“The Competition Is Over,” “Everyone Gets Bs”: Nurturing a Culture of Complacency

BY COLETTE CONNOR

For the past few years, HLS has placed a renewed focus on improving student quality of life. By many measures, this effort has been a success. The majority of the students I know from my section last year will tell you that they had a good, if not great, 1L year. I include myself in this group – I love it here. But I worry that the path HLS has taken has a critical flaw. By turning to paternalistic reassurance as the primary mode of combating student anxiety, HLS fosters a culture of complacency, rather than a spirit of achievement and excellence.

The “Successful Callback Interviews” program was my personal tipping point. The OCS representative began the program by telling the group, in reference to law firms: “They like you.” She repeated this statement three times, to nervous laughter from the crowd. The remainder of the program was spent providing common-sense tips, such as setting an alarm clock the morning of your interview and bringing along a snack (OCS recommends peanut butter crackers).

Alone, these comments may seem innocuous enough. The problem is that this approach perpetuates a sugar-coated version of how things really work. We are adults attending a professional school, preparing to enter a profession that is competitive by its very nature. To the extent that we have to learn how to face the music, so be it. There’s no better time than now. Sheltering us from the realities of the legal market serves neither our short nor long-term interests. The competition is not over. It’s never over. Not everyone gets Bs.

Disclosure of more information (in some cases, the cold, hard truth) would help us all. Statistics about the average number of callbacks received and offers provided aren’t helpful. How do these numbers vary by market? By first-year GPA? The same holds true for those of us pursuing a public interest career. Yes, everyone might be able to find a 1L internship doing public interest work, but how will this placement affect your chance of a 2L summer internship and your search for employment after graduation? Students also need more substantive information about the ins and outs of these legal markets, beyond how to land a summer job. With respect to large law firms, helpful information might include descriptions of the various assignment systems and their respective merits, how to assess “PPP,” common bonus structures and their relevance to billable hours requirements, the advantages and disadvantages of working at a branch office, and so on.

It seems like a terrible waste of time and energy (and money!) to treat law school as a mere means to an end. We have a tremendous amount of resources at our disposal. Law school should be about figuring out what is most important, setting goals, and going after them-not sitting back and delighting in the fact that “the competition is over.”

I do not mean to advocate for a return to cutthroat competition, and I realize that there’s a fine line between the pursuit of excellence and the kind of unhealthy perfectionism and unrealistic expectations that HLS students seem particularly prone to. Grades and other traditional indicia of law school success such as law review membership and judicial clerkships are not important to everyone, and for many students such things will never matter. This doesn’t give us an excuse for complacency, however. Rather, it frees us to pursue our real interests, and to go about preparing ourselves in every way possible for a rewarding and successful career.

Let’s expect excellence from ourselves and from each other. I personally cannot wait to see the amazing things that my classmates will be doing twenty years from now, and I would hate for the impact that we can make on this world to be hindered by a kind of collective settling.

Colette Connor is a 2L.

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