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.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The rare post that isn't trying to be funny. A reflection on being a 2L. Sort of.

Last year, when friends would ask me about law school -- would ask if they should apply, even if they're not sure they want to be lawyers -- I would pretty much give them an unqualified yes. "Have a reason for going, know why you're there, understand what you're getting yourself into--- but I think there are lots of reasons to go to law school beyond being absolutely sure you want to practice law." After all, classes are interesting, the people are interesting, being a student is a lot more enjoyable than working at a miserable job, a law degree is a respected and nice thing to have, being a lawyer is an awful nice backup plan for anyone even if it's not their passion, people in all sorts of fields have law degrees, it's a better feeling to wake up in the morning knowing that even if the day sucks at least at the end there's a degree, as opposed to being at a job you don't think is leading anywhere and wondering what the heck you're there for and what you're really getting out of it. And who knows, there are lots of kinds of law to practice, and how do you know you don't want to practice law, and maybe you do and if you don't go to law school because you're not totally sure yet then you're missing out on the chance to discover your real calling.

All still good reasons, no doubt. But this year, I've found myself colored by the recruiting process a bit. Colored by life as a 2L not being as new, as fresh -- as all-encompassing -- as the 1L experience. It's easy to ignore the post-law school future as a 1L because there's so much other stuff to focus on. There's some degree of intensity and pressure, everything's brand new, everyone's brand new, the focus is on the present and whether you're learning civil procedure or not, more than it is on what you're going to do with the degree. But lately, when friends of mine ask if they should go to law school, my gut answer isn't the same pretty much unqualified yes. It's more nuanced -- "Do you think you want to practice law? Do you want to work at a law firm? Can you not think of anything else you'd rather do, be more excited about doing, feel is really your passion?" Not that I've discouraged anyone from going to law school. But 2L year has surprised me because it's been so much more -- I don't know -- vocational than 1L year.

We returned to campus in the fall and were immediately ushered into this on-campus recruiting process where, basically, you're deciding what you're going to do after law school, but in a world where the only choices are the 500 big law firms that come to campus. The handful of people who don't go through the process are the ones who are sure they want to do something else law -- public interest, the government, etc -- but most people do it, most people interview, most people (at least here, and I recognize that's not the case everywhere) get jobs somewhere. And so for about six weeks now everyone's had job offers, and there's this feeling that law school's done. That the next year and half is just playing out the string, none of it really matters, we're on our way out, we're finished here.

Which is a substantial flip from a year ago, when everyone was if not at least concerned about their grades and their reading and their law school experience, at least they were ready to acknowledge that it made some sense to be concerned and to care and to not be completely checked out emotionally from the whole experience.

As I write this, I'm realizing I started this post off with the wrong hypothesis. I don't know that my answer is different now when my friends ask about law school because of the "do I want to be a lawyer?" question. I think more than that, my answer is different because law school is less fun -- fun's the wrong word -- less stimulating, less engaging, less fulfilling when people are checked out. When people don't care. I'm as guilty as anyone else, I suppose. But it's just a different feeling. It's the bad job feeling -- the "why am I here, what is this accomplishing" feeling. Once you have that job offer -- and I think maybe even whether you want it or not -- the stakes are gone, the fear of falling off the cliff is gone, the edge is gone -- and that makes it a less rewarding place to be. And I don't know if there's any way around it.

Last year, I remember 3Ls saying they really did feel like the whole year was unnecessary and why were they there. And I dismissed it as people who just hadn't gotten enough out of the experience -- who didn't make enough friends, who didn't understand that being a student is not a bad gig, who were just too eager to graduate and start their firm jobs. But maybe it's more institutional than that. I don't know.

And I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining, because I'm not -- by and large, I've enjoyed law school, and I'm glad I'm here. I just don't like the days when I wake up and wonder what the heck I'm doing and why this felt sort of important last year, and now it feels sort of like a charade. Not always, just a little bit, but enough to make me want to write about it.

So I just thought I'd share.