O Gunner, Where Art Thou?

October 22, 2012

J.C., 1L

The gunner is the most widely known law school stereotype. Fueled by ambition and competitive aggression, the gunner is always in pursuit of the top grades, best internships, and prestigious clerkships. Needless to say, I expected to meet more than my fair share of gunners when I arrived on Yale’s campus to start my 1L year.

The most surprising thing about Yale for me thus far is the relative scarcity of gunners. Don't get me wrong—Yale is filled with many ambitious and highly driven people. However, nearly all these talented students are also supportive, generous, and interested in helping their classmates succeed. It seems to me that Yale’s student body offers all of the benefits of being surrounded by smart, capable people without any of the gunnerish downsides.

This observation really hit home for me when all of us first year law students began working on our first real assignment – an eight-to twelve-page memo. (For those, like me, who do not or will not know much about the legal world prior to beginning law school, a memo is an assessment of the legal status of a potential case; basically, is the client likely to win or lose, and why?) Although the assignment is ungraded (and in fact the entire first semester is pass-fail), every student wants to perform as well as they can in order to impress their small-group professor and their 3L teaching fellows. Memos are also what most 1Ls use as writing samples for 1L summer jobs, so they are not without importance. I fully expected that the memo assignment would show many of my classmates to be the gunners that they always secretly were.

Instead, what I found was a group of individuals interested in collaborating, sharing ideas, and making sure that the rising tide of our legal knowledge lifted all of our boats. I watched one of my friends help another ensure that her legal citations were accurately done. When asked where in the contracts casebook a particular key idea came from, my classmates helpfully guided the questioner to the relevant passage rather than mumble incoherently or run off to the library to rip the relevant page out of the book. Everyone wanted to be number one, but they did not want to do it by crawling over the backs of others.

Yale achieves a great balance between intelligence and drive on the one hand and a generous, communitarian spirit on the other. What this sort of campus atmosphere allows for is enjoying all of the fruits of great conversations with knowledgeable and interesting peers without the friction that can result from surrounding yourself with very bright people in a high-pressure environment. I'm still not sure exactly how Yale pulls this off, but I do know that I'm very happy to be here.