A serious column


“GO TO FIRM SOCIAL events, and collect information from what people say when they’re drunk – but you can’t be hammered yourself.” This is apparently what the Office of Career Services exists to tell us. I’m serious, these are real quotes. At Monday’s session, “What Law School Doesn’t Teach You, But You Really Ought To Know,” I learned that I should spend my summer lying, manipulating, brown-nosing, scheming, and “the most important rule: don’t be yourself” in order to ensure my law firm success. Aside from the shameful fact that there are actually people who will take this advice and become just a few more examples of why people hate lawyers, it’s even more shameful that OCS has its name on the session. If my tuition is paying for this, I want my money back. We should aim higher than this.

“I’m going to teach you how to turn fabulous opportunities into great careers,” we were told. And how to turn pounds of raw meat into delicious beef jerky in just twenty-five minutes with the brand-new, state-of-the-art deluxe Food Dehydrator. “It’s not how smart you are. It’s how smart people think you are. It’s not how hard you work – it’s how hard people think you work.” Come on. “Don’t be yourself, and don’t follow your instincts.” In other words, be phony and disingenuous. Exactly the kind of person everyone loves to be around.

“Always carry a copy of the evaluation criteria with you – so you can constantly check that you’re getting the right experience. Keep a file, and write down every compliment you get.” November 13, 1:25 P.M. Paralegal said she liked my tie. November 14, 2:03 P.M. Senior partner thanked me for holding the door for him. November 15, 9:17 A.M. Fifth-year associate said I have nice penmanship. What exactly is the file for? Creeping people out, or evidence for the wrongful termination lawsuit after you’re accidentally “yourself” one day and tell someone you think you might be coming down with a cold?

“Make friends with the support staff to get gossip… one associate [bribed them with] muffins every week.” Got it. Personal integrity, no, I don’t think you’re part of this session, sorry.

Look, maybe these really are good tips to find success in the workplace. Maybe the people who scheme and manipulate do find their way to the top. But if so, isn’t that a problem to fix and not a situation to merely accept? Perhaps ought we be working to figure out why integrity and success can’t go hand in hand, if in fact they can’t, instead of giving out revolting advice like this and encouraging everyone to make the world a more cynical and unpleasant place?

If the session was wrong, and we don’t need to sacrifice decency and integrity to have a successful career, then OCS should certainly be ashamed. But if the session was right, I think the law school should be even more ashamed, because if we’re not the people who can change the status quo, and make these places better, then who will? I believe the law school has a duty to teach us not just how to be good lawyers, but to avoid turning us into bad people in the process. I left the OCS session feeling dirty.

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