Friday, May 13, 2005

Graduating Blawgers Get Retrospective

Always smart, always funny, and, most importantly, always correct blawger Class Maledictorian rights some of the bad advice offered by uberblawger Jeremy Blachman. What he says:

the standard advice you hear that law school is to train lawyers and if you aren't sure you want to be a lawyer, don't go to law school. It's good advice. Sort of. It's true. Sort of. But it's also kind of stupid. As much as anyone wants to argue that law school is of value primarily if you want to be a lawyer, it's hard to deny that the law degree has value beyond that. It's a set of skills. It's a credential that sets you apart. If you go to a "name" law school, it's another name on the resume to help impress, it's another set of alumni and possible connections, it's an education that can help in a whole variety of fields -- government, policy, even just being an informed citizen -- not just the law.
What she says in response:

These are reasons to go to Harvard, not reasons to go to law school. Going to HLS can help you in a lot of fields because it is a national law school with a impressive reputation in all the circles where government and policy wannabes will flock. It is able to do this because it minimizes the extent to which law school is a trade school. Every damn class wants to be a Con Law class. Every course spends a huge amount of time discussing policy. This is because we don't learn much black letter law or practical lawyering skills. If we had spent three years learning the law of some specific place instead of reading Restatements and trying to make a federal case out of everything, we would not have the sort of education that would apply as broadly as Jeremy's saying.
The rest of the post is equally accurate. The only thing with which I would disagree is her advice to not always attend the best school to which you're accepted. I would say, if you're going to attend law school (whether because it's your calling or you insist on the fatal "it's still a valuable degree/I don't know what else to do" error) you should absolutely attend the best school possible. In fact, especially if you're going for Blachman's non-practicing reasons. The better the school, the stronger the network and the further the name carries you.

On the eve of my pseudo-graduation (and, hell, every other day of this experience), I think back to the advice offered to me on whether to attend law school. One side said "if you don't want to practice, don't do it." The other said "you lack focus, do it." As it turns out, while I certainly do lack focus, the first bit of advice was the one I should've chosen.

I wanted to learn to speak attorney, as it were, because so much of the legislative process is run by, written by, gummed up by, ends up in the hands of lawyers that not understanding them can doom legislators and staffers to failure right out of the gate. The sheer mythos of attorneys gives them an advantage: lawyers are smart, cunning, strategic thinkers - heavy hitters - so you best use caution and/or defer to them. Here behind the curtain, however, you learn quickly how faulty those beliefs are. That's not to say that many lawyers aren't smart, cunning, etc. But it's not passing the bar that makes one this way. I saw this in Sacramento last spring. I caught several lawyer-lobbyists trying to legalese me into a hypnotized state of support or opposition to their cause. Then I legalesed 'em right back and watched them deflate in front of me. It's not that I'm super-smart or lawyering-savvy. It's that I speak their language now - and fluency is a great equalizer.

The problem, though, is that I learned the language when I was a 1L but still had to - well, chose to - stick around for the subsequent, superfluous 2 years (Hobson's-chose, I suppose, since the nice folks at the ABA and the State Bar didn't give me much of a choice). It's been a frustrating and consuming experience.

But Amber makes a good point about choosing misery in law school. The prevailing groupthink can force you into the "bar classes," indentured law review servitude, or other I-should endeavors. The right way to do it would've been to buck trends more than I ended up bucking them - taken more practical classes, more things I wanted to take. In some ways, I did this (my semester in Sacramento and, strangely enough, this semester's business law classes). But I should've done more skills oriented activities. But, hindsight, etc . . . .

I often tell those who ask me for advice on law school that I am, in fact, the poster child for how not to go about deciding, applying, and attending law school. This doesn't make my advice less valuable, but it's definitely a more rare form of advice.

If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't. Whenever I say that within earshot of my mother, she gets sad. I wish she wouldn't, because it doesn't make me sad. It's just my personal evaluation of my life choices. If this is my biggest problem, I'd say I've done okay for myself since there is still inherent value in a legal education. But it shouldn't be rationalized to be more valuable than it actually is. The opportunity cost is very, very high.

Oh, and, pursuant to a discussion on another blawg, I have one last bit of advice for rising 2Ls (with a hat tip to jbl): Make love not law review.


Anonymous said...

Hey, thanks for the hat tip. Watch my readership skyrocket!

Not the shirt I saw, but similar are available here:

If only I'd thought of it first, I'd be rich.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes wonder if you wouldn't have been happier if you had been able to stay down in L.A. at one of its law schools. I don't know that you would have been happier about the law, but at least you would have been more at home with it.

But even if being a practicing attorney is not what you do for the rest of your working life (and I doubt it will be), I think it will turn out to be the right choice for you. You live and love government more than anyone I know, and I can't see how spending a few years learning the basics of its language won't help you in wherever life ultimately takes you.

Anonymous said...

CD, I have to thank you publicly for talking me out of the law school thing. I've never been to law school, although I've been dangerously close a few times, but I've been around politics a bit.

At least in my line of work, lawyers aren't the cunning negotiators that they used to be, at least very few of them are. Many of them, it seems, have become tools. Documentors, if you will. In my time in Sacramento, it didn't seem that the lawyers controlled the process as much as they were the scribes. The tides are shifting, I think. If what one really wants to do is be a policy-maker or influence policy, perhaps one's time and money might be better spent being in the capitol and around policy-makers rather than in law school.

Anonymous said...

Being the scribe still gives you an incredible amount of control - but I know what you mean.

And Jared, while you're right that I might've been less unhappy in LA - I doubt I would've been any happier about the law - no, wait - legal education generally.

It was a choice, I made it, life goes on. Nothing to cry over, but something for would-be law students to consider.