Friday, February 10, 2012

Why should I donate to my lawschool?

Not long ago I've received a plea from the Dean to donate to my old law school. The letter brought out a lot of mixed emotions in me.  First of all, I think there is something wrong in turning for money to people who have graduated not more than five years ago as they're most likely not situated well enough and secure  within the job market to be in the position to give back. I'd like to stress that this is not a criticism of the Dean. I understand that he only wants to have his school running smoothly, maintain existing and launch new programs, to get the top talent. If I were in his shoes I bet I would do the same. And yet, I'm confused. Recently I read an article in a legal journal, I forgot which publication it was - and the story made the cover- that the law schools are a bubble that is about to burst. And I see that point. I see a lot of my former colleagues struggling- either trying to establish their own practice or finding odd jobs. Still, the schools produce new graduates every year, open new classrooms, even erect new buildings. And I ask myself- what is the point of donating to your law school and what it does to the job market and even my own perspectives.
Secondly, I feel like asking me for a donation suggests that I'm indebted to my school. That it gave me something I need to make up for. The law school is not a charity, it's a business. I have paid a lot of money to get my two American law degrees, much of it at the out of state rate.  I came here as an international student. A lot of my similarly situated friends were never able to establish residency, meaning that they were paying nearly 1,300 dollars per credit throughout their entire programs. That's over 38,000 for the first year alone. Legal degree was of course my decision, my choice, an investment if you will in my own future. Did we all leave  with perspectives on careers in the legal industry reassured about the future? No. My graduation ceremony speaker lamented that the job market is in crisis, but it's not irrational to have hope. That is all we were left with. Yes, you can say that my school is cheaper than many other schools, but that begs another question: why is legal education so expensive to go into. Since the times have long passed that this was the industry to go into, what is the justification for asking that much money?
I hold three law degrees and a couple of certificates so I can compare the experience. In America the law school is a professional school. It's more of a skill giving institution, while in Europe it's a scholar experience with a lot if research, a lot of theory, plenty of cultural and historical context. It felt more like studying, more like education. In America it's very rare to require a comparative law  course or type of international or historical approach so the perspective is very limited. But it's mostly feels like an intentional decision of what law is and how it is taught in this  country.
I understand that it takes a lot of money to bring accomplished lawyers to a small college town to teach. But that's, I think, were the problem lies- do you really need big names to teach a general course that is based  on a text book, limited to what the assigned reading contained and based on a Socratic method, meaning, the class is driven by the the teacher soliciting answers from students. It takes a particular set of abilities to be an educator, not only have the knowledge but convey it. You need to know how to convey the content of the class schedule, other than that the material is pretty straight forward. I even had a professor who used the same course "script", said the same jokes, brought the discussion to the same points for at least three years! When I attended the Cambridge English Law program in Warsaw at first we were taken aback with how young the main instructors were. But soon it became obvious that they were better at their job than some of the visiting lecturers from England, because they have been doing it all they did. The problem is that  law school in America is a business- they compete for the best students, they pay attention to ranks.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of giving- to people, animals, even to education.  If I went to an undergraduate school here I'd probably give to that. But universities do a lot research, are a hub of new ideas. They allow students to explore their talents, develop and thrive in science, culture and art. It's a process, for their benefit but also for the benefit of all of us  It feels less like a "Give us money so we can charge our students more money". Perhaps I'd feel different if the law school gave plenty of students scholarsips or if there was a prominent Civil Rights or ADA clinic directing students to socially relevant causes. I know that one of my professors, Winston Nagan sits in an office in a plaque that says Center for International Human Rights, but I don't think that's an actual school mandated program. We also know, because statistics show us that very view students end up working for NGO's  while most-  for corporations or themselves.

I work for a non profit, that sometimes could but mostly cannot afford to pay me. And it's fine for now, as I don't get discouraged. This is what I believe in- helping children with disabilities, although I think we should all give to what they feel passionate about. I congratulate my Dean, but I have no doubt- if he chooses to build another wing his support base will make it happen. And good for him. At the same time I'm trying to convince The Florida Bar Foundation that there is a strong need to create a workshop that will educate the disability population about their rights, an idea that I wanted to put together considering my own experiences in a wheelchair. And I'm losing hope I ever will.

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