A Law Student Tells It Like It Is

My new hero for the day is Amelia Rawls. She is a 1L at Yale (don’t roll your eyes yet), and wrote a piece that appeared in today’s Washington Post about whether Ivy grads are, well, nice people or not. Now, she isn’t making a completely broadbrush statement that everyone who attends an Ivy isn’t nice. Instead, she observes:

I’m saying that sometimes some of these students will denounce world hunger but be unfriendly to the homeless. They will debate environmental policy but never offer to take out the trash. They will believe vehemently in many causes but roll their eyes when reminded to be humble, to be generous and to “do what is right.” . . . It is these people, though, who often climb America’s ladder of success. They rise to the top, partly on their own merits yet also partly on the backs of equally deserving but “nicer” people who let them steal the spotlight.

Being a graduate of a nice, small, regionally strong liberal arts college, and then having gone on to a top 10 law school, I have experienced precisely what Ms. Rawls describes. I have to admit I was shellshocked when I got to law school at how really un-nice most of the folks there were. Not that everyone I went to college with was nice, but I was (and remain) deeply dismayed by how little value lawyers place on things like kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and having a moral compass in the face of large quantities of money. There’s such a contempt in law for those so-called soft skills.

Soft implies weak to most lawyers and leaders of corporate America, which is a shame for so many reasons (see my friend Quinn’s discussion, for instance, of soft skills in the workplace). People who possess those skills can make a high-pressured workplace more bearable, and thus more productive. Unhappy people don’t do their best work. I know, I know, many unhappy lawyers think they do, because they are working so hard. But half of their labor is pouring enormous energy into getting themselves to do something they dislike, shouting down their own values and senses of self. That is a huge freaking lot of work, I can say from personal experience. But think about it–it means at best, only half of an unhappy’s person true potential is showing up at work. Yikes! for that person, even that lawyer, and for society as a whole.

7 thoughts on “A Law Student Tells It Like It Is

  1. I read that article too. Thought it was good, even a little ballsy since my assumption is that there is a highly protectionist attitude at the Ivy League schools.

    Interesting site you have here. My sister is a lawyer, my old roommate and old best friend’s too. I have sort of always wanted to be a lawyer, taken the LSATs several times and come close to applying for Law School. However, after 20 years as an auditor and many talks with my lawyer aquaintences I can’t imagine that I will like it any better than audit and can never justify the expense. Oddly, people encourage me to go and tell me that if I decided not to practice law the degree would allow me to do anything. I just can’t see the sense in that and your blog is refreshing.

  2. I think you would enjoy the book, “Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment,” by Martin Seligman (UPenn)–especially the subsection “Why Are Lawyers So Unhappy?”

    Seligman argues, like you do in your post, that people possess a variety of valuable strengths(24 to be exact). It is unfortunate that we sometimes value certain strengths over others, not seeing how kindness or gratitude can actually be a huge asset–even in Corporate America.

    The happy person may not get the spotlight, but the unhappy person is, well, unhappy!

  3. Pingback: Depression and Its Toll on Lawyers « Leaving the Law

  4. If this is the same Amelia Rawls who attended “the” Atlanta prep school, she has come a long way. Maybe it is maturity, but she was the least “nice” little girl in her entire class. She was a covert operator and got away with it because of her family’s position in the community. She defined “mean girl.” Guess “What goes around comes around!”

  5. “Atlanta mom,” you obviously don’t know Rawls at all, she was/is nothing like what you have accused her of. I think it’s pretty obvious who comes out looking like they define “mean girl” here. Grow up.

  6. The purpose of law school is to separate you from your emotional self. Lawyers are not to have emotions–it ruins your objectivity.

    How can any profession or decision (for that matter) be made without factoring in emotions? The gut check is a very real mode of decision-making. Just because the law ignores it does not make it invalid.

    I’m glad to know that people who were “the Right Stuff” candidates find law as disappointing and unrewarding as it is.

    I just wish there was some way to make it be different, to change it, to be “the one” who is different but it is an impossible uphill climb.

    And, I love that lawyers continue to uphold nearly a complete monopoly on becoming educated as a lawyer and practicing law and refuse to acknowledge educational trends like online learning. This is not very progressive, if you ask me.

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