Killing The Law School “C”

In a New York Times op-ed, Ashley Merryman writes that losing is good for you.

The science is clear. Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.

More hateful Boomer criticism?

Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, found that kids respond positively to praise; they enjoy hearing that they’re talented, smart and so on. But after such praise of their innate abilities, they collapse at the first experience of difficulty. Demoralized by their failure, they say they’d rather cheat than risk failing again.

So what’s the solution? Arkansas Lawprof Joshua Silverstein contends that law schools should eliminate the grade “C” because it makes students sad. At Careerist, Dan Bowling kinda disagrees, after conceding that grading is too subjective to begin with. But he argues that “C” grades aren’t the root of all misery.

That said, there is no denying that the first wave of law school grades comes as a shock to many 1Ls. Over-achievers since toddlerdom, it is their first experience with something less than perfection. The mood in February after first semester grades are released is grim: Students walk around like extras in World War Z. Zombiefied, if you will.

But not all do—at least for long.

His solution is to teach law students “resilience,” which he would then follow up with a nice, shiny trophy, which he calls “focus on student strengths,” to bring them to “wellness.” which is a buzzword that means how to lead a fulfilling life in the absence of accomplishment, or how I learned to love mediocrity.

Despite dicking around the edges, the bottom line is that happiness remains the focus, as if it’s an entitlement rather than something you have to work hard to achieve, and which will remain elusive so that you must constantly pursue it.

The invariable reaction of the slackoisie is that this is just more “old” thinking dumped on the young to compensate for the phony sense that oldsters worked harder when the truth is they had it easy-peasy, and screwed up the world anyway. To the extent the young are narcissistic and entitled, it’s all the Boomers’ fault. To the extent the trophy kids believe they’re entitled to a trophy just for showing up, oldsters are indulging their own delusion of self-worth that no longer applies.

At Heather Morse’s marketing blog, The Legal Watercooler, she tried desperately to make this point by creating a strawman of the dumb old guy who she, the youthful, cutting-edge, brilliant and insightful marketer, would beat to an intellectual pulp. The scenario happens at a conference, because marketeers are constantly going to conferences with other marketeers so they won’t feel lonely.

I started testing out my generational marketing positions, to see if others are seeing and experiencing what I am seeing and experiencing. Is my hypothesis of the generational shift in management impacting direction all in my head, or am I on to something?

I spoke with one gentleman about 10 years older than me. A true Baby Boomer. He was being asked to do things differently than he’s been doing it for decades. He didn’t get all this marketing and outreach. What about relationships and how they used to do it? He wanted to go back “there,” wherever “there” was.

He was being challenged by the times and he was definitely outside his comfort zone.

When I referenced the Millennials, his retort was: “Is that the ‘entitled generation’ they’re always talking about?” And then he went on a mini rant.

You are running around, lamenting the advent of technology, the evolution of business practices, your resistance to change, and “Why can’t we go back to business as usual?” and you call THEM entitled??

Cool use of double facepalm meme and double question marks notwithstanding, she goes on to lament her pretend oldster’s hatred of technology (because nobody over 50 has a com-pu-ter) and refusal to get with the times.  She then rants:

And when I start playing with the numbers, are not these members of this so called “entitled” generation the spawn of the Baby Boomers and older GenXers? The same ones who are now lamenting their existence?

Uh huh. Anything else?

Are you not attempting to make yourself feel better in your own limited world by refusing to open yourself up and see where the Millennials and younger GenXers are getting it right?

And what would that be, Heather?

Millennials put family and personal life first. They want a true work/life balance. They cherish experiences. They don’t want to waste all of the daylight hours in an office with artificial lighting. They are happy to get the work done, they just don’t see why it has to be done between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. (or 8:00 p.m. to prove how “loyal” they are), or within the walls of your ivory tower rather than from their laptop at home. And they are not necessarily driven by the same dollar that you are.

They want to be happy. There is nothing wrong with that, per se, though what will bring them happiness doesn’t seem to include anything which might be related to accomplishment.  If everybody is doing the least amount of work necessary to get by, at home in the jammies, enjoying work life balance, who would be creating those cool technologies that Boomers hate and Millennials adore?

That takes work, from the study needed to learn the science behind tech to its invention, design, creation and fabrication.  Are there elves in the backroom somewhere making iPhones? Well, yes, there are, but they need the money enough that they can’t afford to sit at home confused as to why they didn’t get a substantial pay raise after the first week of employment.

I agree that Boomers are to blame for starting the everybody-gets-a-trophy boom, even if I don’t personally subscribe to it. I watched, and argued with, my friends who were absolute believers that this new-fangled method of child-rearing would raise brilliant, motivated, hard-working and, most importantly, happy children.  They were on the cutting-edge once, telling their parents (who hated participation trophies more than I did) that they had to evolve and change with the times.

And the result is the Slackoisie. Each generation was young once, pushing the envelope and creating what it thought to be a more perfect world. Looking back, we realize that we got some things right but a lot wrong.  The Milliennials will eventually see the bigger picture, except they will see it on a screen, if they can find anyone among them who is willing to get up, sacrifice a moment’s happiness and actually make a screen anymore.

