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.

Friday, July 11, 2003

I have seen the devil and he is a lawyer. This story is the perfect illustration of what you don't want law school to allow you to become, of the dark side that's out there, waiting to steal your soul. You see, I'm on an alumni e-mail list called "Princeton-lawyers" -- for lawyers, law students, people interested in legal stuff. Usually very little action. Questions about how to find a [personal injury / contracts / international tax] lawyer in [Detroit / Des Moines / Denmark]. Occasionally a question about employee non-compete clauses and whether they're enforceable. But yesterday, someone posted a question like this:

"I will be starting law school in the fall. I have been asked to sing in a choir at a close friend's wedding in September. Going will require me to miss classes on Friday, potentially up to four courses. Are 1L classes so important that I should give up going to the wedding so as not to miss them?"

{Note: the quotation marks are merely illustrative; I've paraphrased for issues of space, clarity, and anonymity protection}

I hope you're laughing. Or at least shaking your head and thinking, "Incoming law students. How naive and well-meaning." I understand the impulse to post the question, I really do. He doesn't know what law school's like, he's anxious, he's worried, he's concerned about doing something stupid his first month there. I never respond to stuff on these lists, but I felt like I had something to contribute, so I shot him an e-mail that basically said that missing a couple of classes is really no big deal, especially for a good reason like you've got. People will share their notes, make sure to catch up on the reading, people miss class all the time for no reason at all, so you really shouldn't worry too much about one day. I thought my response was pretty typical of what any sane and rational person would say. And apparently it was. He posted later that day saying that he'd received 29 e-mail replies, and the verdict was unanimous in favor of him going to the wedding (yes, 29 replies. I have no bad words to say about Princeton alumni. Except for the bad words to follow in the next paragraph.)

And then someone replied to the whole list.

"Weddings are only once, but so is the start of law school.... I'd say: Don't even think about singing, in this context; go to class. You're really not in that tough a spot, in fact. What you have is an unfortunate conflict, but the decision, though causing a regrettable absence, is easy.... Not to minimize your concern, but if you take a long-term view of things (imagine looking back at this one in 20 years -- or 2 months), I think you might agree with what I've said."

{Those quotation marks are legitimate. I can't improve on that response much.}

My first reaction was that he must be joking. Especially regarding the long-term view. Twenty years down the road: "boy am I glad I missed my friend's wedding for that Friday morning contracts class. Learning about the parol evidence rule was something I couldn't have gotten from a book; but seeing the wedding photos was just as good as being there. More classes, fewer friends, that's what I always say. And I totally understood when my friend missed my wedding because his printer at work ran out of toner and he had to go buy more."

That was followed by another reply:

"I am with [that other guy] on this one. I am into friends and friendship... [b]ut this is the beginning of law school, of which there is only one, and I think you will be in quite a hole missing all those classes so you can do something that is really, really nice but not really urgent."

Are there words? And both of these people are well out of school, at a point in their lives when they should have perspective on what's important. And admittedly I'm picking on the two outliers; everyone else said he should go to the wedding. Two posts especially helped restore my faith in the goodness of my fellow man, after reading those two that made me want to rip my eyes out.

The first, short and sweet: "It is easier to put things in perspective after you've been through them. Ten years out of law school, I have a better sense of what made a difference. Missing a few classes for a friend's wedding isn't one of them."

The second played a trump card and seems to have ended the debate: "As an Adjunct Professor of Law, if you showed up in my class and I heard your dilemma, I would immediately grab you by the shirt collar, lead you out of the building and throw you into a cab headed for the airport."

Thank you.

Please don't become those other two people. Please. They scare me. They make me sad. They make me worried for the state of the world. They make me lose my faith that all people, deep down, are good, and know what really matters. People matter. Friends matter. Relationships matter. The heart matters. A law school class, quite frankly, just cannot compete.

I have seen the devil, and he is a lawyer.