I Never Said It Was Easy

by ursavoice

Elizabeth Levy
J.D. Candidate 2012, UCI Law

Sometimes I wish the universe had a pause button that allowed you to stop, think about a question, and instantly pop back into a conversation ready with a well-thought answer. An intelligent, talented friend who is considering going to law school recently asked me that sort of question. We had been performing a chorus of the usual doom and gloom: tuition is ridiculous, the economy is dreadful, and lawyers are shunned by polite society.

“So,” she asked, after I enthusiastically urged her to apply anyway, “what exactly do you learn in law school?”

    The familiar words reflexively tumbled out of my mouth: “You learn how to think like a lawyer.”

“And…what does that mean?” she asked.

     “You learn how to…you know. Think. Like a lawyer,” I babbled. “Lawyers argue things, so you learn how to argue. Law students learn how to dissect rules, how to compare and contrast different situations, and how to advocate for a given position. You should go,” I concluded. “It’s fun.”

My friend made a skeptical face. “I’ll rephrase the question,” she responded, sounding like a seasoned attorney. “What did you learn in law school?”

    I stared at her and blinked. “Um,” I mumbled. “I’ll have to think about that.”

Well, ladies and gentlemen, now I have thought about that. And I’d like to share my answers. My legal education (so far) has taught me, in no particular order:

1. How to Negotiate. Studying negotiation was like rediscovering the kindergarten magic of Disney Princess underwear. Real empowerment in a negotiation is not about being certain that you’re going to get what you want, but certain that you know when, where, and how much to give.

2. Critical Thinking Skills. As my late grandmother would have asked, “just because some schmendrick says it at a podium—this makes it true?” It was frightening, and exciting, to realize that my professors were teaching me to reject some of what they were teaching me.

3. Creativity. Being a law student has forced me to write like a scientist while thinking like an artist. When a professor says, “write a legal argument,” what she means is, “use your damn imagination.” (I seriously just figured this out last week.)

4. Self-Mastery. The torrential downpour of work during the first year of law school is a diagnostic test for personal shortcomings. (I learned that I was neurotic, socially awkward, and easily distracted by shiny projects.) The rest of law school is the springtime: a chance to plant new habits, and let them grow.

5. Professionalism. The question of what it means to be a legal professional has enough nuance for a thousand Talmudic discussions. But for me, it has come to mean this: I always have a choice, and I am always accountable for my choices.

So, let me rephrase my answer: In law school, you learn how to run circles around insecurities and uncertainties through sheer reason. You learn how to conquer manifestly impossible mountains by assuming that they are possible to climb after all, and then constructing arguments that explain why. Law school isn’t easy, but I never said it was easy. I said it was fun.