Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Law School Lore: Myth or Vestige of History?

It was nice to be on the other side of law school...until bar studying got in the way for some of us. But during that brief post-3L/pre-graduation period in which I had nothing to do but think introspectively about where I started and where I want to wind up, I realized something that had not really crossed my mind before:  almost everything I had heard about law school before I took the plunge--from books, movies, lawyers, you name it--turned out to be grossly overstated at best.

We are all familiar with the lore--law school, we are constantly told, is where dreams go to die. You'll be studying around the clock, your professors will abuse you in the classroom, and you'll be lucky to have any meaningful social relationships during your (generally miserable) stay. Perhaps I'm embellishing a bit, but the general conception so far as I can tell is that law school is not only hard but very hard--almost to the point of being unmanageable and leading people to serious mental infirmity. Scott Turow's One L is a case in point. So is the old favorite The Paper Chase. More recently, Legally Blonde took a stab at perpetuating the stereotype in depicting a fun-loving sorority girl from California who managed to succeed amidst a class of (seemingly) more boring and neurotically-focused students.

I  found law school taxing and mentally exhausting at times, but I never felt as pressured and anxious as I expected to be based on all I had heard. I don't think my classmates ever really did either--at least not to the extent one would reasonably expect from talking to any lay person or older lawyer about law school.

So, if I am correct that things really are not all that bad, where do these stereotypes come from? I have two theories. First, maybe my observation (if accurate) is a self-aggrandizing phenomenon whereby those who have been through law school feel, after the fact, that it was more arduous than it was simply because it is a past accomplishment. Maybe complaining about how bad it was is a privilege of conquering it. But more likely, I think, is that something has changed in the legal education. Indeed, the horror stories tend to come from older attorneys as opposed to more recent graduates. There are many other tenable explanations for this, but I still think it strong evidence of a change in the educational pedagogy and the (probably) corresponding student mentality. If my hunch is correct, will the shift be good or bad for tomorrow's attorneys?

I leave that question, along with all the others I have posed, to you folks...


(Please accept our apologies for the slowdown in content. While law school is not as bad as they make it, bar preparation has made it harder for many of us to post as often as we would like.)


  1. Interesting post. I think it's probably a confluence of both factors. Lawyers definitely like to boast about how tough they've had it, but I think things used to be worse from what my father's told me.

  2. As a 1L, I found comments from 2Ls to be even more exaggerated than from older attorneys. However, I have a feeling that both hunches are correct to some degree, as both are correct outside of law school as well.

    I was in a fraternity in undergrad, and as a pledge my freshmen year I heard more whining from older members than anything else. Everyday: "You guys have it WAY easier than we did (just a year ago); you shouldn't be complaining about anything, we've scaled back so much it's a joke." And it only got worse during alumni weekends, when we would here (exaggerated) stories from the much older alumni about how hard pledge season was. Come to think of it, the older alumni would even complain about how soft the fraternity as a whole had become in all respects and not just with pledge requirements (namely, drinking).

    Law school and frat life are quite different, but the trend is the same: after people go through something, they believe it gives them the right to 1) exaggerate how hard it was and 2) put down people going through it now by stressing how much easier it is these days than it was in the past.

    True, the fraternity was probably quite a bit "softer" when I pledged, and the same is probably true of law school. I think these are just two examples of a broader trend in our generation. But is that a problem? Doubtful: life gets easier as society progresses, and while we may not be as "tough" as a result, it's of no consequence. We are better prepared in other areas that will make us successful in our own time, like, for example, compassion and interpersonal skills.

    If law school were as arbitrarily tough today as it was in the past, I don't think it would be properly preparing us for the working world of today.

    Then again, I still don't think it really is adequately preparing us for the working world regardless, but at least its pointed in the right direction.

  3. Well, I just finished my first year and the "horror story experience" is exactly the experience that I had. Studying around the clock, abusive professors, no social relationships.....YES to all.

    I am wondering if it depends on the school. I've seen other blogs where individuals mention things like midterms, open book/note exams, B+ curves, and my personal favorite, multiple choice exams. Wow....We have none of those things at NSU.

  4. What does NSU stand for?

  5. I think it depends on the person: some people like to overexaggerate in general, while some people understate experiences they have.

    Also, some people put so much time and energy into law school that they make it terrible for themselves, while others budget their time wisely and don't go overkill. The former is clearly going to have a much worse experience, and not necessarily better grades as a result (from my own observations).

    People that put in 90 hours a week and get mediocre grades are clearly going to have more of a jaded view of law school than people who put in 55 hours a week and got nothing but A's.

    Not to mention the former people are probably the type to be scared of professors and not have a social life anyway, regardless of being enrolled in law school(sorry, couldn't resist!).

  6. Experiencing something difficult often leaves one with the belief that all others are somehow inferior.

  7. I find that recent graduates are up against greater odds. Skyrocketing tuition and diminishing job prospects are not what the older generations had to endure.


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