Friday, April 23, 2010

Rage Against the Law Review

The Harvard Law Review is a truly venerable institution. But beside its impressive exclusivity (if such a thing can truly be impressive) and the fact that it has produced major leaders of several fields (including, "The Free World"), I'm a bit skeptical about its application to my own life.

After I arrived here, it didn't take long to find out that the really amazing students tend to go for law review. I've heard "everyone tries out for it; at least everyone who thinks they have a shot" and "it's the ticket."

There's that darn ticket again. Who knew I'd meet so many tickets that led to more tickets? I used to think the ticket was a good SAT score and getting through calculus my junior year (oh, and student leadership and sports). Those were 13 years ago! Since then, the ticket has included (but has not been limited to) college, excellence in college, good graduate standardized test scores, good professional credentials, good networking, law school, an amazing law school, Harvard Law School, top grades at Harvard Law School, and now law review. Or legal aid bureau if you aren't quite Law Review material or you are woefully bent toward the practicalities of actually doing something for resource-less people.

Now, I'm sure law review has its place. It is, after all, a proxy for "hey you, I'm smarter than smart." (better translated as, "I'm smarter than you"). And, frankly, that opens doors. So does wiling countless hours away with brilliant peers who will go on to do great things and be the connections you need in a connection-driven world.

And, if you are a future academic, it will look odd if you didn't do law review.

But that's my point. This whole prepackaged path you should take thing is starting to really grate on me. Really? Another one? THIS one, finally, will be the one that makes it so I don't have to find any more of these super-panaceas for my professional launching? I'm skeptical.

The law review competition lasts about a week, and, I'm told, includes scouring a couple thousand (!) pages of legal documents so that you might write some sort of document that impresses the readers. And correcting another document.

Of course, if you are smart enough to get in, you get to spend 20 hours a week for the next two years working for them. The first year, though, involves mostly technical work (what we call sub-citing here). That means that you spend your time looking at the citations in scholarly articles to make sure they are correct. Formatted correctly (there's the 300 page bluebook for that--just for formatting citations!) AND cited correctly (is that really what that document said or implied on that page or in that chapter or as a whole?).

Sound fun? Nope. But each year, hundreds of geniuses line up like lemmings to try to do it.

I've done some subciting for a journal (two days of it was enough to make me want to swallow turpentine). I'll maybe do a little more, just to make sure I have the skills I need. But I'd rather, I don't know, enjoy and engage my classes than do it 20 hours a week. Take the extra time and have a life, or even if not, choose academic pursuits that aren't hellish.

True, maybe I could get on law review and publish an anonymous note that I might later get credit for. That's publishing (sort of). Or maybe I could try doing novel research and actually get myself published in a law review, rather than being the publisher's slave! Perhaps I'll get better grades if I don't spend all that time running over my soul. Might I make friends without getting on law review? Maybe? Might I start chasing down people who are already successful professionals, rather than just betting that some of these smarty-pants will end up in a position to help me? Perhaps.

There are people who genuinely belong on law review, and I'm thrilled that they are going to compete. They should and I'm proud of them for working hard and making it. But I'm stunned by how many people have fallen into the herd and have abdicated their greatest talent--independent thinking.

Not me, not this time anyway. I didn't give up a lucrative professional career, leave my extended family and quit traveling around the world so that I could go to law school and ruin it as quickly as possible by over-committing to something with mostly replaceable benefits and purgatorial demands. I'm not going to do it just because it is someone's twisted idea of more and better, especially when it is, in so many ways, less and worse (if you are me, anyway).

Nope. I plan to sing along with Sinatra when I finish law school: "I did it my way."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Great news! Yesterday, I was offered a job teaching for Harvard College. The position is for a hugely popular, internet-published class called "Justice" that examines contemporary moral and political conundrums in light of the western (political) philosophical tradition. Perfect!

I'll have a group of 18 (or two groups of 18) students, who I'm responsible to further the weekly lessons with. Apparently I'll be posing novel problems (not the ones he addresses in lecture) and working the discussion to teach whatever it is I'm supposed to be teaching.

I'll also coaching the students on paper writing, and grading their two papers to boot, as well as preparing them for their final. It should be pretty exciting.

Check out the link to the online course; it's got a promo video that explains the course.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A little hard to study

When I think about where we were headed a year ago. Why again did we decide that law/med school were a step up from living in Cabo for six weeks?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mother Teresa Interview

What a woman.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

No More Launching

Once again, it has been a long time since I have blogged. The last few months have been very full: We've had a parade of friends and family visiting, we had a dear family friend in his early twenties die, and we've been continuing this whole medical and legal thing.

All this has had me thinking. Yes, I've been thinking about whether a contract was unconscionable, when the police power goes too far in land regulation and should be called "a taking", the role of international law in shaping behavior and of course of litigation strategies.

But I've had lots of bigger questions on my mind. The really big ones, life, death, faith, security, will be left for another time.

But behind those has been a nascent realization that I'm going to try to put in words.

I've spent my whole life launching. From the beginning, it's been "reach for the stars" and "you can do anything". And, sitting at this place and time, it feels quite true. Just graduating from HLS, I can access and be a part of the highest echelons of US money/power culture: politics, corporations, government, investment banks, consulting and law firms. I can do more, get bigger, better, keep on expanding until...what exactly?

I guess I'm starting to fixate on this "what, exactly?" I kind of asked this question when I chose against my burgeoning corporate career and came here, because I had to stop a lot of momentum, economic and otherwise, to choose to travel and go back to school. But it still all bore the mark of more, better, launching into a new stratosphere of challenge and adventure.

Maybe this is just my impending thirtieth birthday talking, but I'm sort of done with this whole launching-expansive thing. It's not that my eyes aren't set high. Sure, it would be fun to run a Fortune 200 company, or sue one, or work for justice department, or be the guy who appoints the head of the justice department (that means be president). Yes, I'd like to remake the academic/legal/political/technological world. I want to chase interesting adventures and find ways to use those adventures to make a real difference in people's lives.

But I wonder if Solomon is a few steps ahead of me. It seems that this is all a bit of a meaningless chasing after the wind. More isn't necessarily better. In fact, it seems they often have an inverse relationship (gasp, there went my chances at the Presidency).

I guess I'm struggling to ask, how much is enough? Or, better yet, what is a better measure than quantity/prestige/power/exclusivity/impact? I'm sure that the answer lies in the words of the One who said, "blessed are the poor in spirit", but I just haven't quite figured out how to integrate all that.

I've noticed something. That almost always, those who are chasing these windmills are working themselves literally to death. Maybe that's worth it, if you have something or some end you are working for that is worth giving your life (and relationships too). I can't imagine any worldly cause worth sacrificing my relationships for (although that may just be a measure of my selfishness too, hard to say). Certainly it wouldn't be worth it for a "cause" that merely represents my own desire to have engaging or satisfying work. In the end, those sacrifices would be the opposite of satisfaction.

The truth is, I don't find these people all that impressive. They are a bit smarter and savvier than average, but not disproportionately so. They work hard yes, and were in the right place at the right time, usually by accident. But they aren't larger than life. In fact, a lot of them seem kind of small.

Anyway, I don't have any answers. I don't know what my life will ultimately look like. I don't know what dragons I will slay, or whether I will be a stay-at-home dad dragon slayer. What I do know is that I'm done graduating and getting sent off...I'm almost thirty years old now. Yes, I want adventure. I want intellectual challenge, to continue to see the world, to be pushed. But I also want to be rooted, to make choices that are judged on a value scale more worthy of the Kingdom I'm inheriting.

Maybe I'm just growing up?