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."


travelingmaggie said...

amen brother! it never ceases to amaze me how easy it is for even highly intelligent, rational people to be so strongly affected by their environment. you are studying at harvard with the cream of the cream, and they still want to convince you that life is one long game of bigger and better. it is very wise of you to stop and consider the ramifications of that path.... hoping that you guys are able to have some semblance of a break this summer- it will be good to get out of that pressurized environment. looking forward to getting back to boston, getting settled, and having you guys over for a homecooked meal!

Melinda said...

Well put Ron. I am proud of you. Besides everyone already knows "you are smarter than smart".

振宇 said...

人生的光榮,不在永不失敗,而在於能夠屢仆屢起。 ..................................................