You want happiness? You want wellness? Earn it. Make it happen. Put in the hard work needed to accomplish your goals.  And if you don’t like getting a “C,” then push to ace the course. It can be done. It just takes effort.


16 comments on “Killing The Law School “C”

  1. Gritsforbreakfast

    I’ll never understand your cynicism about people who value “work-life balance.” Happiness is not an “entitlement” but neither is it something necessarily discovered primarily through participation in the workplace. Indeed, for most jobs that may be the last place it’s found. One “earns” money, but not happiness, at least not in the way you insist. (Unless happiness = “money for new gadgets.”) Your sweeping generalizations about Millenials and the “slackoise” are no more probative than broad generalizations about “old fart lawyers”; perhaps less so.

    On grades, I’m for eliminating them altogether, not because they cause unhappiness but because for a variety of reasons they tend to inhibit pedagogical success rather than document it. To me, the Cs aren’t the problem but the As. If everything was pass-fail, evaluated qualitatively rather than quantitatively, perhaps those law students who’ve been “over-achievers since toddlerdom” might not be so puffed up that their first failure brings them to a zombie-like state. With qualitative assessments, even if their work was better than that of their peers, somebody would still be telling them how they could improve instead of just saying, “You’re the best.” Besides, when was the last time (if ever) anyone asked about your school grades in the workplace? They don’t matter in the real world and they shouldn’t matter so much in school.

    1. SHG Post author

      Scene: Defendant being led away in cuffs after lawyer failed to file motion

      Defendant: What happened, man? You said you would take care of me? How could you blow it?

      Lawyer: Well, little Bobby had a soccer game, and he won so we all went out for ice cream afterward. Hey, you understand that Bobby’s my boy and he has to come first, right? Oh, and then Suzy had some sort of fight with her boyfriend and so we talked about it for a while, and then I was beat, so I went to sleep. What a day!

      Defendant: But…[inside door to lockup, big door closing] come in and talk to me.

      Lawyer: I really want to, but I’ve got lunch with my buds from school and I’m already running late. Hey, I’m sorry I blew it for you, really, but 20 years goes by in no time, and besides, I couldn’t miss Bobby’s soccer game. It was really important to me. You’ll be fine.

      Defendant: But…[door slams shut].

      That’s why I’m not a fan of work/life balance. Lawyers assume a duty beyond what makes them happy, a responsibility that doesn’t allow for neglecting clients when it’s inconvenient with the happier parts of their lives. Non-lawyers can’t understand that duty, until they need their lawyer to be there for them. Only then do they realize.

  2. AP

    Reading your post I was reminded of “The Wall of Gaylord” scene from Meet the Fockers

    Jack: Oh, I didn’t know they made ninth place ribbons.

    Bernie: Oh, Jack, they got them all the way up to 10th place.

  3. AH

    What I tell law students who ask about “work-life balance” is that if they are looking for what they consider to be work-life balance (ie. not working any evenings or weekends) they picked the wrong profession.

    My biggest problem with millenials is that they fail to realize is that their work-life balance comes with trade-offs. If you want to work less, if you don’t want to take on the hard work because it might infringe on your leisure time, if you’re not prepared to put the time into learning and gaining experience, you also need to expect less in return. Less in credibility, in regard, in remuneration, in validation, etc. Somehow millenials don’t seem to have that understanding.

    (full disclosure: while I’m not a millenial, I did come of age at the front end of the “you can be anything” parenting style. I remember realizing how dumb that was even when I was a child and telling my mom it wasn’t true, because not everyone could be an astronaut or a professional athlete.)

  4. Soie Enflammé

    There is a phrase for this in Economics: opportunity costs. The time, money, or effort spent to achieve goal B means you no longer have that time, money, or effort for goal A. No amount of wishful thinking, or back patting can make opportunity costs go away.

  5. Jordan Rushie

    Ah, truly the future of law. At the end of trial, both sides win and the jury tells the lawyers what a great job everyone did.

    The lawyers then go and blog about how litigation and trial is a self-empowering, existential journey.

  6. Jordan Rushie

    “They are happy to get the work done, they just don’t see why it has to be done between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.”

    Um, the courts are usually open between 9-5. And if you’re in court all day, when do you find the time to prepare, write motions, and do all the other stuff with a trial practice?


    Or I don’t know, maybe in the future of law court is conducted in a chatroom whenever it’s convenient for the lawyer. If we could just start around 10:30, brah, because I do yoga in the mornings… maybe 10:45 just to be safe. It’s cool if I’m still in my yoga pants, right?

    1. SHG Post author

      Be careful or Grits will call you cynical, forcing Alex Bunin to firm up his conclusion that Grits is just a grumpy Scott.

      [And a personal favor, Jordan: don’t make me picture you in yoga pants. Thank you.]

  7. Anonymous

    ” he argues that “C” grades aren’t the root of all misery.”

    Law school students that make A’s become professors, those that make B’s become judges,
    and those that make C’s make all the money.

    1. Drew

      Wow, you have some dickhead professors. I’ve had some gruff, rough around the edges professors, and I’ve asked them some boneheaded questions, but they’ve never laughed in my face.

      1. SHG Post author

        I don’t think the prof laughed In his face, but rather laughed at the notion of work/life balance as a serious possibility. question.

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