Vail Daily column: Law school is education for life
On a recent trip back to Virginia, I had the occasion to visit my old law school stomping grounds. Superficially, much has changed: I have a wife and daughter now, my former housemate and great friend is a dean, the students look impossibly young. Yet there is something particularly timeless about a legal education, the basic tenets of which have not altered in several centuries. The Socratic Method was and will continue to be used to teach the same paradigmatic cases to my forebears, me and the legal neophytes I saw walking the grounds. As I roamed the hallways, this continuum was palpable and I was grateful for the connection to the esteemed institution.
That was not always my view. I seriously pondered leaving law school during my second year, after all of the hard work had been done. It was an existential dilemma spurred by the fact that the things I was learning in school did not appear to track what I wanted to do with my life. In turn, that caused me to doubt my whole imminent profession, notwithstanding that I had always felt drawn to its intellectual circumlocutions and high drama.
As college seniors embark on their farewell tour and ponder their future, they likely engage in a similar soul search as to the propriety of attending law school. Much ink has been spilled over the crisis in legal education — the consensus is that it is a great way to go into a lot of debt and end up without a job as a lawyer. That can certainly be an unfortunate reality these days. But it also partially misses the point: Law school is a foundation and a baptism for a new way of looking at the world. It took me some temporal distance to have this epiphany and is the reason that I am glad to have persevered and earned my J.D.
Most that travel the path through law school end up, for some time, practicing law in some traditional capacity at a law firm. This apprenticeship builds upon the law school bedrock, and while it can pay incredibly well, it can also require unreal hours and ungodly boredom. More often than not, it serves as an example of what one does not want to do for the long-term. Not a single one of my eight law school housemates is still with their original law firm and we are still two years away from our 10-year reunion.
Tellingly, only three of us are still even practicing law and one of those is in a technical and obscure transactional niche that is about as closely related to a normal conception of law as working at Arby’s (though infinitely more lucrative!). The remainder are financiers (two), a title expert, a dean and a stunt man. Seriously. Each of us has leveraged our legal education and legal experience into doing what makes us happy. This is possible because the skills and outlook bestowed in law school have application across a broad spectrum.
The law touches on so many aspects of business and life: Taxes, crime, insurance, liability, finance, divorce, workers’ rights, child issues, bankruptcy, contracts and governance are just some examples. Though law school tends to the generalized, liberal arts approach and will not make one an expert in any of these areas, it provides a road map to understand how and why they are all interconnected. Knowledge of the general principles is also helpful in everyday decision-making and allows one to know how and where to seek additional information as needed. For example, I do not practice bankruptcy law and am only generally familiar with its often arcane rules and procedures. However, that base level of knowledge allows me to ask intelligent questions of the experts in a way that gives me efficient insight into the problem at hand.
The camaraderie with and collective wisdom of one’s law school peers should also not be underestimated. When brilliant minds from all over congregate to apply their intellectual might to a common course of study, the resulting education is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Once one’s classmates disperse into the world, they continue to provide support, both of the professional and personal varieties. I frequently contact former classmates on questions legal and otherwise and have also attempted to repay the favors when asked. I also know a good stunt man. It would be hard to find a better endorsement for law school than that.
T.J. Voboril is a partner with Thompson, Brownlee & Voboril LLC, a local civil litigation firm, and the owner-mediator at Voice of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, email@example.com or visit http://www.thompsonbrownlee.com.