How Not To Succeed at Law School

We have discussed before how the law could do with some non-serious writing and could experiment with other forms of text as well. There’s also multiple perspectives needed when one talks about law school life. There’s no better article than ‘How to Not Succeed at Law School’ by James Gordon III– an academic and Professor of Law.

This paper, written for the Yale Law Journal (link), makes for a great laugh while also pointing the quirky aspects of law school. Note that it being funny doesn’t mean it is not serious. As Terry Pratchett says that the opposite of funny isn’t serious, but is unfunny. Funny and serious can go hand in hand as showcased here. This post has some grain of truth packed, hidden behind laughs.

Gordon begins by convincing people why they should choose law:

Would you like to help the less fortunate?

Would you like to see liberty and justice for all?

Do you want to vindicate the rights of the oppressed?

If so, you should join the Peace Corps. The last thing you should do is attend law school.

Then he talks of why people often go to law school:

Do I want to go to medical school but can’t stand the sight of blood?

[…]

Did I major in English and have absolutely nowhere else to turn?

Then he puts the final nail in the coffin on why law is the best way forward:

…a time when a person’s word was his bond, when a handshake was enough, when disputes were worked out amicably and quickly among people of goodwill. Fortunately, you don’t live in such primitive times!

Today, you can make a handsome income exploiting other people’s personal tragedies and society’s declining sense of community. And just in time, too-right when you are graduating from college. Talk about lucky!

The article, although written for an American audience, is very similar to how we study law in India as well. It makes for a great read to also see how law school life outside India would be.

CLAT and Math

A passage which would rings a bell with many students who question why CLAT has Math:

The old LSAT had-I am not making this up-a math section. After conducting an exhaustive nationwide study, however, the LSAT people finally realized that no one had asked a lawyer to solve a quadratic equation or find the cosine of an angle for, probably, several centuries, and so they eventually deleted it.

On “Elite” Law Schools

He then describes how law schools design their curriculum. Something which (especially) graduates from the best colleges in the country would feel when they start their practice:

A good law school’s curriculum is not tied to the law of any particular state. This is also true of the “elite” law schools, except that their curriculum is not tied to the law of any particular planet. You should attend one of those schools if you intend to practice law somewhere in the Andromeda Galaxy.

How the First Year Is

The honeymoon ends when you have to go to your first class. The professor has a blackbelt in an ancient martial art called “the Socratic method.” After the professor completely dismantles a student for sheer sport and humiliates several dozen others, he then points out forty-seven different things in the two-paragraph case that you failed to see and still don’t understand.

As per the Socratic method, the teacher instead of telling students the answers, asks them questions to probe critical thinking. It is a method to induce a “productive discomfort’ in students. How productive it turns out to be we only realize later. But the above passage was a flashback of the classes in the first semester where after reading cases for hours, I failed to see how people managed to grasp the ratio in one reading.

Gordon then discusses the ultimate dream of a professor:

A law professor’s greatest aspiration is to be like Professor Kingsfield in the movie The Paper Chase. One professor who saw the movie decided (this is a true story) to act out one of the scenes from the film in his class.

On Legal Writing

Legal writing has always been a thorn between lawyers and others. Most people, even lawyers, fail to grasp how why the language in law is the way it is. Gordon provides his take on the issue:

The sole objective of this class is to make you write like real lawyers as little as possible. Virtually all lawyers write as if they were paid by the word. Some write as if they were born in a parallel universe.

[…]

Lawyers also write “said” alot. For example, one complaint stated:[B]eginning at a point on SAID railroad track about a half mile or more north of a point opposite SAID curve in SAID highway, large quantities of highly volatile coal were unnecessarily thrown into the firebox of SAID locomotive and upon the fire contained therein, thereby preventing proper combustion of SAID coal, resulting in great clouds of dense smoke being emitted from the smokestack of SAID locomotive….[Defendant] knew SAID smoke would fall upon and cover SAID curve in SAID highway when SAID engine reached a point on SAID railroad tracks opposite SAID curve, unless SAID smoke was checked in the meantime.

The real problem is that “the” doesn’t sound important enough to lawyers, so they instead write said “said.”

Another sin of legal writing, as we have noted, is verbosity, which is exacerbated by the practice of using pairs of duplicative words, like “cease and desist,” “null and void,” “free and clear,”…

You must have heard of double negatives. Law uses quadruple negative as per Gordon. Something like this- you would not have never done the deed had the employer not decided to not pay.

On Choosing Electives

The second-and third-years are about the same as the first year, except that you are a cool second or third-year student, and you get to choose your teachers (this is called forum shopping) based on the difficulty of their grading curve. The professors believe that you choose their class based on their teaching ability and the centrality of their course to your future career, so it’s wisest not to reveal this little secret.

A New Definition to Subjects

Gordon provides a humorous take on all the subjects we come across at law school. Some of them below:

Banking Law. Discover why banks throw billions of dollars away, but keep those 98-cent pens chained to their desks.

[…]

Legal Ethics. Learn why “honest lawyer” is an oxymoron.

[…]

Torts. Study a compensation system in which the transaction costs generally exceed the payments to the injured parties. Fortunately, most of the transaction costs occur in the form of attorney’s fees.

On Co-Curricular Activities

He touches on a variety of activities at law school. For law review he describes what the editors do:

The most elitist organization is the law review… Law review editors spend their time doing meaningful educational tasks like checking the citation form of articles they don’t understand. 

Then comes the most halloed activity at law school, even in India:

The second type of co-curricular program is upper-level moot court. These students are the ones with bared fangs and fire in their eyes, who can’t wait to get out of school and litigate the living corpuscles out of every warm-blooded creature. So they start doing it in law school.

On Sitting for Interviews

Interviews are also a drill most students see themselves going through. The (oftentimes) harrowing experience is also apply described.

Before you interview, you will need to prepare a “resume.” It is also called a “curriculum vitae,” a Latin phrase meaning “preposterous fable.” There is a fine art to interpreting resumes.

[…]

Pay special attention if you are walking down the hall and an associate cracks open a door and whispers to you,”Pssst. Get out of here while you still can!” This is generally not a good sign.

On Different Types of Work

Here is a look at how you could describe different kinds of work you would do:

Corporate Work: drafting documents for scumsucking corporations that poison huge numbers of innocent people.Litigation: defending scumsucking corporations that poison huge numbers of innocent people.

[…]

Public Interest Work: suing scum sucking corporations that poison huge numbers of innocent people. Lawyers doing this work earn less than what the law firms on the other side of the litigation pay their pencil sharpeners.

On Realizing Life After Law School

When you realize how much you are ready to practice law right after law school, a strange realization dawns on you:

Wait a minute, you say. Why did I borrow ten drillion dollars (exceeding the national debt of some third-world countries) and spend three years of my life going to law school? Didn’t law school teach me the law?

No, you idiot. Law school’s purpose is not to teach you the law. Law school taught you to THINK LIKE A LAWYER, unless you attended one of the elite schools, and then it taught you to think like a medieval philosopher, or a business school dropout. So you have to take the bar preparation course.

If you liked this, check out the full article here. He has also written a book called ‘Law School: A Survivor’s Guide‘, a satirical take on law school. It is written in the same light-hearted manner as the article and develops these ideas further.

If you would like to write for us, or have a story to share, please get in touch at umang.poddar@lawctopus.com

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