What happened to American law schools?

Coming from a family of recent-generation Middle East immigrants, the refrain of “go to law school, become lawyer” or “go to medical school, become doctor” has been drilled into my head since childhood.

In fact, I took the LSAT and even applied to law schools.

But before I chose to attend, the full scope of the recession’s effect on post-graduate law school employment came into view. Stories of bona-fide lawyers with grade-A legal educations busing tables to pay off student loans were enough for me to say “this isn’t worth it”.

I chose not to go to law school. And I’m glad that I did. I have a huge amount of respect for those who decided to brave the waters and attend.

But I don’t have respect for those who, for lack of a better term, choose to piss away that educational opportunity. At least we can use this economic situation as an opportunity to keep those who really don’t want to be lawyers and don’t have a passion for law out of the field and ensure that only the hardworking succeed.

Which is why I have zero tolerance or sympathy for William Desmond, third-year law student at Harvard Law, who wrote the following op-ed for the National Law Journal: “Delaying Exams Is Not a Request from ‘Coddled Millennials’”.

The exam delay is reference to students at some of the most prestigious law schools in the country petitioning administrators to delay final exams in the wake of juries not choosing to indict the officers in the Michael Brown case or the Eric Garner cases.

Let me rephrase that: students, law students, all of whom had to get an undergraduate education at prestigious schools and essentially ace their LSATs, have petitioned to take their exams later because they’re despairing over some grand jury decisions.

It would be as if medical students at Johns Hopkins asked if they could delay their exams because of Thomas Eric Duncan’s death from Ebola.

What kind of sniveling, headline-crawling crybabies have we become that we can’t take a test because events entirely outside of our control and connected to us zero percent – we’re not talking about terrorism here, we’re talking about grand jury indictments – are in the news?

Desmond, hopefully-never Esq., says the following:

In response, opponents of exam extensions have declared that to grant these requests would be a disservice to the students. Law students, they argue, must learn how to engage critically with the law in the face of intense adversity. Drawing comparisons to events surrounding the Civil Rights Movement and other times of intense turmoil, these opponents portray today’s law students as coddled millennials using traumatic events as an excuse for their inability to focus on a three-hour exam. In essence, law students are being told to grow up and learn how to focus amidst stress and anxiety—like “real” lawyers must do.

That is absolutely, 100% true. You’re a lawyer. You’re an adult. You’re training to think and work critically and defending those who need defense. Could you imagine abandoning a client at the courtroom because Brad and Angelina got divorced?

Desmond argues:

Although over the last few weeks many law students have experienced moments of total despair, minutes of inconsolable tears and hours of utter confusion, many of these same students have also spent days in action—days of protesting, of organizing meetings, of drafting emails and letters, and of starting conversations long overdue. We have been synthesizing decades of police interactions, dissecting problems centuries old, and exposing the hypocrisy of silence.

I wish I had the intellectual strength to muster up an effective response here other than screaming at the top of my lungs. If you felt despair at the Brown case or the Garner case that allows you to not be able to take the test, or if you chose extracurricular activities that kept you from studying for the test, don’t be a lawyer. Print out flyers for your interest group. Hold demonstrations and protests. Deplete your local CVS of their supply of tampons and Kleenex. Stay the hell away from a courtroom.

I have seen the psychological trauma brought on by disillusionment with our justice system send some law students into a period of depression. After all, every death of an unarmed youth at the hands of law enforcement is a tragedy. The hesitancy to recognize the validity of these psychic effects demonstrates that, in addition to conversations on race, gender and class, our nation is starving for a genuine discussion about mental health. But to reduce our calls for exam extensions to mere cries for help exhibits a failure to understand the powerful images of die-ins and the booming chants of protestors disrupting the continuation of business as usual in cities across the country.

Your faux psychological trauma causes me actual psychological trauma. I’m despondent at the state of our country if this is the best we can come up with. If you’re not mentally healthy enough to take a test, how are you mentally healthy enough to handle a deposition? Cross-examining a witness? Arranging evidence for a jury? Meeting with clients? Driving to the courthouse?

