Dispelling the Myths about YLS

November 30, 2010 - 12 AM

M.L., 1L

When I was comparing law schools as an applicant, I heard many things, good and bad, about Yale. While I ultimately chose Yale for its incontrovertible strengths (e.g., small class size, grading system), after being on campus, I have found it interesting how many of Yale's perceived weaknesses are merely that: perceptions. Among these myths are:

Yale has fewer academic offerings compared to larger schools. Ok, I suppose this isn't necessarily a myth—Yale technically may have fewer offerings than much larger schools. That said, my friends and I are trying to choose our classes right now, and we're having quite a tough time fitting everything in. I'm interested in the Constitution as it relates to social justice, so which should I pick: a course on the First Amendment or one on contemporary theories of justice? And I’m also interested in both international and domestic policy issues, so should I take banking regulation, the law of democracy (e.g., voting rights), or national security law? Having looked at course catalogs from past years as well, my theory is this: there are simply too many interesting classes to take here within the span of three years, even with Yale's very flexible curriculum in which core classes are pretty much completed 1L first semester, and in which one is allowed to participate in clinics starting 1L second semester. And I didn't even yet mention classes outside of the law school, which we’re also allowed to take!

Even when there aren't upcoming offerings in a particular area, I have already found it easy to approach faculty and discuss options for exploring my interests. I'm not the first to find this to be the case, which explains the many student-initiated readings and clinics (e.g., the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project) that have sprung up at Yale in the past. Beyond these groups, the YLS network, as one can imagine, pretty much extends into every imaginable area, and I have found the faculty and administration eager to connect students to scholars whose work may be relevant to that which they wish to study at Yale. Just this semester, I've had the fortune of connecting, through the variety of workshops held here, with several people doing prominent, cutting-edge work. Among my favorites were international law and constitutional scholar Noah Feldman at the Legal Theory Workshop; human rights bulwark Ken Roth at the Human Rights Workshop; and critical race theorist Gerald Torres at the National Latina/o Law Student Conference. All three are YLS alums.

Finally, a related benefit of going to a smaller school is the ease of giving input into the school's academics. Even a 1L can join one of the number of faculty/administration committees that shape the school's direction. I know a couple of students who serve on the committee that deals with hiring, and I personally serve on a lecture committee that seeks to bring scholars who study groups marginalized in legal academia or society. This committee most recently brought Nobel Laureate James Heckman to campus.

Yale is rather liberal. Ok, again, I suppose this isn't really a myth—like most academic institutions, Yale has a liberal bent, at least in my opinion. That said, as a self-labeled moderate, I find the political discourse here to be rather healthy and free-flowing on all sides, especially among students. The American Constitution Society here is extremely active, and aside from sponsoring many interesting speakers, they have also hosted events for small groups of 1Ls to dine with professors who do not teach the 1L core classes. Not to be outdone, the Federalist Society has again sponsored a reading group full of accomplished guest lecturers and an outstanding speaker series this year, bringing in, among others, the influential libertarian Richard Epstein and the controversial Karl Rove. As with academic offerings, there are too many extracurricular opportunities to participate in them all, even if the breadth were limited to these two organizations. And at this point, I'll only briefly mention the organizations actively dedicated to specific issues, such as the Yale Students for Life, and the OutLaws group dedicated to the LGBT population.

Yale students don't have time for fun—not that you can have any fun in scary New Haven. Well, this one is definitely a myth. While we are serious students, I'd like to say that we try not to take ourselves too seriously. Aside from our Thursday student Bar Reviews, our Friday community happy hours, the many parties and other such events, students have engaged in lots of unique activities. This fall, my small group went pumpkin carving, another one went apple picking, yet another went karaokeing with their professor, and still a larger group of students went to their professor's farm for a picnic. I also have to note that I haven’t been able to make it one week without talking about either Glee or Mad Men. So, yes, we do have time for fun.

As far as New Haven is concerned, I was well aware of its reputation before I came to Yale. It's not the biggest, most exciting town in the world; instead, it's got a smaller community feel that I've really come to appreciate. Personally, I live in East Rock, along with about a third of my class (yep, we counted). The East Rock neighborhood is anywhere from a 5-minute to a 25-minute walk to campus (depending on where in the neighborhood you choose to live), and in that 20-minute span is a town which has some of the best restaurants and shops, and most beautiful lanes and houses, in New Haven. And the East Rock "rock" has got quite a view at the top and is a good place to run.

Of course, New Haven faces problems common to all urban areas. As someone interested in social affairs, I find this to be a learning opportunity, one which Yale has recognized in the form of its several community-oriented clinics. Beyond that, I feel pretty secure as a resident of New Haven and East Rock, most especially because of the Yale shuttles, including both the Law School shuttle and the university’s after-hours service. Even when I'm on or near campus late at night or on the weekends, I can simply call for the after-hours, door-to-door shuttle, which picks me up right where I am and takes me right to the front door of my house. Similarly, if I need to go to campus from off during these hours, I can call the shuttle. These resources, in addition to my own personal care, maximize my safety.

And if I happen to tire of New Haven for some reason, I can always just take another Yale shuttle...to the train station. At which point I can travel to New York City in two hours time—even more fun!