Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Tuesday, October 01, 2002

Here's a very rough first cut at my newspaper column for next week. It needs work, but I think the idea works. If you read this, please do send me some feedback -- it's appreciated.

The Box

Everywhere we go now, we see people in suits. (And I don’t mean law suits. Sorry, not funny.) 2Ls and 3Ls with three dozen interviews over six days, or six dozen interviews over three days, or ten dozen interviews over lunch tomorrow from noon until one. By all accounts, pretty much no one passes up the opportunity to at least try and get an offer from a corporate firm. Just to be safe. Even if they know they don’t want to end up there. Because it’s just for one summer. Because it’s only a few years. Just until the loans are paid off. Only until I make partner. Just until I can retire. Only until the day that I die. It can’t be that bad. Everyone does it.

I’ve heard people try to explain why this happens -- why people start law school dead-set against working for a big firm, but end up “selling out.” And, yes, I know there are lots of great reasons to go work for a firm, not least of which being to pay off student loans, but also because you can make good contacts, some people really do find it interesting, your salary gives your relatives something to brag about (as if just going to Harvard Law School isn’t enough!), and so forth. I’m sure we’ll get a big glossy brochure with all of these reasons (and pictures of happy, smiling, multi-ethnic men, women, and domesticated animals) from every law firm in the country when it’s the appropriate time.

But aside from these good and justifiable reasons, I think it’s mostly about expectations. It seems like from the first day of orientation, there’s an expectation that everyone here will fit into a certain box. Went to a good college, majored in something appropriately related to the study of law, had some sort of law or business-related job or internship -- paralegal, management consultant, investment banker -- and has a burning desire to use his or her law degree to either (a) help a specific set of people -- the poor, children, taxpayers, foreigners, sports figures, or (b) make a lot of money. Or both.

And that’s The Box. It’s what all of those questions people ask you during orientation are designed to put you in. “Where’d you go to school? What’d you do before you came here? What’s your future goal?” “Harvard, I sold stocks in management consulting firms to paralegals, I want to help the poor children of professional soccer players pay taxes in Bolivia.” You’re in the box. Wonderful.

And I think it excites us to meet people on the fringes of the box: “Where are you from?” “Canada.” “Canada? Wow, that’s cool!" "But I went to Yale. And my dad is a Supreme Court Justice.” Perfect. You’re in the box.

But people too far out of the box don't quite fit: “What did you do before you came here?” “Juggled hoops of fire in the circus.” Not in the box. You’re too different. You don't belong.

And no one doesn’t want to belong. The Box has a magnetic pull. It’s why everyone talks about his or her year at Oxford (and if I hear one more person force that into a conversation… “Oh, wow. Those trees remind me of trees we had -- when I was at Oxford,” or “I ate a turkey sandwich once -- at Oxford,” “The sky was blue -- at Oxford,” “We breathed air -- at Oxford.”) and no one talks about his interest in snorkeling. Or her comic book collection. Or his innermost thoughts and feelings. (Ooh, that’s too deep for a column trying to be funny. Sorry. I think I must have meant, “Or his favorite Beatle.”) We’re scared that if we reveal too much, we’ll put ourselves outside the box, and we won’t belong. And that really is pretty scary.

So I think that’s part of the reason why all of the 2Ls are dressed up in suits, going to fourteen dozen interviews in eight minutes, even if their hearts aren’t really in it. And why the deepest conversations in the Hark are about the weather, the Civ Pro reading, and the utility of Daylight Savings Time. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can make the box bigger. And find out the guy sitting next to us is from Canada. Or an amateur sumo wrestler. Or really a girl.