Tuesday, August 29, 2006


There's a mystique about law school. It's well known that a student's 1L is supposed to be one of the hardest years of his or her life. One would think that this would be a result solely of the rigor of legal thinking and the imposition of coming to grips with a vast body of law. And that aspect is present.

However, I also feel like I've joined a cult. There is a sort of collective brainwashing as to the majesty of the law and the sacredness of authority. In the case of a school, of course, the present authority is the faculty. They are held out as demi-gods to the bewildered student. Law schools reinforce the feeling that, despite any backgroung in logic, reasoning, or even the law, one is in a strange and mystical world, by using the Socratic method. This method amounts to not telling students what they need to know, but instead forcing them to figure it out for themselves. So there is a double adjustment: immersion in a new subject matter, and the need to figure out exactly what one is supposed to be learning.

It's an incredibly inneficient way of teaching, but it's a great way to preserve the priesthood of lawyers. There is a ritualistic aspect to it. A hazing and a following of form for form's sake, in the somewhat blind belief that this form will instill in students the ability to "think like a lawyer."

There is little hope that law school pedagogy will ever return to earth. For one, once students pass through the fire, there is an enjoyment in seeing others pass through it. Two, students who are intitiate in the mysterious ways of the law would naturally be loathe to demystify it. It increases their prestige to be part of the priesthood.

There is much more to say on the subject and many have said similar and better things before me, so let me leave off with an example:

There is a student in my section who got called on the first day of classes. When you're on call, the prof sticks with you the whole class, needling you for more information, demanding specific answers If you don't know the answer, you are expected to figure it out on the spot. Well, for the next several days every professor called on this same student: put him on call and stayed with him. The laughs of fellow students grew louder each time, and each time, the profs have protested coincidence. In 4 classses of 90 people it is not coincidence that he has been singled out. It is undoubtedly planned. The reasons for it seem twofold: 1. I am sure the professors get a kick out of it. 2. It puts all students on warning. Never relax. You can be on call at any monent. The lesson of preparedness and attentiveness is important, no doubt, but it could be imparted with less deception.

It sounds like I'm having an awful time, but I actually love the subjects and and most of my profs are great. There are just these entrenched stupidities of the process that plead to be commented on.

Let me add, I am very tired.


Laura V. said...

you say you're tired but you don't sound it. you sound pretty with it. I enjoyed reading your post because it reminded me of the generalized entrenched stupidities of being in school. I had your shift this month and am intimately familiar with entrenchment and stupidity. but I missed like mad having you to grapple with over the news of the day.

La Misma said...

Oh dear ... I cannot take lvl's upbeat view. I think what you describe sounds awful. Teaching by humiliation is cruel and contemptible. I was heartsick reading about that one student they singled out to pick on. It reminds me of grade school in Ottawa and the cruelty teachers meted out to "bad" (disadvantaged, high-energy) kids.

Yeah, and I don't get the point. I didn't realize this was what law school was all about. I assumed that as it's professional school, students would be treated with respect. This sounds like the opposite.

beckett said...

well. The students are sort of treated with respect. A lot of them are 21-yr-old tools. Heh heh.

The kid who was singled out was not himself humiliated. He was prepared and answered fairly well. I think he was singled out because he went to Harvard. The profs may have wanted to get a look at this Harvard kid and might have also thought he was more likely to be prepared. In other words, he might be one of the school's top students.

I've performed very well when on call thus far, I have to say...

Now: study or nap, study or nap...

Laura V. said...

Nap. Always opt for rest.

And anyway what would school (or any human endeavor) be without a few butt monkeys to bear the brunt of grief for the rest of us.

Automatic respect for 21-year-olds. Bah.

La Misma said...

The Harvard angle is even more unsavory because all I can think is, they wanted to bust his balls because he's from Harvard or they want to trot him out as an example for the others. Either possibility is icky. 'Icky' is a good legal term.

I'm sure you're performing well, at least when your irrational Pluto hatred isn't clouding your reason.

beckett said...

death to Pluto

Laura V. said...

death to Bluto