Why I Hated Law School

Can we talk about this article for a minute? At first I was interested to learn that studies show women in law school are less likely to speak up in class or to form relationships with faculty because that was exactly, but exactly, my experience in law school and I always thought it was a “me” problem, rather than a “women like me” problem. Also, it feels good  to put a name on something unpleasant: now I can file my discomfort in law school in part under the label Lingering Effects of Institutional Sexism.

BUT (this is a big one) the reasons the author posits for decreased participation by women are absurd.  Women are taught to be quiet and soft spoken from a young age? Maybe once upon a time, but that certainly wasn’t my reality, or that of most women in my age group (who are the women going to law school). We don’t speak in class because our voices are so soft we can’t be heard? Again, not really a problem that exists in reality.

The third point, that assertiveness is seen as bitchy and unattractive, is actually valid in a lot of circumstances. But I don’t think it fits here. Law school encourages assertiveness: most of my female professors were quite assertive and the female students who followed suit appeared to do quite well for themselves. Yes, they (especially the professors), had the corresponding problem being labeled “bitchy” in a way that tough male professors never were, but since law school rewards assertiveness, fear of that label isn’t what deterred me from speaking up. [Neither did the fear of being unattractive. I can guarantee, the ladies I studied with were far more attractive, in almost all respects, than the men.]

The point is, these stereotypes aren’t true of even half the women I went to school with. So what’s going on? I don’t like to criticize an idea without offering one of my own, so here it is:

I think law school — either by design or default — challenges students’ self-esteem.

First, law school pits students against each other. Most students come into law school pretty cocky. Hey, I did well in undergrad and possibly in whatever work I did after undergrad and now I’m smart enough to go to law school. Yay. Then the reality hits that they are competing with a bunch of other equally successful students. Because most schools grade on a curve, there’s no way that all these kids who are used to getting As are going to keep getting As. So by the time first semester grades come out, your ego most likely took a hit.

Second, law school is all about the Socratic Method. The professor picks a student, asks a question, challenges her answer no matter what she says, presses until she’s proven wrong, and then moves on to the next victim. It is terrifying, especially given that the professors who pit their ideas against yours present themselves (often accurately) as titans of knowledge and renown.

Third, law school is hard. It makes you question yourself, especially when your hard work doesn’t appear to pay off in the form of good grades, acknowledgement from professors, or, these days, a job.

My theory is that these challenges to self-esteem hit women harder than men. Not that women naturally have lower self-esteem. Just that when faced with criticism, we are more prone to take it to heart. I’m not going to posit why this is, or even to say it’s true of all women, because it’s obviously not, but I will reference you to this article, which says that women attach greater importance to reflected appraisals than men (while men attach greater importance to social comparisons). I will also say that this explains why I hardly spoke a word during law school, after four years of chattering away in small seminars and big lectures alike as an English major. The liberal arts don’t benefit nearly so much from breaking people down or, more realistically, keeping people out.

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9 Responses to Why I Hated Law School

  1. I remember when Reese Witherspoon went through this in Legally Blonde. Eventually she found her voice, thank goodness. Men and women alike were really trying to get her down though, through the whole movie.

    I’m sorry for an idiotic comment, but I really was thinking about Legally Blonde the whole time I read this post.

  2. Don’t get me wrong though, I thought it was a really well thought out post, and very interesting to read. I just thought of Legally Blonde because I’ve seen it twice this month and didn’t go to law school.

  3. Sandy says:

    No, that’s a perfect comment! I was hoping people who didn’t go to law school would understand/relate to this post and, thankfully, everyone’s seen Legally Blonde, so maybe they can.

    Also, thanks for all your comments in general lately. They’ve been awesome!

  4. Cheri says:

    You know you hated law school for the REAL reason: You went to school in Michigan!

    In all reality…

    I know what you are saying. Being in a homogenous group of demeanors (generally speaking) makes life hard… especially in the field of law.

  5. nikki04 says:

    I haven’t been to law school, so I feel like there’s a lot I shouldn’t comment on, by definition.

    I will say this: I do believe that men are far more often to grow up feeling entitled. Not to say this makes them “bad” people, but, in general, they’ll succeed. They will have a job. They will make enough money to support a family. Whathaveyou. Women, on the other hand, have had to fight for everything we have, and we’re still up against a multitude of stereotypes and sexism is still rampant – it’s just underground. From that perspective, it’s easy to see why women take things more personally, and men allow it to roll off their shoulders more. Maybe that’s why the things the article bring up, and the ones you do, hit women harder than men.

    Yikes. Am I making sense?

    Further, I think there’s still a really negative connotation to “bitch” – even if we’re taught to publicly like being called it. We can still be ostracized by it.

    I am diggin’ your posts!


  6. Pingback: So You Want To Go To Law School | Bending the Rules

  7. Melanie Carbine says:

    I agree mostly with this post with one objection. Society and schools still teach girls to be quiet. When a boy obnoxiously raises his hand in middle school, he gets attention. When a girl does the same thing, she’s frowned at. Parents of boys push harder to accelerate them in math more than parents of girls. Etc. I see this all the time.

    And, as I think the Socratic Method is one of the less effective teaching pedagogies, I’m not actually surprised I had a natural aversion to the idea of law school.

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