Law School Wish List: Change Your Damn Mindset
So, what’s wrong with law school? Plenty. From the exorbitant price that relegates many grads to debtors’ prison from the get-go to clueless professors lacking in real-world experience, the manipulation of post-graduate employment data, the lack of practical training (documented five years ago now in the scathing Carnegie Report) and the sub-high school maturity levels of most law students (one need look no further for proof than the Above the Law comments section), law school sucks and is evil and demands major overhaul. We all got that memo.
Law school may change. Or not. But what can – and should change – are the attitudes of those who attend. I’m awfully skeptical of those who claim that they “learned nothing in law school.” Really. How does a living breathing person spend three years in a single place and not take away a single crumb of knowledge? That lawyer who says he learned nothing in law school is the same lawyer who will comb through a pile of discovery materials and claim that his client doesn’t have a case because he lacked the creativity or the motivation to try to connect the dots. In short, not the kind of person who I’d want representing me.
Unless you seek a private tutor, no educational institution – law school included — will provide an entirely customized, bespoke experience. Law school offers a product — a law degree — and a menu of options (classes and activities) by which to achieve it. From that point on, it’s up to students to be proactive and put together a plan of study that suits their needs. Indeed, the easiest and most passive approach is to study, excel and graduate in the top ten, judicial clerkship in hand. But that’s not the only way.
Consider someone like Rick Klau, a University of Richmond law graduate with a career any lawyer would envy. Rick heads up Google Ventures and teaches a program at Start Up University. But believe it or not, Rick credits law school with laying the foundation for his career in law and entrepreneurship. It’s not that University of Richmond necessarily offered a deep bench of business courses or internships in start ups back then. Rather, Rick created opportunities by founding a journal on law and technology — the first in the world to publish online. Since then, over 400 students have worked at the journal, leaving behind a lasting legacy.
My own law school experience was similar. My alma mater, Cornell Law School was hardly a bastion of innovation (still isn’t!); but that didn’t stop me from buying a Mac and starting a resume business and underground newspaper, thus learning first hand the self-publishing skills that made me a natural blogger.
Once upon a time, the Socratic Method was the hallmark of legal pedagogy (I don’t know how common it is these days). The Socratic Method involves a dialogue between teacher and student, with a series of questions designed to illuminate ideas. But the theory of the Socratic Method is that all of us hold the knowledge and understanding within us. Likewise, even without reform, all law students hold within them the power to make law school more positive and productive experience – so long as they’re willing to do some of the work themselves.