Friday, March 26, 2004
I'm writing from the Religiously Affiliated Law Schools conference at Notre Dame. Today's discussions have touched on many points of impact -- both actual and potential -- between institutional religious commitments and legal education. One presentation I found especially intriguing was by Jerry Organ, a professor at St. Thomas in Minneapolis. He posited that student well-being may largely be a factor of the extent to which students are motivated by internal values and priorities (integrity, faith, etc.) rather than extrinsic considerations (wealth, prestige, etc.). In a sense, he applied an expanded notion of the saying, "money can't buy happiness" to the law school environment.
To the extent law schools can help students elevate internal over external motivations, I have no doubt that students would be better off. But I wonder how realistic it is to expect law schools to do so. After all, in an environment where institutional decisions seem driven in significant part by US News rankings, law schools themselves are motivated primarily by extrinsic considerations, most notably reputation. Law schools don't seem concerned as much with helping students "find themselves" as in enabling students to plug into the best (i.e., most prestigious) job possible, whether private practice, government, or public interest. I have no doubt that a student at the top of the class who turns down a federal clerkship or big firm job is perceived as a disappointment to the school, regardless of the compatibility of such career paths with the student's own priorities. A school's reputation is not enhanced by students who take the road less travelled.
So my question is this: by asking law schools to encourage internally motivated decision-making by students, are we asking the schools to put student interest over their institutional interests? If so, is it realistic to expect that more than a handful of schools will take the request seriously?