since my family immigrated to this country as poor Scotch-Irish sharecroppers a couple of hundred years ago. Hint: this is another reason I'm bitter that I have to suffer for what those damn landed gentry did a long time ago.

The overall point about the job search is that I realized that not having a summer job doesn't really say anything about me as an individual or as a law student, and I stopped feeling bad about myself for this reason a long time ago. However, that doesn't mean I have to stop bitching about the system.

3. One of the standard rising 2L revelations is that you really DON'T have to be absolutely prepared for every single class. That's not really the case if you have the 10,000 year sentence former criminal judge as your professor, but it's true for most classes. Knowing that you don't have to kill yourself because you didn't read the footnotes to that tenth case you've read for the next day takes away a LOT of stress. The worst thing that can happen in most classes is that the professor calls on you and you're mildly embarassed in front of a bunch of people who are just glad it wasn't them because they didn't read the material either. A few professors will "adjust" grades based on participation, but they seem to be relatively few even in this first year. In any case, I started to figure this out during last fall semester in Civ Pro, a class in which I barely read anything all semester and still ended up with my best grade in a "substantive" class. The evolution wasn't totally complete until the end of the first year, however.

Overall, I'd say I started off as Terrified Newbie 1L just like almost every other law student in the history of law school. At this point, I'd consider myself somewhere along the lines of Jaded/Sarcastic/Apathetic 2L. The 2L-3L evolution will probably be one of degree more than a drastic change into some other type of law student. In other words, look for me to become both more apathetic and sarcastic in the coming days of the blog...the typical law student evolution, right? Nothing new to see here, now move along.