Learning from Alums Who Aren’t Practicing Law

February 29, 2008

A.V., 2L

I just got back from a recruiting trip on a tropical island. A bunch of ex-lawyers, many of them YLS J.D.s, tried to convince us that we’d be happier at their consulting firm than any other law firm. Given that none of these people currently practice law, I thought it appropriate to ask whether they would recommend law school to other potential non-lawyers. Over and over, they would say, “Going to law school? Maybe. Going to Yale? Definitely.”

Every alumnus I met was emphatically pleased with his or her time at Yale. They valued the flexibility of our curriculum that allowed them to tailor the education to their interests—clinical practice one semester, intensive research another—so that they could make Yale theirs. After the first semester, they were free to take as many or as few classes as they wanted, in any order, with no fear that their GPA would suffer from a bold choice.

The consultants were pleased with their law school peers. They studied, practiced and socialized with the most intelligent, diverse, public-minded groups ever assembled: labor organizers, Rhodes scholars, investment bank MPs, mimes and more. With our small class, the admissions office makes sure that everyone has a fascinating story to tell. In many ways, law school can be a three-year conference before everyone goes out again their separate ways.

We hear a lot about how studying law doesn’t close any doors. But doors were open before law school, too. Is Yale’s principal virtue that it won’t get in the way if you decide not to practice law later?

If it were, the chorus from the consultants would not have been unanimous (though they do like consensus-building). They regarded their time at the Yale Law School as more than harmless delay, but as the best part about their progress to that point. They valued the analytic skills and fluency with institutions that most law schools try to foster. And each was happy that he or she could study whatever most interested him or her, and expect exciting and challenging colleagues to join in.

I’m having a great time at law school (easy to say after a junket to the tropics). And it is comforting to know that those who understand where life goes from here, even if it doesn’t go to the law, are still grateful for this kind of legal study.