Friday, September 21, 2007

Are You Sure You Want to Go to Law School?

Seriously? After reading this excellent post? Or this other excellent one? How about this one? Does this describe you? [UPDATE: first link fixed]

Bottom line: unless you want to be a lawyer, and practice law, and spend 70-80 hours a week doing so in order to pay off your massive debt, don't go to law school.
These are culled from posts from over a year ago:

Things You May Not Know About Law School:

It is like junior high, but worse.There are lockers and hallways, so you can't avoid seeing/saying hi to people you don't like, unlike a large college campus.

There are mandatory classes and "sections" first year, so you definitely can't avoid forming/being rejected from cliques, study groups, group think. This will make you feel like you are back in kindergarten with separate Early Bird/Later Gater groups.

There are great classes and professors to be had. Don't just go after the Bar classes. Do 5-6 bar classes (on top of first year classes, which are all bar classes), but choose the best professors based on the student evaluations. Teaching style is all-important, as is exam format (in-class, closed book, take-home). Your grade is based on one final exam, so put all your effort to that (unless of course, you value "learning").

There are "organizations," e.g. student-run journals, legal clinics, and many student organizations (many ethnic-affiliated) which often make you feel that if you don't join, you're left out. This is a stupid thing to believe. Don't join everything. Join at most one organization, and really, really consider reasons not to run for an officer position, particularly the EIC or co-chair position. They're fraught with juvenile politics.

There is a lot of peer pressure to go out to stupid things for the sake of "networking," being perceived as social, friendly, cool, a drinker. Don't go.

There are kegs in the courtyard (I am not kidding) and other SBA organized social events, which again make you feel like a loser if you don't go.

By the way, SBA stands for "Student Bar Association," which is really similar to the "Associated Student Body" back in high school, which is again, a popularity contest with election slogans like "better vending machines" and "increased printer page allotments." The class president is the same jock you would have hated back in high school.

There are still the jocks, the homecoming queens, and the geeks social enclaves like in high school. The most annoying thing is, everyone has money or is used to the idea of money. Lots of pretension. Learn to identify cheeses by region and talk about rinds. Say that you eat at expensive celebrity chef restaurants. Flaunt expensive leather goods and designer shoes/jeans. Eat organic. Become an oenophile. Learn to hate yourself and question your roots.

Married people have it better in navigating the social waters, simply because they already have someone to be friends with in a new city, and because they can play the marriage card "I can't go to every stupid club/social event because I need to spend time with the spouse."

You shouldn't join every club, journal, clinic, or ethnic org out of guilt or resume building. Stick to one or none first year, two maybe second year, and continue with one or two third year--AT most. So that means one journal and one clinic (like HALSA/AIDS) and minimal involvement in a social/ethnic org. Do something because you're interested in the work or the work is worthy of your 10-20 hours a week, not because it's resume padding or because you feel guilt from going from 0 to whitewashed. (Do I sound bitter? I don't mean to sound bitter.)

Things I Regret About Law School:

Taking on too much first year.

I joined two journals and an ethnic org, and was a law fellows mentor to an undergrad. This is TOO much. Tell yourself that you are a good person, and don't need to prove it beyond scientific doubt by trying to fix the world your first year. Also, don't subscribe to identity politics as the reason for joining an organization. Identify the reasons you would join such an organization, and if it's "hanging out with people who look like me," don't do it.

Taking on too much my second year.

Okay, so by second year I quit everything except the Asian-Am journal (fascinating, and my best friends from it) and became, stupidly, co-chair of the Asian student org. BIG mistake. Being a member of an org is one thing, being an officer, and the top officer at that, is very different. Don't do it unless you like group politics. I hate it, sucked at it, by the end I was ready to give up my post or be impeached for not being able to go to EVERY event. Groups will ignore the events you organize or go to on themes important to you--for instance, I organized a "teach-in" against a proposed law I thought was unjust. I also did a lot of other inter-org coalition building. Yet all my board members can remember is that I didn't go to bowling night or karaoke night.

This is probably what I regret most about law school, and what triggered a mini-breakdown during the second year. I can handle school stress--it's the social pressures I never, ever learned to handle. I've been one of those kids who can operate pretty independently, never even being offered drugs or alcohol, and never really succumbing to any pressure to party, drink, etc. But I got it all in law school, and heaven help me, I failed. And that's my biggest regret--that I wasn't strong enough to say no even when it was in my best interest. What I hate is that it was my own fault, and whether by internalized guilt or peer pressure, I tried to do everything, and ended up doing everything very badly. If you go to law school, do only very few things (like I said, at most one journa/clinic and one org) and do them well. And make sure you care about them and know your reasons for doing them.

Not knowing how to make friends.

This seems incredibly stupid, but you need to make friends wisely. When I first came to school, I was new in town. So I made friends in my section with the first people who spoke to me. I said yes to everything--even though I am not a drinker or a bar hopper. Thus, after going to "Bar Review" (ha! get it?) four weeks in a row my first four weeks, but not being a drinker or group socializer, I couldn't take it anymore. I abruptly withdrew from all the drinking games and the bar reviews. And I got my ass nailed for it. My bar buddies took it personally that I wasn't drinking and living it up with them. They asked me if it was because I was getting "into all my 'Asian things' and not hanging out with white people anymore" (it is true, they said that). I hated them even more for it, and made new friends--yes, some Asians, but my best friends first year were across all races.

The problem is, because in first year people think/act/perform in groups, that's all they can associate with you--your perceived "group"--you are not an individual, and you do not have individual friends. It's all about your "study group" and your "social group." This is why I fell flat on my face first year. I'm really great at making and keeping friends, when I am able to on my own terms and form individual relationships based on shared interests and values. It's forming groups of friends I suck at--how to navigate group politics, absorb new members, shake off members that turn out to be weird, realize that you are the weird one being shaken off. So watch for that. Be aware that your "groups" may change over the course of three years, and that your clique first year will slowly degrade into individual friendships, and that you will have different close friendships by third year than in first year.

Update for 2007: Apparently, I still have problems learning which people to make friends with, because I only have one friend from my actual program from last year (he's Favorite Russian Dude) and the rest are an ad hoc assemblage of friends from the affiliated Ph.D program, and two law students whom I met at a dinner party--and yes, they're all Americans. Last year's attempt at having a group of international friends, like some happy Coca-Cola commercial ("I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, I'd like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company") miserably failed, and I am no longer speaking to FDD even. I have no international friends this year. I swear, the LL.M program has made me xenophobic and isolationist. But I'm cool with that, because I know that my intellectual cosmopolitanism will override this one day (and so I don't have to concentrate on that now), and because once burned, twice shy is better than being stupid and masochistic.

Things I don't regret:

Being where I am now. Since law school is the reason I am where I am, then I'm glad I went, met the few people I like, and am joining the legal academy. But that's "end of the day" stuff, not the quotidean hell I endured for four years as a law student.

This year is good. But then again, I'm not in law school this year--I'm taking courses in various other departments. And so I'm never at the law school and am not in any student orgs. So I only go there to have coffee with a few friends, attend public lectures (that part of law school I do love) and see my advisor. So yeah, this year I like law school.