A Tale of Two Law Schools


In his Tale of Two Cities, Dickens famously wrote, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. The phrase might accurately describe the recent experience of many 1Ls: despite the December chill, job fairs and other opportunities are abloom. Yet feelings of budding excitement are overshadowed by grave doubt, as the mysterious challenges of the first law school exams await. And those summer opportunities, not to mention the ones beyond, come with a catch: many depend on grades.

It is in such trying times that one often examines the road not taken: what if, instead of opting for (or, in more cases than many will surely admit, defaulting to) the vague, all purpose prestige of Harvard, this year’s crop of 1Ls had found themselves among the soaring spires of reputedly “intellectual” (and grade-less) Yale? This writer’s curiosity on that note has been dormant since the most selective admissions committee under the firmament turned down his 250 word attempt to connect the figure of Tom Sawyer to the postwar German guilt complex. It was recently piqued again, however, when he learned of some of the less open secrets about the contrast between the two venerable institutions. Indeed, he so could not believe what his ears had betrayed that he immediately mailed an old friend, out of touch since gaining access to the Forbidden City, to confirm.

“Salutations!” the Yalie bellowed in reply. “You caught me ‘tween my fortnightly salon on Spinoza and my latest evening ritual: musing on the 18th century transition from bodily to mental forms of discipline – to the tune of Puccini’s greatest arias, of course. Curious you should bring up Dickens; I think the analogy is apt. You Harvardians are like the haute bourgeoisie of revolutionary Paris, awaiting the indeterminate fall of the guillotine upon your status-driven, grade-grubbing heads. The air in New Haven is, oh, how shall I put it? As in serene old London, it may be denser and foggier, like our academic prose, but the atmosphere here is also cooler, and less tense: far easier to breathe.”

“But answer my questions!” I pressed. “Is it true you actually use the word ‘justice’ more than ‘joint and several liability’? That your CivPro classes consist of nothing but extracting the values balanced in the opinion of Goldberg v. Kelly? That one of your professors likes to theatrically three-point the Federal Rules into a wastebasket from across your cozy seminar rooms?”

“I don’t know what you’re going on about,” he wrote back, puzzled. “Do you mean to say you didn’t notice when Yale Law School was merged into the philosophy department, ten years back? And what is one supposed to learn in Civil Procedure? The tedious code that caused a disconsolate Henry James to flee the law, scribbling ‘never, nevermore’ in the process? We’ll all wind up learning the ‘real’ law from BarBri anyway, so why not step as far back from it as possible, while we still can?”I tried to rise to the occasion, stammering a defense of fair Harvard – something about a niche for everyone, “the New York City of law schools,” free cider, the New Haven murder rate, and Paul, Weiss being more likely to eat off my lap – but, then, I hadn’t been one of those suited up all day for the 1L career fair, and my Yalie was gone, anyway, something about playing spin the bottle with 186 of his closest friends. It was just as well. I was about to settle into A Christmas Carol – the version in which Scrooge schedules exams for early January, and forces Bob Cratchett to work on his Crim Law outline all holiday long.

Chris Szabla is a 1L.

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