December 10, 2014
TO: HLS Students
RE: Protests over having to take final exams
Dear Students of Harvard Law:
Yesterday, while sipping on my cup of coffee and waiting for the latest batch of client calls to roll in, I read this National Review article with great amusement. Apparently Columbia Law School decided to give in to student demands for postponing finals, and you were so upset your school didn’t follow suit you issued an open letter demanding the same. My first reaction was believing the National Review had finally started publishing satire articles, which would not be completely out of line with modern trends in online clickbait.
Apparently I’m very wrong, and this is very much a real thing. (note for readers–letter is second document on the page–CLS)
I have been extremely silent on the issues concerning Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths. I have been extremely silent concerning the protests of parties nationwide. I have been in many respects like this because I wasn’t there, I don’t have all the answers, and as an attorney I see every day just how broken our criminal justice system is in its treatment of minorities and the poor. Not any longer. I have a special message for each and every member of Harvard Law protesting their final exams because of mental anguish concerning the grand jury decisions in the Brown and Garner cases:
Shut up and take your finals. No one cares.
This is not an attempt to discount the very real pain and suffering you are experiencing right now. It is an attempt to open your eyes to the cold, hard fact that life for lawyers doesn’t involve a single soul caring about your feelings.
Here’s what you’re failing to grasp, or are simply wanting to ignore: law school finals are there for a reason–to ensure you are prepared for the Bar Exam, which is the biggest final of them all. Your J.D. from Harvard is proof you’re ready for the most demanding final exam you’ll ever take prior to the start of your professional career. The Deans and Faculty of Harvard Law may be quite sensitive and open to “dialogue” and “addressing student needs,” but I can assure you of the cold, hard fact that the Board of Law Examiners in your respective states will not care about your feelings or your outrage. They will expect you take your Bar Exam, and they will pass you or fail you based on the merits of this exam regardless of how upset you are at the next national tragedy (which will most assuredly happen soon, because that’s the way the system works). The stress you’re feeling right now as you’re preparing for your finals is small compared to the stress, anxiety, and self doubt you will see in the weeks and months to come when you prepare for the Bar Exam, and no one will care about your feelings.
Many of you will go on to BigLaw jobs, which place a premium on your Harvard degree. This is a cold, hard fact many of us recognize, and many of you will start out with five or six figure jobs doing document review and serving as an errand boy or girl for senior associates and partners at your respective firms. When you get to those jobs, and you experience stress, pain, and suffering at the corporate level in trials, closing deals, or working eighty hour weeks to finish an appellate brief, no one will care about your outrage over the next great national tragedy (which assuredly, again, will happen soon, because that’s the way the system works). When you send your bullet point ridden action item list to the managing or hiring partner at the BigLaw firm for which you work, they will smile, tell you they don’t care, remind you there are plenty of other law graduates who would kill (and yes, they would commit homicide if they thought it would get them out of struggling through indigent defense work) for your jobs, ask if you’re really ready to hack it in the big leagues, and then usher you out the door.
Some of you will go into private practice, or solo work. You will experience a greater client interaction base than your BigLaw peers. Here’s a cold, hard fact for those of you going this route: none of your clients care about your outrage, grief, or suffering over the next national tragedy (which assuredly, for the third time, will happen soon, because that’s the way the system works). You may wipe tears from your eyes and tell the client with the appellate deadline you missed you couldn’t do it because you were so upset over the next life lost, but he or she will not care. You’ll probably need to contact your malpractice insurance carrier shortly after that meeting too, because you’re looking at a malpractice suit no matter how upset you are, because the client doesn’t care about your feelings.
Law is one of the most demanding professions to which you can devote your life. It will consume your mind, body, and soul. You will likely work long hours with little pay in proportion, your lives will be dictated by how fast you can answer the next email or text from an associate or partner, and your families will be neglected during the holidays because you’re either at the office or you’re at a detention center working. You will probably miss your child’s first steps. You will assuredly get some static from your significant other, and maybe even lose a relationship or marriage over the job. You will probably go through a roller coaster of emotions from happy to sad to downright angry, and become immensely mistrustful of others. This is the way the profession works, and no one cares about your feelings. Period. If you don’t like it now, get out and save yourself hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans.
Or, here’s a better alternative to effect change: shut up and take your finals. Swallow that misplaced outrage, and channel your anger and frustration into preparing to kick ass over the finals and the Bar. Become attorneys who fight the system that allows for this unfair treatment of minorities and the poor, and work tirelessly (as the rest of us do) to stop the next tragedy from happening again. When you get that job in the Federal Defender’s office, or stroll to represent the government as an AUSA, demand police and prosecutorial accountability from those positions of power. Do your part and step up to the plate, or shut up and get out of the way. That Harvard degree is going to place you in a position where you can do something good to help people who need it, and you complaining about a lack of special treatment by the faculty of Harvard Law isn’t helping; it’s just making you look like entitled special snowflakes to the rest of the world.
If you’re the “TL; DR” type (as the kids call it these days), let me save you the trouble: Shut up, take your finals, and do some real good in this world. You’ll thank me for giving you this reality check later.
Very Respectfully Yours,
An actual practicing attorney.