Friday, May 13, 2005

Feeling very Yoda

Jeremy has some advice about law school. He's mostly right, if only because it's easy to be right if you take both sides. But this part is way off:
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.
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.

Look, I'm glad that some people who went here after very little thought and with no particular desire to practice law are leaving happy. But coming out of HLS with 100K in loans and the assurance that some Vault 100 firm will hold your hand while you actually learn the law some people spent the last three years studying is not the same as going into a similar amount of debt, spending three years learning the ins and outs of the law of a particular state, and then being left in the lurch when you decide that you don't like this law thing after all. The skill set is not the same, and not as valuable. Or maybe it's more valuable than what we're coming out with, but the name is pulling us out of the hole. Either way, going to law school for networking and a skill set sounds like a bad way to spend $100,000.

But Jeremy's right about making yourself miserable. I spent a lot of time unhappy in this place because I kept forcing myself to do the things I thought I should do, irrespective of how I actually felt about those things. A couple of weeks ago I sat next to a guy at dinner who basically started law school in the same place I did. And when he found out he didn't like some of the things he was doing here, he quit them. He took classes he liked. He hung out with different people. I could have done this, but I am too stubborn for my own good and so I spent a lot of law school doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons, taking the wrong classes, looking at everything backwards. So don't do that.

P.S. Do not always go to the best school you get into.
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