Recently I read through an engaging thread on LinkedIn that asks: “What’s one piece of advice you’d give yourself upon entering law school this year?”
I was impressed by how many Queen’s alumni reached out with candid and honest advice. Many commenters focus on tried and true advice for law school success: Students who listen, prepare for class, and work hard will often be rewarded with good grades. Demonstrating mastery with good grades in law school has and always will be impressive.
I think that students entering the class of 2019 should also question whether good grades should be their goal. If I could, I’d ask my 1L self to challenge the timeless advice for success in law school. What the law needs now are big thinkers, dreamers, and risk takers.
Being an expert at grinding the grist of daily readings and lecture will not help us move forward or create new ways of delivering legal services. Specifically, the legal services that most Canadians need but can’t afford.
After leaving the hallways of law school, I recognize the many ways we’re reinforcing the myth that lawyers can do it all on our own. Law school rewards students, for example, who contribute modestly, dedicate themselves to individual study, and perform better than the competition.
When applied to client service, that model creates capable practitioners who’ve learned to treat every problem as unique. That time-intensive method promotes high quality, but comes at a high cost.
Why are we focused on graduating students with skills that helped 20th century lawyers succeed, when skills like systems-thinking, project management, and IT leadership will help 21st century lawyers succeed?
Instead of teaching students to challenge, question, and evolve methods we’re sending the message that evolution isn’t necessary. Our last major innovation was inspired by Socrates: asking students questions in class rather than lecturing. We’re not even measuring our learning outcomes: are we getting better at preparing students for practice, or worse?
I say this all in hindsight. I entered law school after the 2008 financial crisis and hoped that things would go back to the way they were. Like many students, I liked how timeless law seemed. I naively thought law was a sure and steady path to success.
After seeing so many capable classmates graduate and struggle to find employment, my perspective has changed. Hardworking people who will make great lawyers can’t find work, because the old ways are no longer affordable. I see now that the only way to success is to stray from that well-worn path, to explore other avenues, and to embrace change.
I wish all the students accepting offers at law school this year the best of success. Please comment or reach out through my contact form if you have questions or want to talk about law school.