Unbeknownst to most lay people, law students graduate law school woefully unprepared to do their job. Even when they graduate, most law students have never filed a lawsuit, taken a deposition, cross-examined a witness, or filed a motion. Rather, law school is focused on examining principles of case law, which in reality comprise about 20% of what practicing lawyers actually do. What’s worse is that law school is taught by academics, many of whom have never tried a case before a jury, deposed a witness, or worked in private practice. Nevertheless, law students do read actual case law – legal opinions written by courts. Those opinions are supposed to be grounded in logic, not feelings.
This means sometimes the law might be contrary to your ideals. For instance, as Scott Greenfield points out, “[t]here is no constitutionally protected right to equal dignity. There is no legally cognizable meaning to the phrase, “equal dignity.” It’s a lie that social justice poseurs tell themselves, argue to their choir, want so desperately to believe that they repeat it as much as possible in the desperate hope of making it so.”
In other words, sometimes big corporations prevail over the little guy, and sometimes the outcome is seemingly unfair. But that’s how the law works.
On a personal level, you might not like that. But as lawyers, our duty is to work within those confines to best serve our clients.
Last night I came across an article called “A Call to Action.” Rather than more of a focus on a practical legal education, University of Washington law students are demanding that their school:
• Offer more social justice courses for 2Ls and 3Ls. A survey should assess student demand for specific courses, but we believe UCLA Law’s course offerings can provide a starting point.
• Create and incorporate a new “capstone” course into the 1L curriculum with more big-picture elements of history, philosophy, critical legal studies, implicit bias, and critical race/feminist theory. The traditional 1L curriculum focuses so intensely on the minutiae of case law that it is easy to lose sight of why many of us came to law school in the first place. This course would serve to break the cycle of indoctrination and redirect student focus to the global common good.
• Make Critical Race Theory optional for 1Ls spring, 2015.
• Create a mandatory baseline training relating to issues of race and implicit bias. Such training could be incorporated into FLS. As lawyers, we will all be interacting with people. Just as the UW Medical School recognizes this important aspect of future professional life, we ask that UW Law provide cultural competency training. This training should start at FLS, continue through the 1L curriculum, and include an elective requirement for cultural competency classes in the 2L and/or 3L years.
• Create a training program for faculty to discuss issues of race and diversity. Includes a student presence in said training.
• Course assessments should include mandatory evaluation criteria for a professor’s ability to create an inclusive learning environment.
• Create an alternative spring break service project to allow students the opportunity to engage with communities, learn about real-world injustices, expand their world-view and learn about possible solutions and actions. Give students an opportunity to learn beyond the walls of the law school, beyond the few pages discussing these issues in our texts, beyond the comforts of Seattle.
The article also states that “[t]he traditional 1L curriculum focuses so intensely on the minutiae of case law that it is easy to lose sight of why many of us came to law school in the first place.”
Which raises a good question. Why did you go to law school in the first place? To become a lawyer and represent clients? Or to effectuate “social justice”?
A comment on Simple Justice lays out the reality for lawyers:
About two days into law school, my civil procedure professor stopped in the middle of discussing diversity jurisdiction and said the following:
“No one else is going to tell you this, so I’m going to right now. If my colleagues and I do our jobs right, and you walk out of this institution with a diploma, the way you view the world will forever be changed. You will see every day situations in terms of liability and fault. Once you begin practicing law, you will see just how broken this system really is as opposed to the principles and ideas we will teach you here. No matter what you do, you will constantly be in stressful situations. You will get calls in the middle of the night from people demanding you come handle an issue because they need it. You will spend Valentine’s day at some point in a prison helping someone inside rather than spending it with your loved ones. You will do it because this profession demands you work consistently under stress, in stressful situations.”
He then pointed to the door. “If this bothers you in any way, I invite you to leave now before you take on too much debt and suffer through a career you will hate.”
Sixteen people in my 1L class quit the next day.
With the rise of people like Ms. Testy as profs teaching students, it truly saddens me we don’t have people in academia giving people that “real” talk.
That guy’s also not teaching at that school anymore.
It’s not about us. It’s about clients.
What I find so striking about UW’s demands are that none of them center around lawyers become better equipped to serve clients. Instead, what they’re demanding is a “more inclusive” feel good environment for the students.
Why is that a bad thing? Because like it or not, law school is not a vehicle for social change. It’s not about your feelings. It’s about acquiring the skills necessary to uphold your moral duty – to serve your clients.
When a client gets served with a federal lawsuit, or calls you up at 4am from a prison cell, your knowledge of critical race and feminist theory isn’t going to bail them out. When a judge is yelling at you in front of a jury, you’re going to wish you spent more time reading up on the Rules of Evidence or honing cross-examination skills. Not gender theory.
If your goal in life is to eliminate institutional racism and perceived injustices, that’s a perfectly fine and noble goal. However, law school isn’t the vehicle to address those issues. Law school is where men and women go to become lawyers, and acquire the tools necessary to help their clients.
You can do many things as a lawyer that might change the world, or even effectuate social change. However, social justice is more often than not a byproduct of what lawyers actually do – represent clients. Not causes.