Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was thinking of death and old age when he wrote his famous refrain: “Do not go gentle into that good night … Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Yet this line is applicable to many 20-something law students. Because, quite frankly, a lot of us are, well, dying.
Hear me out. We law students are all quite good at narrowing our focus — at being funneled. We are funneled into the same narrow slate of extracurriculars during high school. We are funneled into a major or two in college. And finally, we are funneled into law school. This funneling process only grows narrower as time goes on. Our goals become more uniform — some students convince themselves that they crave a prestigious clerkship purely because everyone else wants that prestigious clerkship; others fall prey to the false notion, popular on campus, that if they want to work as a judge in the future they must become a boring automaton who holds no controversial opinions and who is driven by nothing but legal ambition; and so on.
One professor likened this process to boot camp. Law school breaks you down, and then it builds you up again in the image that it sees fit. Yet if you are not careful, this process risks taking more than it gives. In my opinion, that would be a shame, and you should resist it — you should “not go gentle into that good night.”
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t approach your profession with verve and skill. We all want to be attorneys or else we wouldn’t be tackling this grueling (and expensive) three-year process. It does mean, however, that in the course of becoming an attorney, you shouldn’t lose all your other defining features. Don’t squander what makes you, you. Before coming to law school, you were probably driven by legal ambition, sure, but also by a desire to learn, a desire to love, a desire to make the world a better place, a desire to make friends, and the desire to simply be happy. As you go through law school, don’t lose these desires so that they are replaced with only one: The desire to be an excellent attorney. You are a human, not a machine. In the immortal words of Walt Whitman, you are large. You contain multitudes.
So when others pressure you to participate in this journal because “everyone” does, to apply for this extracurricular because “everyone” applies, to attempt to work at this law firm because “everyone” knows it’s the best one, remember: There are many paths to becoming a successful attorney, and not all of them involve only concerning yourself with the law. The most creative lawyers — and thus the most successful ones — are the ones who are also the most interesting human beings.
If you played guitar before, if you read fiction before, if you expressed your political opinions vigorously and often before, if you played video games before, if you loved sitting outside and drawing before, if you loved playing online chess before, whatever you loved, maintain that love. Be a person, one who would be judged interesting by all sorts of people, even those who know nothing of the legal profession.
Resist the tide. Leave law school not as an attorney, but rather as a human being who happens to be an attorney. Graduate as a more interesting person than you were when you first started your law school application. It is easy to become complacent and to follow the tide, but too much of value is lost if you surrender to law school’s various conforming pressures. If you wish to judge real people in the future, if you wish to help real people, then you must be a real person — not a mechanical legal automaton.
Do not go gentle into that good night.