Get a Real Life: Living through Law School

AuthorAllan C. Hutchinson
Most law students believe that you can either go to law school or have a
life — being in law school and having a life seems oxymoronic. It is true
that law school can be a grueling experience that brings out the compet-
itive drive in placid students and induces alienation in affable students:
even the camaraderie can be contrived and superficial. However, it need
not be like that. Within certain limits, it is possible to be a law student
and have a real life; you can have a successful law school career without
withdrawing from life as you previously knew it or making your life
nothing but being a law student. Moreover, many students make lifelong
friends at law school and, like it or not, your student peers will be your
professional colleagues for the rest of your life. While law school life is
different and will change some of your habits and attitudes, it need not
all be for the worse. If you are aware of the stresses and strains that the
law school will have upon your expectations and values, you will be pre-
pared to resist them or to harness them in your desire to become both a
better lawyer and a better person. Contrary to popular myth, you can
have a life, be a good person, and be a law student.
get a real life
living through law school
/ 83
Law tends to be a world unto itself and law schools are its branch
plants. The nature of the work, the privilege and power that lawyers
(and law students) hold, and the natural arrogance of many lawyers
(and law students) contribute to the public perception that lawyers
are a breed apart: they are smart, they are articulate, they are confi-
dent, and they are intimidating. Obviously, this apartness does not
translate into a flood of public approbation; lawyers are often thought
to be clever rather than smart, and glib rather than good. Many peo-
ple (mis)quote Shakespeare’s Dick on the topic of lawyers: “the first
thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Lawyers are the butt of more
jokes than almost any other group. Indeed, a measure of lawyers’ per-
verseness is that many seem to take great delight at their depiction as
money-grubbing reptiles who would shop their grandmother for a
fast buck. All this talk fuels the myth and mystique that surrounds
the legal profession; it reinforces the idea that to be a real lawyer, one
has to be a thoroughly egotistical and nasty piece of work or, at least,
to develop such a professional persona.
This stereotype is nonsense and most certainly need not be the
case. Because some lawyers cultivate an image that emphasizes their
aggressive, hard-headed, and ruthless attitude to law and life, there is
no reason to believe that all lawyers must be like that. And it definite-
ly does not mean that you have to ape such attitudes and behaviour if
you are to become a good lawyer. Quite the contrary. It is not neces-
sary to be a bastard to become a good lawyer. Because you managed
to get to law school, you might be smart; you might be articulate; you
might be ambitious; and you might be tempted to take on airs and
graces. But your status as a law student makes you into no better a
person than anyone else. Least of all does it give you a licence to act
in an obnoxious or arrogant manner. The message is simple and to
the point — GET OVER IT. You can do well at law school without
being a jerk; without being arrogant; without being aggressive; and
without becoming someone that you would not like. And, believe it or
not, you can be a good lawyer without those traits as well. In fact, any-
thing that makes you a better person can also make you a better
lawyer. But I do not intend to feed you Pollyanna tales about law
school life or the life of lawyers. It is a tough life, and law does seem
84 / the law school book

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