Tag Archives: Law School

There is Still Hope for America . . . and Law Students

The New York Times’ Economix Blog reports that law school application numbers are finally falling, as well as the number of LSAT test takers.  The post speculates that the cause of the decreases may be the economic upturn (what economic upturn?), which is allowing people to get jobs instead of having to hide from unemployment in grad school.  It also speculates whether prospective law students have figured out that becoming a lawyer may not make one the cash cow one wishes to be.  The New York Times itself has previously reported on this.

This is probably very welcome news to law students and recent law grads.  Many law grads from my school and other schools have had great difficulty finding jobs in the economic downturn, and have been both frustrated and baffled by the seemingly unrelenting desire of folks to become lawyers, who only make the market even more congested.  It has been particularly grating to law students like myself who came to law school with a passion for public interest work, only to see those jobs scarfed up by “deferred associates.”  Deferred associates are Biglaw firm hirees who the firm cannot afford to take on full-time right away, so it pays them a very hefty sum to work at a host non-profit/public interest organization until they can take them, all at no cost whatsoever to the host org.  No matter how much passion or experience you have, it’s almost impossible to compete with free labor!

It was also shocking to me to learn how many people ended up in law school because they couldn’t think of anything better to do.  It’s sad to think that people who don’t care that much about law or helping people may have made it into law school thanks to a good LSAT score while people with real passion, but less standardized-test-talent were left behind.  Maybe the ability to satisfy the zealous advocacy requirement of Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.3 should become a consideration in admissions decisions?  Just a suggestion.

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Actually, Justice Looks More Like This Show Getting Cancelled

USA is wheeling out a new “legal drama” called, “Fairly Legal,” about a woman who was a lawyer at her father’s firm, but quits after her father dies, and begins working as a mediator. The preview begins with a narrator with a male voice saying, “So, what does justice look like? About 5′ 5”, brunette, great smile . . . .” This sexy embodiment of justice, called “Kate,” is played by Sarah Shahi of “The L Word.” The preview continues with Kate doing lots of cute things, like winking at the camera, and running around in high heeled shoes and tight skirts. You can see for yourself by clicking the link…

http://widget.usanetwork.com/singleclip/singleclip_v1.swf?CXNID=1000004.19010NXC&WID=4984adb196fcedf7&clipID=1261580

Now, I’m sure a lot of people reading this will say, “What are you worried about? No one watches USA anyway.” And that may be true. But, there is always the chance that someone, especially some little girl, or a girl in middle or high school, will turn this on, and get the idea that this is what lawyers look like. Yes, girls are already bombarded with images telling them how they should look, but there is something even more appalling when these ridiculous beauty standards are tied together with a profession that does not depend on or care about the attractiveness of the people who are a part of it. Kate is portrayed as a successful attorney and a successful mediator. Her good looks and sex appeal are part of her success. All she has to do is wink at the guys and she gets her way. This presents a few problems: (1) The risk that people watching will believe that a woman needs to be “attractive” (read: look like Kate) to be a successful attorney, and/or (2) more generally, that a woman must look like Kate in order to successful at all. It also presents a problem for female attorneys who do look like Kate, but got where they are because they worked hard, and not because of their looks. Male attorneys and judges may think, “She only got this far because of the way she looks.”

It is frustrating to no end to constantly see being conventionally good-looking tied together with happiness and success for women. Jessica Wakeman, writing for “The Frisky,” points out that a man with his own show is allowed to be brilliant at his career without having to meet certain height, weight, and attractiveness requirements, and she gives the great example of “House.” House is a white, male doctor who is somewhat of a misanthrope, and also a genius at diagnosing mysterious medical conditions. Can you think of a show that starred a female professional who was brilliant at what she did, where the emphasis was not placed on what she looked like? Can you think of a show where a female who was brilliant at what she did was somewhat misanthropic? Of course not, women must be attractive AND social butterflies in order to be good at their jobs.

I still remember seeing “Ghost World” in the theater for the first time. It was like a whole new world opened up. Girls! Being misanthropic! And sarcastic! And they’re not wearing all-name-brand, shiny, gold, skin-tight crap! You should see “Ghost World,” or read the comic, if you haven’t.

