Maybe, just maybe, I coulda been a contender.
Maybe I coulda gone to law school, just like my father always wanted.
Even after I was promoted to full professor (at 40, my goal having been to achieve that appointment before menopause), my father would ask me if I’d consider getting a law degree just to “play it safe.”
Lawyers, like doctors, were, in my father’s estimation, the smartest and best-paid professionals in the world.
Everybody else, from politicians to paleontologists and Popes, were wannabe’s who couldn’t bear the rigorous and fiercely competitive educational process required by these two genuinely prestigious career choices.
The truth? I was too scared to apply to law school, although I certainly thought about it. Every articulate girl thinks about becoming an attorney. Where else, we’re told, can you twin your admiration for Portia with your fondness for Porsches? Hey, I loved watching Katherine Hepburn in those old movies when I was growing up and, like everybody else, wanted to be Atticus Finch. I thought about how much fun it would be to deliver my own witty and pointed monologues to a room filled with captive (some literally captive) figures while wearing a great suit.
But I was intimidated by the stories I’d heard from other friends who, far braver than I, had been willing to approach the daunting task of taking on The Law. I saw how many pages per night they had to memorize. I thumbed through their heavy textbooks. I even sat in on a few classes at Columbia.
That’s when I figured it would be more engaging, more fun, less stressful, and less complicated to get a Ph.D. (Insert cynical laughter here.)
Yet having read a cover story in today’s New York Times, I’m now wondering whether I shouldn’t make a stab at law school.
Law school seems less frightening now that the grades are getting higher. According to the Times, “In the last two years, at least 10 law schools have deliberately changed their grading systems to make them more lenient. These include law schools like New York University and Georgetown, as well as Golden Gate University and Tulane University, which just announced the change this month.”
“You mean it seems more like regular academics?” cracks one of those friends who went to law school 25 years ago. “You mean that law school is catching up to the humanities, where everybody’s idea is fascinating and nobody gets less than a C unless they stop sleeping with the professor?”
Not that she’s bitter.
She was eating lunch at her desk while we spoke. Partner in a small successful private practice in New Jersey, she nevertheless often eats at her desk. I’ve learned that just as the ordinary academic’s hours are not filled with brilliant people drinking wine and discussing books in cozy libraries by candlelight, the typical attorney’s hours—while wonderfully billable—are not always spent either in front of a jury making irrefutable arguments or at a polished bar having Makers’ Mark with a Sam Waterston look-a-like.
“What do you think about the piece in today’s Times?” I ask.
“Big deal,” she says, biting into what sounds like a carrot. She might be biting a pencil in half, but since I don’t think she uses anything except writing instruments made by Mont Blanc (another difference between us), I doubt it. “It’s hard for young attorneys to find work no matter what their grades are, unless they’ve gone to one of the top schools, know somebody in a firm who brought them in for summers right from the start, made law review, or are willing to do the kind of work that’s very poorly paid.”
I tell her that yes, in that case, it sounds increasingly like the humanities.
I’m fascinated—to use my friend’s word—by one particular detail from the article, however: apparently Harvard and Stanford, highly-ranked law schools that they are, have replaced the usual grading system and offer “a modified pass/fail” one instead.
We’ve been told that “Good counselors lack no clients,” but will it now be true that all counselors get good grades?