What is apparent here is the fact that Desmond (Tutu-wearer) thinks that lawyers sit in oaken offices, write out letters, then cash checks. Occasionally, if their weak psychological constitution allows, they’ll muster up The Courage to give an Atticus Finch speech to defend someone so clearly innocent but beign discriminated against because of his/her/zir race/gender/class/orientation/minority status.

That’s not what lawyers do. A robot could do most of that work and for the actual court appearances you could pay a high school student taking debate and forensics with a hot meal.

Where some commentators see weakness or sensitivity, perhaps they should instead see strength—the strength to know when our cups of endurance have run over and when the time for patience has ended. Perhaps they should instead see courage—the courage to look our peers in the eyes and uncomfortably ask them to bear these burdens of racism and classism that we have together inherited from generations past.

If your cups of endurance have runneth over and your timeth for patience has ended then, and it bears repeating, you should become a paralegal. I tried to read the rest but I turned my garbage disposal on and the sound was more pleasant.

We have taken many exams before, but never have we done this. We are scared, but no longer will we be spectators to injustice.

I don’t want to be a spectator to a generation of pussies. That, to me, does injustice to the generations before you – from the courageous colonists to soldiers in the trenches to slaves organizing escapes to the north to immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century with a nickel and a dream. You’re pissing on the ashes of each and every one of your ancestors with your weakness and your choice to not harness whatever emotional turmoil you feel into a successful result is a selfish and Quixotic choice.

Our focus and critical thinking are at an all-time peak while the importance of our textbooks is at a low. It is not that law students are incapable of handling their exams. It is that we are unwilling to remove ourselves, even for a few days, from this national conversation. As future practitioners, professors, judges and policymakers, we have all been trained not only in the faithful application of the law but also in the critical examination of its effectiveness. And by our analysis, responsible members of the legal community can no longer defend our criminal justice system as exemplifying fair process when that system so frequently produces the same unjust result—life drained from an unarmed black body by a barrage of government-issued bullets.

If your job is to be a part of the “national conversation” then there are plenty of news networks and appropriately-acronymed interest groups who will hire you and pay for more than any kind of legal professional your menial mind could achieve.

We recognize that this is a moment for change. If not us, then who? For most of us, we know that if we get lower grades this semester, this cost will have been worth the importance and privilege of joining a national movement to fundamentally reform this country’s approach to law enforcement and criminal justice. But just because we are willing to pay this price does not mean we should have to.

You’re not willing to pay any kind of price. You’re willing to pay to get an education (I’m sorry, your parents or your lenders are willing to pay for said education) which you’re choosing to abdicate in favor of…what exactly? Sitting around and refreshing Twitter all day?

The most striking irony behind this criticism comes from the constant refrain we have heard over the years from every “real” lawyer who has offered us a job, as well as sometimes from these same critics, about how detached legal education has become from the realities of legal practice. Our requests for exam extensions are requests for our faculties and administrations to recognize that this movement is our legal education—that when we march, when we advocate, when we demand accountability and action we are employing the analytical skills and legal knowledge that we have learned in our law school classrooms far more than we would be if we responded to a hypothetical exam prompt.

I’m glad I didn’t attend medical school either, because I fear I’d self-diagnose the experience of a grand mal seizure if I even attempted to understand the convoluted bullshit being spewed here. There’s more strawmen here than an Oklahoma field.

If you want a real world legal education, don’t go to Harvard Law. If you want an education steeped in mindless theory, cushioned in faux diversity, and with a brand name respected as the Hermes of the legal field on your shiny little diploma, then go to Harvard Law.

I did a little more investigation and found that, yep, Mr. Desmond has summer-interned at our own Justice Department who is now “investigating” (read: spending per diems) the situations in Ferguson and Staten Island.

It’s not a matter of worrying when space cadet students like this will graduate, pass the bar, and enter the field in private or public practice. They’re there. These students are already learning at our institutions, influencing the application of law in a wholly skewed, ill-informed way.

The American legal system is held up as the paragon of an efficient, effective, justice system on the world stage.

We are damaging it by letting individuals like William Desmond be a part of it.

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