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Fighting the Law School Urge

By Ghita Schwarz

IT'S not like everyone I know is going to law school. There are plenty of other options. Some of the people at the "Reunion at the Union" a few Sundays ago were talking Shearson Lehman and Goldman Sachs. And some of them don't even act guilty.

But lots of people do. There's that old "parental pressure." The way some people talk, someone from Mars would think that "parents" means the military. Here's a sample conversation of two pushed to do the inevitable:

"I really don't want to go to law school."

"Yeah, I mean I really, really, really don't want to go to law school."

"But the pressure."

"Yeah, the pressure."

"But I really, really don't want to."

Never in this kind of conversation does anyone mention the exact type of law to be practiced. General references are made, of course. Sometimes there is a vague mention of white-collar crime. Sometimes there is talk of environmentalism. Sometimes, the really liberal people, the ones who feel like they're "selling out," will criticize Harvard Law Dean Robert C. Clark's recent (unsarcastic) remarks on the "intensely moral" nature of corporate management.

The most shameless among us speak elaborately about some category labeled "Public Interest Law." Try quizzing the PILs on this. Do you mean work as a public defender? No. Oh, do you mean work for some branch, maybe federal or something, of the government? Possibly, something like that, you know, useful. Where I can make a difference.

It's a sign of the times that the people who are so vague about their career plans are so specific about how they're going to get there. Law school, they truly believe, is a one-way pass to their wildest dreams.

IT IS also a sign of the times that the phrase "sign of the times" is used so often. As the Me Decades fade into the We Decade, our cheerfully in-between generation exhibits a burning wish for the utterly conventional, boring life--and we want it quick.

Not that we should buy so enthusiastically into the business of generationnaming. While allegedly selfish '80s students were not too interested in protesting the activities of the U.S. government, they spent a lot more time organizing in areas where they had real influence. Across the country, student pressure has forced university divestment from firms doing business with South Africa, and in New York state, students have successfully challenged annual tuition hikes.

At Harvard, students have participated in protests to increase minorities and women on the faculty, to support the union of clerical and technical workers, to end discrimination against gays and lesbians and to improve campus safety. And five times more Harvard undergraduates today volunteer to do public service as did their counterparts in the idealistic '60s.

WHAT'S scary is that some people really want to believe the We Decade will save the world. But despite a few positive developments, "We issues" are apolitical. New trendy issues cover up longstanding questions of social inequity. Being "provolunteerism,"--like President Bush is--seems to mean cutting down on the budget for trained teachers, social workers and hospital translators.

The We Decade might mean the "activist '90s," but activism, by today's standards, is synonymous with environmentalism. Care about the air. Save the trees. This was the first year when people in your dorm yelled at you for tossing a bottle in the garbage can instead of the recycling bin. We're in our unselfish phase, but it is more acceptable to worry about the increasing hole in the ozone layer than to think about, say, shrinking welfare and Medicaid benefits.

Along with shrinking welfare benefits have come shrinking imaginations. That's why so many of us deal with the prospect of entering the wide world by postponing it. For the masses of law school entrants racked with guilt over their chosen profession, talking vaguely about the public interest can assuage the guilt--temporarily.

Covering up career indecision with law school is the natural extension of covering up political apathy with concern for the environment. It would be nice, but not likely, if the We Decade didn't bring more of the same boring excuses for personal and political conservatism.

So, no, I'm not going to law school Needless to say, I'm also unemployed. But I count myself among the blessed.

Ghita Schwarz '90 is an editorial editor of The Crimson.

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