It’s easy for a law student to get tunnel vision. We are intensely focused on keeping up with class reading assignments, paper-writing requirements, legal research, extracurricular activities, gaining practical experience, and constantly searching for the next job. It’s even more taxing if you came to law school without a clear idea of what practice area you want to enter into. Even areas of the law that you find intellectually stimulating might turn out to be God-awful in practice. With this constant focus on learning the law, legal culture, and networking in the legal community, we forget that we are not here to learn a series of rules to be applied to future abstract fact patterns, but a framework for dealing with the often entangled rights and responsibilities of people, businesses, and governments.
November, election season, is a great reminder that the entire legal landscape is resting relatively precipitously on a bedrock of democratic acquiescence. Last season we saw the voters overturn the California Supreme Court’s decision that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional by enacting Proposition 8. This year we see Proposition 19, an initiative to legalize marijuana under state law. At the federal level, we have seen expanded regulation of the health care and financial sectors. What impact the emergence of the Tea Party will have remains to be seen, but that movement is at least symbolic that at any time, a significant change in the political zeitgeist could have significant impact on the legal profession.
As a 3L, with two whole years of legal education under my belt, I can confidently say that those professors were right: Law school is about learning how to think as a lawyer. With that in mind, try to avoid the tunnel vision. While the foundation of our education is steeped in the common law and our own Constitution, it is worth it to learn about legislation, administrative law, international law, and comparative law to gain perspective.
Lawyers effect changes to the law within the confines of the rulebook while the electorate has the power to amend, append, or incinerate the rulebook. Best to reflect on that now and again.
Senior Executive Editor