It is no wonder that I began femails.org with two of my law school colleagues. As anyone who has ever gone through it can attest, those three years are formative in so many ways. Here’s a femail that I composed for the poor soul that asked me for advice in entering the process…
Date: 01 June 2017 04:33
Re: Tips/Summer Primer for Law School
First of all, congrats on law school–to HLS to boot! Even more so, congrats on the Refugee and Forced Migration MSc because that is where the real, important work is. We need more lawyers to understand this area of law particularly within the context of the modern crisis and especially within Europe and the U.S.
Okay, I am going to get real with you. Law school is no walk in the park, least of all where you are going. The work will be fine. You know how to study. You know how to write. The challenge is exactly how you put it: keeping to the more ‘noble’ path (via quashing temptations of corporate whoredom) and remembering why you made the decision to attend in the first place. For those of us interested in the J.D., but on non-traditional paths (like, I don’t know, trying to help the most vulnerable people…), it is important to keep in mind that legal pedagogy has yet to fully accommodate the needs of students not necessarily in it to join firms or be clerks.
There are many reasons for why this is the case (crippling school debt that leaves students who would otherwise wish to represent a diversity of clients left to represent corporate interest in order to even make a small dent in said debt, the ‘boys club’ mentality of law school that discourages non-conformity to what gets you cigars and women, the serious lack of racial, gender, and socioeconomic diversity to challenge the status quo thinking, etc.). Naturally, as you can easily tell, I could write a long manifesto on the reforms needed to have legal education actually match legal need, but I digress. Often times, particularly at the big schools, you are an after thought simply because it does not necessarily benefit school rankings to have students serve in non-lucrative positions. I imagine at Harvard things may be different, but the deeper issue remains: law school exists to get you to think like a lawyer, and as that profession is defined in America, it does not include equal assistance to vulnerable and/or marginalized communities, which means you have to work extra hard to keep that focus when the noise around you will push you in opposing directions.
Luckily, you will have many of the tools to help you do this at your disposal. If at all possible in your latter years at HLS, please take a class with Duncan Kennedy (or really any of the Critical Legal Theory scholars) because it will be enormously healthy and helpful in validating the reasons (I am assuming) that you have come to law school in the first place. Finding and keeping to the classes that fed my soul during my studies was something I found enormously beneficial. I also managed to spend an entire year off-campus, out of the classroom learning the law I wanted to learn while working with the U.N. It took special permissions, but it was my saving grace.
- ‘One L’ by Scott Turow; It’s about your school and it gives you a pretty spot-on picture of what life will be like your first year (hence the apt title), which is in many ways the hardest of all three
- ‘Legal Education and the Reproduction of Hierarchy‘ by Duncan Kennedy; this was my bible throughout law school, it may help to simply read parts of it throughout as opposed to reading it prior to the experience as there will be some aspects that are impossible to get until you are ‘in it’
- ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness’ by Michelle Alexander; this should be required reading for all Crim Law courses as well as a mandatory visit to a prison and the families of the imprisoned to see the direct impact the ‘black letter law’ (code word in law school for dismissing the social implications and history behind the law) has on our communities
- Get the Chemerinsky reader for Con Law no matter what. This is a lesser-known ‘cheat’ to actually understanding and passing constitutional law. I swear by it.
Anyways, I hope this helps. Apologies for the length of this, haha, I guess it is something that I still have a passion for speaking truth at as many will simply just say, ‘Good for you and good luck.’ Above all the preaching, remember that law school is going to be a fun and formative part of the beginnings of your career, so do enjoy as much of it as possible even when it seems like you should be doing the opposite!
All the best,