Law students at Harvard, Columbia and Georgetown Universities can elect to be excused from taking final exams if they feel disturbed by the grand jury decisions relating to the Ferguson and New York City decisions. As I understand it, this means that they would still have to take exams but could do so after receiving counseling and at a later date. I anticipate other law schools to follow suit if the administrations of these top tier law schools are allowing students to opt out and postpone taking finals. I think this acquiescing to law students’ demands is totally out of place. However, I disagree that law students and lawyers should be emotionless in how they approach their cases and careers as lawyers.
Many law professors in the academia elite feel this “opting out” to be totally inappropriate.
“The decision to allow students selectively to postpone exams as a result of emotional upset over the Ferguson and Garner grand jury decisions shows, once again, how far law schools have strayed from their mission. Few if any of the students complaining talk about the evidence, the forensics, the law that might have justified the grand jury rulings. Instead, it’s all about them and their emotions. Are we training students to think and act as lawyers, or emotional activists?” asks William Jacobson, professor of law, Cornell University Law School and a Harvard Law alumnus himself. “If we are training students to be lawyers, we should insist that they act like lawyers, and understand that there will be decisions with which we disagree, but that cannot interfere with our professional obligations. Cry if you want to, but keep representing your clients, complying with court deadlines, and pushing forward under adversity,” Mr. Jacobson says.
“In an understandable effort to show sensitivity to students upset by the grand jury decisions, Columbia has unfortunately chosen to infantalize them, suggesting that adult law students can’t handle hearing about perceived injustices in the world. I can’t imagine why any law student would admit that hearing about a seemingly unjust legal decision incapacitates them; how would such people function as lawyers, given that many verdicts deeply disappoint advocates for one side or the other?” asks David Bernstein, professor of Law, George Mason University School of Law and also a Yale Law alumnus.
Although, I can’t dream of this option being given to law students when I was at Florida State Law School, and devoid of my opinion of the outcome of the two grand jury decisions, I disagree with these professors to the extent that the training of law students should strip law students of their “emotional integrity.” They in essence advocate that in our system of justice lawyers should become detached emotionally from our cases. In theory this may sound good – “a lawyer should be able to advocate any side of a case.” But, from what I have observed, the best trial lawyers do care about their clients deeply and do not dehumanize themselves, which the process of law school tends to do, in order to fulfill their “professional obligations.” A lawyer should not become too emotionally involved of course; such emotional involvement can lead to less than objective evaluations of cases and early “burnout.” However, “caring” also motivates trial lawyers to prepare their cases and argue from their hearts, not their heads, which in turn means they will be trustworthy and credible advocates for their clients.
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