Sunday, September 10, 2006

New Look at a Cliched Topic

Russ and/or Mike,

I am a 1L, and have been in school for a few weeks now, and I have to ask...Why is law school so much like high school?!?!?!

I’m sure you have a good answer for this.

Kristy



Kristy,

First of all, way to make a fresh observation. Next up, are you going to ask why they don’t make the whole airplane out of the little black box? Perhaps a few President Clinton cigar jokes?

But despite the clich├ęd nature of your question, it is still valid nonetheless. While most law students make the inevitable law school/high school comparison at one point (and often, much more frequently), to my knowledge no one has ever tried to explain why this is the case, beyond the whole “lockers/assigned classes” theory.

In order to understand it, we must first examine the social structure of high school. If your high school was at all typical, then it broke down like this: 15% of the student body-the attractive, the athletic, and the dynamic- were the envy of the other 85%. Those 15% set the standard of cool. The 85% could either strive to be like them, or seethe with jealousy about them, or pretend not to care about them, but no matter what, those 15% directly or indirectly dictated the behavior of the rest of the student body.

Law school is made up primarily of the former 85%-ers. Without the attractive, athletic group to either emulate or despise, law students all jockey to fill the void at the top of the social hierarchy. Some do this by striving for academic excellence; others try to become socialites. But no matter the method, they are overlooking one major element: this is no longer high school! Social standing doesn’t determine who is cool and who is not.

At some point during the undergraduate years, the definition of “cool” goes from the standard high school definition to a more fluid, expandable definition. At this stage, “cool” is all about embracing who you truly are, and being comfortable with that. So if you like Star Wars and playing Halo 2 all the time, you are a dork. But if you admit that you are a dork and embrace it, then you are cool. Some law students miss this concept entirely. Still stuck in the high school mentality that social status determines coolness, they try to be something they are not. Instead of embracing the person they are, they try to be better than that person. This isn’t self-improvement; it’s self-denial.

Granted, not all law students act like this. In fact, many do not. But just a few people can bring down the maturity level of the entire class. Here is how it happens: Someone wants to be looked up to and admired, to be in that 15%, so to speak. But what they don’t realize is that the 15% doesn’t exist anymore, at least not like it did in high school. Nobody looks up to them because they are on law review or are the most obnoxious drinker or anything else. (If you want to be on law review or be the law school drunk because that’s who you are, then do it. But if you are doing it to improve your standing in the eyes of your peers, then you are part of the problem.) Their classmates get disgusted with them and their posturing, and start to complain about it, which makes the classmates the de facto 85%. So an odd balance is struck; even though the days of high school social structure should be over, they come roaring back, but instead of being split between the cool and the uncool, it is a split between the despised and the despisers.

But at a personal level, you can escape it. I was having a discussion with a 1L once, who was complaining about the high school feel, and continually bad mouthed and gossiped about many of her classmates, including some of her friends. When she asked me what she how she could escape the high school feeling, I told her that if she didn’t want to feel like she was in high school, then perhaps she should stop acting like an immature teenager herself. She didn’t like hearing it, but it’s true. If you can ignore the idiots around you and try to act with some semblance of maturity, you won’t feel like you have been transported back to the 10th grade quite so much, although you’ll never be able to fully escape it.

On the bright side, at least now you can stay out as late as you want…So that’s something…