Tuesday, June 30, 2009
So often when students talk with me about law school, they make emotional statements that have to do with love and hate. Law school seems to cause people to feel strongly and not sit on the fence about the experience.
The item that most often gets strong positive reactions is "the law" itself. Students often tell me that they find the field of law fascinating. They are strong proponents of the "rule of law" and their future role in protecting our legal system. Many of them love the idea of being able to use the law professionally to help others. However, the commonality of the experience often ends here.
A few students will tell me that they love everything about law school. They enjoy the challenge of being around very bright classmates every day. They enjoy reading the cases to learn the law in a number of course areas. They thrive on the chance to enter Board of Barristers competitions. They are energized by the questioning in classes. And, they are grateful for professors who have a real open-door policy.
But many of the students do not love law school as a whole. They will talk about the things they hate even though they may like some things. They hate the gossipy, junior-high-school atmosphere where rumors abound. They hate smug, arrogant classmates who pick on those in the section who are less attractive, less self-assured, and less clued-in. They hate the overly competitive nature of law students.
Most law students have a balance between love and hate so that they persevere through the parts they detest and enjoy the parts they like. What most of them do not understand is that how they act individually can affect how the law school experience is for them AND for their classmates.
What do I mean? I mean that the negative behaviors of law students can be impacted by their classmates' positive behaviors.
The rumor-mongerers and gossipers need others to listen and pass on their statements to be successful. If law students make individual decisions not to participate in the gossip cycle, the cycle will end. Walk away. Do not pass on the gossip or rumor. Better yet, tell the gossiper that s/he should stop passing on the gossip or rumor.
The section bullies need others to keep silent and not stand up for the "underdogs" to get the most mileage. If law students make individual decisions to speak up against bullying and defend the "underdogs" against the bullies, the bullies can be silenced. In the worst cases, law students might have to go to the deans for help to get the behavior stopped.
Law school will mean greater competition realistically because most students are for the first time in an environment where everyone is highly intelligent. Most law students did not have to study very hard for their As and Bs in high school and college. They were always the cream of the class. Thus, some feelings of law school being competitive are probably inevitable for many law students.
However, law school does not have to develop into an overly competitive and cut-throat environment. Individual law students can make decisions not to rip pages out of library books, not to steal study aids from ASP library, not to stress out classmates with obscure questions right before the exam, and not to consider their success equivalent to a grade. When law students keep a balanced perspective on law school by having outside interests, staying in touch with family and friends outside law school, and realizing that grades are not the only measure of a person, they can avoid becoming overly competitive as well as being miserable because of the competition.
By keeping balance in their lives, law students have a better chance of withstanding the negatives of law school and finding more positives. By having a positive impact on their law school class, law students can help to minimize some of the hateful aspects of law school. It takes perseverence, perspective, and sometimes courage. (Amy Jarmon)