I have previously written about the unique nature of law school, which particularly lends itself to tormenting the students. Up until now, I have always viewed law students as being the sole beneficiaries of this misery. I figured that law professors continued the tradition solely because they had been through it and felt the need to pass it on.
However, I ran across an article in the ABA Journal explaining why law professors are miserable. The theory is that law school’s structure creates this phenomenon because “the job is competitive, uncooperative and lacking objective standards to measure success.”
Apparently, the theory “is supported by a new book called The Three Signs of a Miserable Job,” which are:
· Anonymity, when managers have little interest in employees’ personal lives.
· Irrelevance, when employees can not see how their job is affecting others’ lives.
· Immeasurement, when employees have to rely on their managers’ subjective opinions about how well they are doing, rather than on objective criteria.
I have to say that when I read this article, I thought to myself, “What goes around comes around” because each of the qualities that contributes to law professors’ unhappiness with their jobs are the exact ones that create such turmoil in the student body. Law school is competitive and uncooperative because of the forced grading curve and competition for getting on law review and the small percentage of big firm jobs available. In addition, there is a definite lack of objective standards to measure success. I know that some may believe that law school grades are that objective measure, but it is very difficult to be assessed only at the end of the quarter, when your one and only performance on a final exam is the sole basis for your grade.
The final two factors mentioned in the book referenced above, anonymity and irrelevance also play a part of law students’ experience. First, law professors, with rare and beautiful exceptions, do not concern themselves with their students’ personal lives or professional development. Before I came to law school, I was an individual with feelings and individual thoughts. Now, I am an exam number. Secondly, irrelevance is a big issue affecting law students. Oddly, it is not necessarily the amount of work that causes angst. Law students are on par with medical students and residents, who do not suffer the same level of psychological distress. The differentiating factor, according to studies, is that medical students feel like they are making a difference on a regular basis and law students feel that they are relegated to obscure theory for three years before they can do something real. This is in addition to the adversarial nature of the law, which also plays a part in generating unhappiness.
Law students and law professors are in the same boat. Both are affected by the same factors that cause unhappiness in an education or career path with the potential to make such a positive difference in the world. Therefore, that leaves me wondering – why don’t we join forces to empower change? However, those law professors and others who have tried to enact change have been met with real resistance. As they say regarding the oppressed, sometimes those who are suffering are the most ardent voices for continuation of the norms that are oppressive.