The Right Coast

October 08, 2004
Law Students are Great
By Dan Rodriguez

Famously unappreciated by full-time teachers, not to mention non-law skeptics who wonder whether the attraction of law and law school is badly motivated, law students are truly an exceptional lot. Meeting with my rump group of "dean's student advisors" this afternoon reminds me of that fact. Here are a group of twenty-something individuals who are well-educated, interested in the world, funny, and rather optimistic about both their profession, their own place therein, and also (remarkably) the state of the world. They, by and large, work hard at law school; but, to an extent underappreciated by their teachers, they ground their course work in a fairly textured set of larger social and moral perspectives on the law's complex role in society. Though not (usually) professional philosophers, they think interesting philosophical thoughts; though not (usually) social scientists, they have instincts for empirical connections one can draw from legal doctrine and legal episodes. Naturally, the very best students create interesting students in remarkable and exciting ways.

Much is made about the ways in which law school changes both the orientation and the personality of law students. Moreover, much of the recent, empirically informed work by legal scholars casts these changes in negative terms. What I want to say, though, is that the intellectual and social characteristics of law students, in the main, are both impressive and surprisingly resistant to ruin over the course of the time they are under our stewardship and influence. Whatever self-selection processes drives intelligent college graduates toward law school is, to me, impressively successful. And if you have the opportunity, as have I, to teach law, or anything else, to non-law students -- even where well-educated ones -- I believe that you will come away even more struck by the good fortune we have to have landed as academics in a world of such interesting humans.

Figuring out how best to tap into this neglected resource for our own scholarship and professional influence is, I think, ought to be one of our major objectives as legal academics. That our colleagues in non-law, graduate student-oriented areas of the university have done so rather effectively for a century or so should give us confidence that we can figure this out for our profit and their success.