Thursday, July 14, 2005

L&S: Varieties of Ignorance

Almost every evening at this L&S seminar, in the span between the last presentation and the start of the evening social, we gather in discussion groups of 10 or 12 people. Students usually get assigned to different groups each evening, on a random basis, to maximize the likelihood that we'll all get the chance to meet one another. Last night, though, we tried something new: we assigned students to discussion groups on the basis of their specializations.

Unsurprisingly, I got all the many students who want to study law. Because most of the students at this seminar have yet to start graduate school, I had only a few students who have begun (or in one case, completed) a J.D. program. (I had a few more students studying abroad in programs that would roughly equate to extended undergraduate legal studies in the U.S.) Together, we discussed nuts-and-bolts career topics such as how to study for the LSAT, how to finance law school, and what sort of jobs to consider upon graduation.

Later, comparing notes with my fellow faculty members, I discovered that only my group had concentrated on career issues. Each of the other faculty members had, of course, also been assigned students interested in his particular specialization. The students in their groups, however, appear to have discussed not career issues but rather substantive topics in economics, history, or philosophy. What accounts for that difference?

Given that most of the students here remain in their undergraduate studies, relatively few of them have begun taking classes in the law. I thus face a great many students with only an outsider's understanding of the law's inner workings. My colleagues, in contrast, face students who have already begun taking classes in economics, history, or philosophy, as the case may be.

All of the students here still have a great deal to learn. And my fellow faculty members take pains to make their lectures accessible to every student. Nonetheless, as these reflections show, I tend to face a slightly different sort of ignorance than my colleagues.

Only very few of the students at an L&S seminar will have begun studying what I lecture about. My fellow faculty, in contrast, can count on finding a fair number of budding specialists in their audiences. I don't think that realization will or should change how I lecture, given that each of us must aspire to reach non-specialists. I see now, though, that it probably does give me some unique challenges.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Could you discuss, however brief, the insight you gave on how to study for the LSAT, how to finance law school, and what sort of jobs to consider upon graduation.

Jeanne Marie said...

I personally was hoping for to explore as a group the effect of contracts (and the importance) and such, as well as law itself on the C.L. tradition, but oh well.

I guess it was difficult for our specific group because it is harder to draw upon common veins of thought when perhaps only half have been exposed to the law veins of thought. I haven't through school yet, but I am a law geek!

Tom W. Bell said...

Anon. of 12:10: To study for the LSAT take practice tests, over and over and over. To finance law school do the obvious: take out loans, work while attending part time, or sell a kidney. Upon graduation . . . whew. Consider any of them that pay and that don't offend your sense of ethics.

Jeanne Marie: Sorry! You know where to find me if you want to talk about that, though.

Pierre Matias said...

"I thus face a great many students with only an outsider's understanding of the law's inner workings. My colleagues, in contrast, face students who have already begun taking classes in economics, history, or philosophy, as the case may be."

So why is it that an undergraduate student can take as many classes as he can stand in economics, history or philosophy, but is denied the opportunity to study law in any serious way, or even to get an undergraduate degree in law?

Is it for their own good? Cui bono?

Anonymous said...

i think the uninteresting reason for the nature of the conversation was that you specifically opened the floor to questions not just about substantive topics but also career advice, and the first question led to further ones. and it's true that those of us who haven't started law are still thinking about whether it's a good idea.

Anonymous said...

Tom, I think your observations are consistent with the mainstream belief that the legal community consists largely of unprincipled societal leaches - that the majority of lawyers are in it for the money and, without a foundation of principles, are interested from the get-go in career issues over the ideals and substance of law. What percentage of law students go you suppose could be classified this way?

Z