The Bitter Commencement Speech

Please enjoy the commencement speech that Northwest 3L’s school threatened to expel him for. – Ed.

Good afternoon. I’d like to start by reminding whoever nominated me to give this speech that I’ll figure it out eventually. And once I do, well, you have to sleep eventually. As for everyone who voted for me, well, I hope you’re happy with how this turns out.

We’re all here today for one reason.  We’ve spent over $100,000 for a small piece of paper that, in real terms, is nothing more than a permission slip to let us take the bar exam.  A test that has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual practice of law and for which our three years of law school have not even come close to preparing us.  We’ve read cases and studied obscure academic theories of justice but received no actual instruction in the practice of law beyond that which we sought on our own through internships and externships.

We’ve suffered through classes taught by professors who have less experience outside academia than our own second-career classmates.  We’ve lived with an administration that thinks an academic paper is a substitute for actual training in how to create legal work product and that a clinic serving people who don’t even have business plans is an accurate representation of the correct way to run an entrepreneurial law practice.  We’ve put up with a career services office that thinks people with several years of work experience should force a resume down to one page.

What we should be taking away from all this is that the last three years don’t mean much.  The only thing we’ve done so far is prove that we’re willing to jump through a series of arbitrary hoops.  The successes we’ve had here aren’t important.  Employers might give them a little weight, but our clients won’t.  Order of the Coif won’t matter to a client who’s had the statute of limitations toll on her injury claim because your office scheduling system glitched and you weren’t paying enough attention to notice.  The mother fighting through a divorce from an emotionally abusive husband doesn’t care if you were on law review, she wants custody of her children so that she can build a better life with them.  Law school has taught us how to manage neither of these situations.

What’s important is not the last three years.  It’s not today.  It’s not three to four months from now when the bar results are finally released.  What’s important is how we deal with the real world — where our mistakes will put more than an artificial class rank at risk.  To those who’ve only done just enough to get by, shape up.  Clients won’t put up with that crap.  To those who’ve achieved high honors here in academia, well done, but remember that those honors mean nothing  if you don’t serve your clients well.  Law is a trade, like any other.  The client is looking for a result, not merely a well-delivered argument.

Good luck, and may your inevitable malpractice go unnoticed.


  • Casey

    Almost expelled? If I had been in attendance, I would have given him a standing ovation.

  • Jeff

    They should read this at every commencement like the Marines read General Lejune’s speech at every Marine Corps Birthday celebration.

  • Jennifer Alvey

    This is the most honest piece of writing I’ve ever seen from anyone who survived law school. Would that it were required reading before anyone could take the LSAT. The sad thing is that I could have written this letter in 1991, when I graduated from a top-tier law school. The more things change . . .

  • Eurotrash

    Well, could have been my own words when I graduated. But I have grown up since and I have come to realise that it is a necessary rite of passage. Jumping through the hoops and learning to decode an arbitrary system is exactly what is expected from you later on. So just get on with the programme and stop whining.

    • Nick

      Congrats. You’ve effectively described the rationalization of hazing: “I had to suffer this bull crap, so you should have to suffer too!” It’s OK that you’re bitter. That’s what this place is about! But don’t impose your petty desires on future generations and perpetuate an ineffective system of legal education just because you want to want to be a little bitch about it.

  • The Northwest 3L

    Spent 6 years in the white collar world of management consulting before going back to law school. I’m well aware of the arbitrary hoops a person has to jump through “later on.” The difference is that “later on” you’re dealing with other people’s idiocy on their nickel, not your own.

    Even leaving that aside, all “arbitrary systems” are not identical. The skills necessary to navigate one arbitrary system are not necessarily the same as those necessary to navigate other arbitrary systems. Despite what law schools’ marketing materials may claim, the skills necessary to “succeed” in law school are wholly unrelated to the skills necessary to succeed in the practice of law. Further, the skills necessary to succeed in law school are insufficiently different form the skills necessary to succeed in undergrad to impart any training on how to adapt between disparate arbitrary systems. Instead, law school merely reinforces the mistaken premise, held by many students (and, sadly, many professors), that what defines success in academia is what defines success everywhere.

    By the time a person reaches law school, he or she has had at least 16 years of school in which to learn how to navigate arbitrary systems; further “instruction” on how to navigate the arbitrary system of academia is worse than useless. There’s a reason that law firms are complaining to schools about graduates’ general inability to perform the most basic tasks required of a practicing attorney. The reason is that law schools are failing in their most fundamental role, which is to function as a trade school for those who want to be attorneys.

    Until law schools accept the fact that their proper function is as trade schools, they will continue to churn out graduates who are, at best, only marginally competent in actual practice.