2012 J.D. Speaker
In the month and a half since it was announced that I would be giving this speech, I have been repeatedly given the greatest gift that anyone can receive: unsolicited advice.
Like your average law review article or amicus brief, most of this advice had zero impact. But there was one piece of advice that really stood out to me. I was told that I should have one goal for the speech and to write the speech to accomplish that goal. Well, there is only one thing that I want to get out of this speech: loud, enthusiastic applause. So I thought about times that I had heard law students loudly and enthusiastically applaud. And I realized: Law students always clap for the professor on the last of day of class for the semester.
Professors usually end the last class by doing three things: summing up the course, doling out a few words of wisdom, and saying a heartfelt goodbye. While most professors follow the same general formula, some of these last day wrap-ups have stuck in my memory. In Legal Methods, after Professor Bobbitt had us read a poem together as a class, he shouted “Welcome to Law School” and ran out the back of the classroom. I remember Professor Briffault simply shrugged his shoulders, said, “Property is a weird course,” then gave us all cookies.
But my favorite send-off came from Professor Chirelstein who said to us: “Over the course of the semester, I have come to hate most of you. Fortunately for you, I can’t remember any of your names.”
So here is my attempt at a last day wrap-up.
How do you sum up three years of law school? Put your hands down, that was a rhetorical question. Some aspects of law school are great.
We interacted with our professors and debated the leading legal questions of our time—like the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, which was argued in the Supreme Court by our honored guest, Solicitor General Verrilli. We discussed the future of class actions after Wal-Mart v. Dukes, and, of course, we talked about who owns a killed fox after it is wounded by competing parties. We got to work on interesting cases in our clinics and did meaningful pro bono work in exotic places like New Orleans, Miami, and Wisconsin. And the Law School even gave me money to buy bratwurst and beer in order throw a Midwestern-style barbecue bash in the courtyard. Talk about tuition dollars well spent.
But other aspects of law school were more stressful than fun—in particular, exams. For those of you in the audience who have not taken a law school exam, let me try to explain what it is like. Imagine yourself in a sporting event competing against 100 other very athletic-looking people. You have worked your whole life in order to participate in this event, and you are repeatedly told that it is very important to do well and that your entire future depends on the outcome. But you are not told what the rules of the game are. Instead, you are given only cryptic hints by someone who can only communicate by asking an endless series of questions. And, to top it all off, in the computer program that you must use to compete, the page-break function does not work.
This leads to my words of wisdom. A lot of “success” at law school depends on pleasing others, be it a professor, moot court judge, or even a journal editor. And most of the time, you are not certain how to make them happy. This can lead to frustration, anxiety, self-doubt, and, if you are anything like me, crying—lots and lots of crying.
And from what I have heard, sometimes it does not get better once you are out into practice. Partners, clients, and judges can often make vague but onerous demands that you must meet in order to succeed.
Now I’m going return the favor and offer you some unsolicited advice. Class of 2012, while you may spend most of the time trying to satisfy the needs of others, make sure that you are also pleasing yourself. You are all talented, smart, hardworking people that are capable of doing great things. But you most likely will never do that in a job that you do not like doing.
Law school gave us many things—headaches, sleepless nights, a crippling caffeine addiction—but most importantly it gave us the tools to think independently. We should use these tools to critically consider not only the substantive questions in our work as lawyers, but also the impact of our work. Like it or not, a J.D. carries much weight in this world, so no matter what type of law you practice, you should make sure that you apply the same critical, analytical thinking that you developed in law school to your own career choices.
And with that, it is time for the heartfelt goodbye. Unlike Professor Chirelstein, however, I am happy to say that after three years, I have come to like and respect all of you, and look forward to seeing what you will accomplish. And believe me when I say this: I will be proud to remember your names. Now, how about that loud, enthusiastic applause? Congratulations Class of 2012!