Wednesday, August 11, 2010
I spent the last three weeks on the Stanford campus, working for the Center for Talented Youth. This is a long-time labor of love for me; it brings me back to my roots as an elementary school teacher. It also takes me far away from my daily life; I teach a subject completely unrelated to what I do throughout the year. This summer, I was working with 6th graders in Model United Nations simulations.
At the end of the session, some of the students had decided they wanted to be lawyers. These are not typical 12 year olds; they are in the top fraction of 1% in IQ. Many have been exposed to the type of travel and experiences few can enjoy, even as an adult. What impressed me most were the reasons why some of them wanted to be lawyers; they wanted to be lawyers because they liked to learn, they wanted to help people, and liked that lawyers saw the world from a variety of angles, not just one perspective. I was inspired by my students reasoning; they wanted to become lawyers because of what lawyers do, not because of what lawyers get (in compensation, authority, etc.) None of them said that lawyers are rich or powerful.
I had an in-depth conversation during lunch with one of my students. Both of his parents are attorneys. He was well aware of the time commitments and sacrifices lawyers make for their clients. However, he still saw a law degree as a possibility on his way to working in foreign relations. He was able to isolate the sort of thinking skills lawyers need, and match them to the thinking skills needed when working with people from diverse perspectives from around the world. Another student said that she thought law school would give her negotiation skills, so she could solve problems "without yelling."
I was inspired by my students. Over and over, they expressed the desire to learn the law because it can be a tool, not a weapon, during disputes. Due to their life experiences, most students had lawyers in their family or knew lawyers through their parents. Notably absent was the role of television and movies in their decision to be lawyers. Most watched a limited amount of television, and had not been seduced by the idea that law is all fun, money, and courtroom drama. They knew the struggles, and the challenges, of law school and a legal career by getting to know lawyers. They saw the power of learning how to think like a lawyer. These students put a high value on the power of thinking. They were metacognitively sophisticated at a young age. It inspired me to see the next generation of lawyers with a realistic view of the profession, its rewards and its pitfalls. (RCF)