This week at my law school, I presented a chapter of my book to students as part of a brown bag lunch series in which various members of the faculty lecture on disparate topics of interest. When I was invited to participate in the series at the beginning of the semester, I happily agreed to do so – in part because, as a junior professor, I happily agree to everything. (Dean: “It would be really helpful if you sat on three more committees, taught two more classes, and did some light janitorial work a couple of days out of the week. Can you do it?” Me: “Absolutely!”) However, I also agreed to do the lecture because I felt no pressure. First, I knew that it would take very little effort for me to prepare a 45-minute lecture on my book because … well, I know my book; I’m not exaggerating if I describe myself as “conversant” in this thing on which I labored for five good years of my adult life. Second, I didn’t feel any pressure in accepting the invitation because the lecture was to be attended by students, and I was pretty darned certain that students weren’t going to attend. The talk was scheduled for the end of March. I figured students would be more interested in 1) prepping for their classes, 2) outlining in anticipation of their exams, and 3) being sad puddles of anxiety and despair. I assumed that any interest that they had in anything that I had to say about my book would take a backseat to those more important pursuits. I honestly thought that the lecture hall would be filled with the person who organized the event, a gunner or two, and a cricket that would make cricket sounds at appropriate intervals. So, imagine my surprise when I entered the room and it was filled to capacity….
Yes: some students undeniably came for the “light refreshments” that had been advertised on the poster announcing the event. (And those students were not disappointed: on the refreshment table, I saw glimpses of fresh fruit and tongs – tongs! – with which to retrieve said fruit.) But, they stayed. They listened intently. And they asked really insightful questions during the fifteen minutes reserved for Q&A. Some even asked me follow-up questions via email.
And, apparently, this type of thing happens all the time in the law school; several students told me that there was an event last week involving a former federal judge that was so well attended that they ran out of chicken wraps! Moreover, that there would be chicken wraps available for consumption was a fact about which students were unaware prior to their arrival. Students attended the event because they wanted to hear a federal judge talk about her experiences. This is remarkable.
But, why do I find this remarkable? Perhaps because it is completely at odds with my approach to law school. I never attended anything extracurricular when I was in law school. During those three years, I could be found in class, in the library, or in an empty corridor pulling myself together. (I was a very nervous law student.) This is especially unfortunate because I was in law school – in New York City – when the country was reeling from the events of September 11, 2001. (In fact, I was in Federal Income Tax on September 11, 2001. My professor was lecturing about the concept of stepped-up basis as the Twin Towers fell a couple of miles away.) The law school was peppered with fora on national security, and the Patriot Act, and Article II powers. And I didn’t attend anything.
What a shame! They say that youth is wasted on the young. Well, law school is wasted on law students – at least when they don’t take advantage of the incredible opportunities surrounding them.
So, kudos to those students who maintain enough perspective to realize that the education that happens in the classroom is only a fraction of the education that is available to them. And next time, I hope that the organizers order enough chicken wraps so that those perceptive students are properly rewarded for their insight.