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February 19, 2005

More Thoughts for Future Law Students

After Brett's question the other day, and thanks to the Scoplaw's recent note about Duncan Kennedy, I went back to the archives and found an extended discussion about the value of a law school rank in attending law school, along with a bit more about my impressions of GW as of last fall. The discussion is in the comments to this post, and those of you who are currently trying to figure out where to attend law school might be interested in some of what you'll find there. The discussion started when reader Phil asked whether I was satisfied with my decision to go to law school. I answered, in part:
I have not gotten to the point where if I had it to do over again I wouldn't go, but, I know this: If I had it to do over again, I would have done everything possible to minimize the cost. To do this, I would have picked schools to apply to based on cost first, location second, and rank third. I probably would have gone to a state school, and in order to get in-state tuition I would have moved there for a year and temped or whatever in order to qualify for residency. Unless you want to work at a firm, I really think the rank business is a crock of crap. So the most dissatifying thing is the cost and the way I'm feeling increasingly strait-jacketed with debt. Another source of dissatisfaction is the classes themselves, which I've complained about before b/c they're so large, allow almost no discussion of material, don't even attemp to teach critical thinking or a critical approach to the matieral [sic], etc.
GW professor Orin Kerr (who writes regularly at the Volokh Conspiracy) joined the discussion, and I especially recommend it to those of you thinking about GW b/c he offers his view of student satisfaction at the school. He also offers tips on getting the most out of law school that could probably apply to any school. For the record, I continue to disagree w/Prof. Kerr about how important school rank is for many public interest jobs. He argues that public/private employers give similar weight to where you went to law school and what your GPA was, but I've been told by countless public interest employers that that's just not true. Public defenders, for example, certainly care about your school and GPA, but they care just as much—or often more—about your extracurriculars, your demonstrated commitment to social justice, public service, and the kind of work they'll ask you to do (in this case, criminal defense). A high GPA does not necessarily correlate in any way with a commitment to the principles and mission of a public interest employer, and since there won't be a big fat paycheck to motivate their new hires, it only makes sense for public interest employers to care much more about demonstrated commitment than about grades or school rank. As I mentioned, this post was sparked by the Scoplaw's mention of Duncan Kennedy's essay, “Legal Education as Training for Hierarchy.” I can't help but point out in this connection that, according to Kennedy's logic in that essay, law professors, law school administrators, and many legal professionals will always tell you that rank, prestige, and GPA are important factors in your success as a lawyer. If you dare to think that's not the case, you'll be breaking out of the hierarchy for which law school is preparing you, and we couldn't have that, could we? Because I think tangentially, I'd also raise in this connection the whole idea of Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) statutes as yet another way the legal profession protects its status quo, preserves this hierarchy, and stands in the way of a legal system that really serves people rather than simply protecting property. That's a debate for another day, but I mention it only b/c, hey, if you're thinking about going to law school, it's another part of what you're getting yourself into. UPDATE: See also: Does Law School Rank Determine Success? [link via JD2B]

Posted 09:52 AM | Comments (2) | law school

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