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What makes law students special

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Jemy Gatdula

Being Right

Of the troubles besetting legal education today, the growing self-centeredness of many law students is most wearisome. The puffed self-conception of being superior to other students, with problems and studies so hard they’re entitled to special status, is not only annoying but problematic. It poses a profound obstacle not only to legal education but also to the legal profession’s development itself.

Where did that come from? Why is socmed suddenly full of pathetic articles about the “difficulties of dating a law student,” “how to attract a law student,” or “how law school made me depressed”?

“Freedom walls” are full of sophomoric law students pontificating on why their teachers are wrong and that law courses should be taught their way instead.

Never mind that med or military schools offer more grueling, intense studies, for far longer periods, preparing their students for much higher stakes. For sheer intellectual difficulty, mathematicians surely have it harder.

The law community would do well in bringing back the ethic of countless law classes past: humility and discipline. Of students (except for recits) simply just shutting up and listening.

Shut up and listen. Because there’s a time and place for everything. Tomorrow will be the time for counseling, teaching, leading. Of “giving.”

But for the future lawyer to do that, the law student of now must learn discipline, humility, and integrity. Setting all his talents to “receive.” One cannot give to others what one does not have.

Yes, go out and engage in public discourse and service. But for students, such activities should be a servant and not master.

Be civically active but don’t fall into the trap of activism.

Yes, one can learn from such extracurricular activities but such should never be at the expense of what’s taught within the discipline, rigor, and method of the classroom.

In a way, many law schools are to be blamed for this: bloating law students’ egos to believe they’re more than they actually are. Filling their heads with ideologically loaded notions of “social justice,” when law students are still struggling with the basics of drafting a simple motion.

To do so is also to feed a conceit: that society depends on lawyers, that society’s rise and fall is in their hands. But it’s a conceit built on utter fantasy: there’s only so much one can do. For a society to truly progress it needs everyone to humbly work together.

Furthermore, this idea of “reaching out” to, of “understanding” today’s law students is vastly overestimated. And jejune. The last thing clients need is an immature, self-obsessed lawyer whose sensitive feelings constantly need assurance.

If law students really think they’re “special,” then it means they have no need for coddling. They can study whatever amount, anytime, and then go through exams or recitations under the most stressful conditions. All without feeling the need to advertise such facts on Instagram.

Special is NOT kvetching like babies whining how the library aircon isn’t cold enough, or complaining about students from other courses occupying their study areas or being too noisy, or how law teachers are not inspiring them or giving enough feedback.

Law school is not for the law students’ benefit. Law school is society’s means of having better lawyers.

Law school is not the place for students to “discover” themselves. Law school is a place where students learn that in the greater scheme of faith, country, family, clients, and duty, of justice and the rule of law, their importance within that scheme is dead last.

As lawyers, we may be officers of the court but we are, bottomline, servants of the law.

How important really are lawyers to society? If indeed, it is never for us to declare. Self-knowledge may be commendable but self-praise is vulgar.

What we can say is that lawyers are but one of many other “co-workers in the vineyard”; that doctors, businessmen, soldiers, janitors, etc., are also all important in their own way. All of us needing to humbly cooperate with each other for the common good.

Law students better learn that now, because if they haven’t learned humility, integrity, discipline by the time they graduate, if they haven’t learned to drop the attitude, their future bosses, law partners, and senior lawyers (unless law firms have suddenly become dominated by snowflakes) will make them learn it. One way or another. If a law student insists otherwise, pretty likely he’ll end up broken.

The other, more important, reason is because society will suffer if what it has are a bunch of self-entitled, self-centered, emotionally fragile lawyers forever in need of affirmation.

To paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt: “To educate a man in mind and not in virtues is to educate a menace to society.”

And so, borrowing from another (Shakespeare), if someone asks what needs to be done to improve legal education, for now let’s say — “The first thing we do is tell law students: ‘you are not special’.”and jurisprudence.

 

Jemy Gatdula is a Senior Fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.

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Twitter @jemygatdula





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