On the first day of my preliminary “introduction to the law” class last year, our instructor asked us, in the first minute, if we knew any good lawyer jokes. Half a dozen classmates offered their best, and I put my head down in shame. Really? This was the way we were going to start law school? After about a year, it made sense to me.
Your classmates are not here because they want to be your friend. Your classmates are here because they happen to be at the same school where they hope to earn a J.D. Of course, many of us have similar reasons for coming to this particular school (*cough*scholarship*cough*) but many of us have divergent interests.
Brooklyn Law School prides itself upon its students’ commitment to public service, and indeed there is a very high percentage of students that are members of BLSPI, that participate in Pro Bono Projects, that become involved in other clubs, and that generally have no problem volunteering, provided it is not such a burden that it causes other parts of their lives to suffer.
I made the point earlier, in my application for a BLSPI fellowship, that about 50% of the students at BLS are cool, and the other 50% are un-cool. I did not get offered an interview. This apparently has nothing to do with my commitment to public interest – but I promise to show you that it does.
What makes someone a “cool” BLS student? First, they are not snobby in who they talk to. You know what I am talking about here – you have about 100 classmates in your “big” classes, and you may sit next to someone for an entire semester and barely speak a word to each other. It’s possible you’re both just shy (indeed, this was the case for me my first year) but it’s also possible one of you is a member of the “un-cool contingent.” Members in this class look upon students that they consider unfocused, lazy, stupid, wasted, or “unclean” in some other way and decide that it is not in their best interests to associate with this person. This is what I mean when I say that the social life of law school is like a weird cross between the pains of high school cliquery and the freedom of experimentation that college nurtures—hearing new ideas, having an open mind, and making friends with people that you never might have associated with in high school.
Law school is a reversion backwards from college. Though we are still interested in hearing new ideas, supposedly, finding students with an “open mind” is more difficult, because by now many of us consider ourselves “informed, responsible adults” who choose our friends wisely and have a firmly set stance on the issues that matter to us. Public interest students clique around with other public interest students (though they are, actually, really nice…), bankruptcy law students clique around with other bankruptcy law students (and we are the coolest of the cool), IP students clique around with other IP students, public defenders hang out with public defenders and prosecutors hang out with prosecutors. Of course, reality is hardly so simple – but my point is that, sometimes a law student’s area of focus will affect their personality to a degree that renders them incapable of friendship with non-like-minded individuals.
The second factor that makes a BLS student “cool” is not judging someone for being cheap. Some of us have rich parents that float us money and we can go clubbing and buy fancy shoes and dresses and suits and look like a million bucks at the Barrister’s Ball – but some of us are nearing 30 (or older) and feel a bit, oh, childish relying on our parents for so much. Whether it be pride or necessity, our savings accounts are mostly depleted, we have no income, we carry significant debt, and it’s important that we “spend like law students” and not like lawyers. This may seem like a petty complaint but I do not think I am the only one who feels left out when they miss out on a birthday party because people would rather have it at a bar than their house. I am preaching at the top of my lungs from this soapbox: HAVE MORE HOUSE PARTIES, PEOPLE!
Finally, if law students are un-cool, part of the problem is that lawyers are un-cool. The 50/50 rule is in effect not only for law students, but also for lawyers. Lawyers who lie, tell their secretary to tell callers that “they’re in a meeting” when it’s convenient to do so, or act like they’re an expert in the ways of the world and refuse to waste their time giving a thorough explanation of why this argument is going to work and that argument will not, may be considered un-cool. Lawyers that rent out a shoddy house in clear violation of the Implied Warranty of Habitability and tell the tenants that, if they don’t like that the stairway to the basement has no railing, “Tough.” Un-Cool. Professors that talk for 90% of class time because really, WE HAVE SO MUCH MATERIAL TO COVER, and really just like to hear their own voice, and thereby intimidate students out of speaking with them for extra help, creating an unfair subconscious exam handicap, are un-cool.
My hope is that this “problem” will be remedied by cold, hard experience in the real world. Once you get out there, and you realize that really, you are not that important, maybe you go broke once or twice, maybe you move back in with your family, maybe you have a bad break-up – maybe then you’ll wake up and realize it’s better to be compassionate (cool) than fiercely self-interested (un-cool).
Christopher J. Knorps is a 2L at Brooklyn Law School. He enjoys studying bankruptcy law and finds the psychology of human emotions fascinating. Please join him in such explorations at the Open Mic on Thursday April 5, at Geraldo’s, from 7:00 – 10:00. Please e-mail him at Christopher.firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in performing.