With the February LSAT in the rear view, we’ve entered a relatively LSAT-bereft period that will last until June. In this span, we’re going to do a series covering law school myths. To kick things off, we’ll talk about one of the most prevalent notions regarding law school — that it is a competitive environment filled with cutthroat law students.
I’m sure you’ve seen this idea propagated in various movies and TV shows. From The Paper Chase to Legally Blonde to How to Get Away With Murder, law students are consistently portrayed as bloodthirsty saboteurs, willing to do anything to get ahead of the pack. In my experience, this portrayal misses the mark.
I attended Columbia Law School, and I had heard a lot of stories about the competitiveness of the student body there in particular. For example, I remember hearing somewhere that a student was accused of destroying a classmates outlines before an exam (I’ve since learned that some iteration of that story is told about virtually every law school). Needless to say, I was pretty stressed about it.
My experience was the complete opposite. It goes without saying that the students at a school like Columbia are generally type-A and high achieving. However, most of my classmates were willing to collaborate, share notes, and help each other out. Of course, there were exceptions, but the rest of the students generally look askance at those individuals who displayed highly competitive tendencies.
As one caveat, it is worth mentioning that Columbia has very high employment scores. I bring this up not to toot my own horn, but rather to say that my experience there may not be true across the board. For example, at a school where only 25-50% of students get jobs after graduation, there may be more jockeying for position. With that said, most of my peers at other schools seem not to have experienced the type of cutthroat competition portrayed in pop culture depictions of law students.
In sum, the image of the ultra-competitive law student is largely a myth. After all, the legal profession is highly collaborative, and the people you meet in law school often end up working with you or across from you on cases. Everything else aside, it would be extremely detrimental to a law student’s future career if they created a reputation like the ones depicted on TV. While I’m sure there are isolated instances of law students acting crazy during high stress periods, I think we can mostly just blame the horror stories on Hollywood.