Law School Karma

Not an Elle Columns, law school, Lawyer 1 Comment

Law school is a weird place full of weird people. In a lot of ways it seems to exist in a three-year overpriced vacuum. What happens there stays there (sometimes). And you can be certain everyone knows about it. It’s like being famous in a small town.

Some people are helpers. They’ll lend you the study guide they aren’t using, send you notes if you miss class, and in general if you ask for some form of assistance, they’ll do what they can to provide it. They understand that “consideration” has a meaning outside of contract law and that sometimes someone has to take one for the team “for the greater good.”

Some people are not. You could call them Takers. Any chance they have to promote themselves, no matter what they cost, they’ll take. Usually Takers stick with annoying but petty “tricks” like hiding the library supplements or study guides for the last 4 weeks of the semester or trying to psyche people out days before finals. Takers understand the concept of “taking one for the team”—and they think it’s for suckers. They aren’t interested in working with you; they’re focused on working against you.

Some people are neither. They drift through without much interaction with most of the class. They keep to themselves with non-malicious indifference. It’s not personal. Like a glass of water, they aren’t half full or half empty—they’re just there, preferably without pretense.

Takers aren’t all bad all the time. Often there’s a little Taker in everyone—the Non Takers just aren’t as intense about it. These “types” have a forced intermingling daily, and for the most part are adjusted to each other’s behavior after first semester and aren’t particularly concerned with it. Just because you’re all in it together doesn’t mean you have to like it. But it also doesn’t mean you’re living on the hate.

But every now and then, Takers will take things too far. Maybe they humiliate a well liked classmate when he’s on call, or completely shirk their responsibilities when forced to do group work, or do something that shows their disregard for the entire class, like voting “no” for a take home exam when the decision has to be unanimous because they think their odds are better against you that way. And like any good rumor in law school, word of the offense spreads. Fast.

Law school creates a bond, wanted or not. Law students aren’t known for retaining information after a final exam, but most people aren’t known for dismissing being scorned. Once someone has mistreated a classmate in a big way, you can bet people aren’t forgiving and forgetting, no matter what face they put on it. It’d be safe to say that it’s no longer safe to ask for notes, outlines, or any kind of help, really. In fact, go ahead and count on not counting on them in the future. This isn’t to say someone is going to be holding a grudge against the Taker for the next decade, but, while law school is an overpriced three years of your life, what happens there doesn’t always stay there.

After law school these chivalrous individuals are released again into the general population. How are these people supposed to work with others later? Presuming first that they behave like this because they want jobs doing actual legal work, the only law job tolerating such a standard of behavior is a solo practice. If that’s the end game, perhaps Takers are on the right track. Cooperation with opposing counsel and basic social pleasantries are probably overrated anyway.

Keeping in line with the presumption that the goal is a law job, this behavior seems counterintuitive. Jobs in a firm or in government are rarely limited to working alone with no coworkers or interaction. Behavior like this surely can’t be rewarded when work needs to be divided and people need to collaborate. While Takers have been known to occasionally cluster together during school, part of their nature is a distrust of every “potential competitor.” The chances of them playing nicely with others is slim, no matter who they are. Maybe that type of sabotage and subterfuge is commonplace at larger schools or among the top tiers. And maybe that segues appropriately into the workplace. Maybe that’s just part of firm life. Maybe there’s always That Guy or That Girl who’s known for being thoughtless and insensitive and people work around it or avoid it. Quite a reputation to earn for yourself.

Let’s say three years from now, Scorned Classmate is at work and his/her boss says, “Hey, That Guy has applied here. Resumé says you went to the same law school. What do you think of him?” Think the first answer is going to be a smile followed by “Great guy” or a pause and “It depends on what you’re looking for . . . .”?

Because just like the classes you take and the grades you get and your internships and work experiences and everything else—the things you do in law school will follow you after graduation. Including the parts where you were an inconsiderate asshole.

Share this Post

  • Dr. Juris

    Probably the best article I’ve read on here thus far.