Lawyers & Life: A Law School Course that Looks to the Future

I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I signed up for the class “Lawyers & Life.” I knew that in the course description, potential enrollees were warned that, if we were not up for a challenging semester, we should beware as this would not be a free ride. For the first day of class, each of the ten of us were required to prepare a short presentation answering each of the following questions:

• What is your personal conception, your vision, of professional success and satisfaction for you as a lawyer?

• How have you arrived at this conception, this vision, of what success and satisfaction mean for you and your career?

• How will you know when (or whether) you achieve your conception, your vision, of success and satisfaction?

• What particular skill or trait do you deem most indispensable for you to have in your arsenal in order to maximize the prospects that you achieve the success and satisfaction to which you aspire? How well is such a skill or trait already developed in you? What plans do you have to more fully develop and refine that skill or trait?

Though it seemed a bit daunting (and I put off the assignment for a while for that reason), I was pleasantly surprised when I began crafting my presentation.  I was really enjoying myself. For the first time since I began my law school endeavor, I felt that a professor was asking questions about me and about my greater career goals.

As I listened to each of my classmates deliver their speeches on the first day of class, I was struck by the honesty, wisdom and courage that each one demonstrated. Honesty, wisdom, and courage are three traits that, for me, sum up my classmates in this class the most completely.

In the process of listening to my fellow classmates this semester in Lawyers & Life, I have been struck by important metaphors and have been reminded of some of the most important life lessons. Among other things, my colleagues have reminded me that a gauge of professional satisfaction might be a career that brings as much happiness as gazing at the stars; to always remember what I wanted to be when I was nine; that my classmates have a goal to better the world (and that there are so many ways to do so); that we create our own paths; that it is good to feel like you belong; and that people who place a high value on competitiveness can also be exceedingly generous and kind.

In addition to the support and the lessons that I have received from my fellow classmates, Professor Rofes has been an exemplar of what a professor should be: considerate, thoughtful, probing, and emotionally and intellectually available. The Marquette Law School Mission Statement mentions the commitment to cura personalis, literally translated as “care of the entire person.” This class alone proves the motto to be true. In today’s economic climate, many law school students’ response, when asked the question, “so what area of law do you wish to practice,” is a half-joking, “whatever will pay me!” While I believe it is good to be practical and pragmatic, I also believe that it is important to keep your dreams in mind. For anyone who seeks to gain a better, clearer picture of what could be, in addition to what is, I strongly recommend this course.


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Nick Zales

    I am glad to see the law school addressing this. Former judge Charles Schudson was an early proponent of teaching law school students how to deal with life. I don’t know what is being taught, but I do know lawyers uniquely suffer from intense stress and since the economy tanked in 2008 the stress level of many lawyers has skyrocketed. This damages not only the lawyers, but their families and ultimately their clients.

    Here is a link to Judge Schudson’s article in which he talks about lawyers having to deal with real life. It’s on WisBar (“In Chambers,” De Novo, January 2004)and is a PDF file. I think it should be required reading for anyone who thinks law schools should not teach life-coping skills.

  2. Ellen Henak

    All of those questions seem heavy and important and answering them seems like so much work.

    The best things I’ve done–personally, professionally, recreationally, and with family–have involved side trips, attention to priorities, and some form of play.

    Not goals. Not dreams. Not careful planning. And certainly not worrying about success.

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