As a law student, I can personally attest to the fact that the majority of women in law school do not look like this Kate character. The vast majority do not run around in high heels and wink at people. The same can be said about female lawyers I have worked with in internships. While, of course, there are many attractive women in the profession, being a good lawyer does not depend on that at all. The women I’ve met while in law school care much more about being good at what they do, and about fighting for their clients, than about what they personally look like. I have never read an opinion in which the judge decided in favor of a female lawyer for being good-looking. I have, however, heard of female lawyers being referred to as “baby,” or “sweetheart,” by male lawyers and male judges, and I’ve also heard of female lawyers receiving sexually suggestive e-mails and phone calls from male clients. As long as shows like “Fairly Legal” continue to get on the air, more men will get the idea that it is OK to treat women as sexual objects, including female professionals. It may also lead women to think it is OK. What is really scary is the idea that shows like this can make some girls think twice about going to law school because they do not look like Kate. If you are reading this, and it did that to you, listen to me very carefully:   It is all bullshit.

Call or e-mail USA to tell them that this show should be cancelled. Contact information is here.

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“The Paper Chase” Meets “The Banner Chase”

It could be argued that in Dante’s Inferno, the Vestibule of Hell was worse than any of the circles of Hell insofar as it was the most unpleasant for the souls there.  This is supported by the text (Canto III):  Virgil tells Dante that the people in the Vestibule are “envious of every other fate.” (Emphasis added).  The heavens will not accept them, and neither will the abyss.  “Wow,” one thinks, “Are these murderers?  Rapists?  What did they do that was so bad?”  The answer:  They were apathetic.

They are the melancholy souls of those who lived without infamy or praise.  They did nothing in their lives, for good or for evil, but only for “self.”  Scattered among them are the Angels who took neither side in the War in Heaven that resulted in Lucifer’s expulsion.  For all of eternity, these self-interested souls are doomed to chase a banner, which can never be caught, while gadflies and hornets sting them, and maggots drink their blood and tears.

It’s utterly fascinating that Dante would choose to give these souls, the indifferent and apathetic ones, the worst fate.  Basically, he is saying that it is worse to do nothing than to do evil, which is a really brave thing to assert.  I suppose it could also be interpreted as:  it is worse to only be motivated by self-interest than to be motivated by evil.  But, still, that is quite a thing to say!

Today, many of us would probably disagree with Dante.  Many people would be outraged by the notion that a murderer deserves a better fate in hell than some dude with no convictions.  (Please note that when I say “better,” I am still comparing two horrible and undesirable fates, and to that extent, one can only be so much better than the other).  Part of this outrage and distaste might arise from the realization that most of us would be included in the indifferent and apathetic crowd, and none of us want to consider ourselves as somehow deserving of a worse fate than an “active sinner,” if you will.

The law certainly does not agree with Dante on this point.  The law does not punish people who are indifferent, apathetic, or who do not take sides.  Sometimes, it even encourages people to be this way.  Take protests, for example.  Many people may be deterred from protesting for something good and worthy out of the fear that they will be arrested.  By looking out for their own self-interest, they refrain from taking sides in the matter.  And unlike Dante’s G-d, the law does not reward selfless good actions (with the exception of a few tax exemptions or scholarships here and there).  This only increases the likelihood that people will act self-interestedly, indifferent to issues that do not directly involve them.

Lawyer/law school culture definitely promotes amoral, self-interested behavior (note:  amoral, not immoral).  Law students are encouraged not to care about anything beyond their grades and class rank.  They must be careful about what student organizations they join, or include on their resumes, because they may affect their chances of getting the job.  They must also modify their appearances, even if it means changing something about which he or she felt strongly, in order to appease an employer or judge.

When students object to having to do these things to get a job, or to having a value system that relies solely on grades, they are not received well.  They are considered naive, unrealistic, or lacking experience.  Those who try to shift the focus away from grades are assumed to be doing so because they have bad grades, and so are probably not worth listening to anyway.  It is accepted and expected that students will spend all of their time trying to get the best grades, and will sacrifice their beliefs and convictions to get whatever high-paying job they can.  Especially in an economic situation like the one in which we currently find ourselves, the more one sticks to his or her convictions at the risk of losing a job opportunity, the more one is regarded as having lost touch with reality.

Opportunism is just a reflection of the values of a capitalist society.  Here, money is what matters.  “Success” means making a lot of money, and “freedom” means having the money to buy whatever stuff you want.  If you have different definitions of success and freedom, you will most likely be an outcast in law school and in many parts of society, but look on the bright side: you’re less likely to be stuck in the Vestibule!

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