Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Graduation Day

All good things must come to an end, and so it goes for law school.

The big day is almost upon us for the Class of 2008. Mom and Dad are beaming, particularly at the thought of not having to pay any more tuition bills. Law students are exercising their right arm, ready to flip that tassel to the side of worldliness. Finally, two and a half years of abject boardom over. Off to the exciting world of real life lawyering, changing the world, and perhaps earning a living.

Todd Zywicki at the Volokh Conspircy notes some curious choices for commencement speakers, Jerry Springer at Northwestern Law School and Justice Clarence Thomas at the University of Georgia. Big names make for a memorable commencement, and draw attention to the importance of the law school. Why Northwestern didn't snag Judge Judy is beyond me.

But I wonder if we wouldn't do better by giving law students one final warning about what they are getting into. I know, it's a little late, having spent three years of their life and over $100,000 buying into a job, but it isn't too late to cut one's losses.

Discontent amongst young lawyers remains a problem. Sure, there will always be a few who find themselves in the wrong place, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the problem runs deeper. Tuition is already paid, and there aren't any refunds, so why not come clean?

Commencement is a day of grandeur and glory. Caps and gowns, plus a cool looking hood, are quite alluring. A procession led by festooned faculty, sometimes accompanied by a sceptre, are more than any mere mortal can stand. Swept up in the moment, what law student could question his choice?

Then comes the commencement speech, words designed to make one's chest swell with pride for the accomplishment and hope for the future. There's no fine print at commencement. It's platitudes galore. Cliches at their best. From the mouths of people with bold-faced names, if the school has any juice at all.

It would be interesting to see a school select a commencement speaker who challenged the lawyer-buds to make certain that they are not about to fall off the precipice. Someone who will tell them that they don't have a friend at the BMW dealer. A person who will explain why judges speak rudely to lawyers, and why clients show them no respect. What about a speaker who will inform them that at the end of the day, there may be nothing to show that they existed except a sheaf of papers with random letters on it.

Or are they better off learning about their future from Jerry Springer? They just may be.

2 Comments:

Blogger Ani Onomous said...

1. It's conservative of me, but I think there's a time and a place, and any speech tilted in this direction would be wildly inappropriate. Jerry Springer? Substitute Debbie Downer.

2. I don't know how regularly you see or read graduation speeches, but not a few sound cautionary notes about the profession, ask new attorneys to serve justice, etc. I see lots of good to sounding such cautions, but I assume you are asking for considerably more.

3. It's patronizing to assume that law students aren't savvy to many of the profession's drawbacks, and to suppose that, even if "swept up in the moment," they will lose that perspective entirely. There's something to be said for giving them a breather. See #1.

4. What's the alternative? You say: "It would be interesting to see a school select a commencement speaker who challenged the lawyer-buds to make certain that they are not about to fall off the precipice. Someone who will tell them that they don't have a friend at the BMW dealer. A person who will explain why judges speak rudely to lawyers, and why clients show them no respect. What about a speaker who will inform them that at the end of the day, there may be nothing to show that they existed except a sheaf of papers with random letters on it." Perhaps. At this level of detail, such notes strike me as patronizing, petty, and pretentious. I guess it would all depend on how it was executed.

4/29/2008 3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It must be nice to have your parents pay for your law school education. I hope that law school teaches you, inter alia, how to actually support yourself.

5/25/2008 8:44 AM  

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