In the law paternalism describes when courts exert a certain type of judicial influence that tends to look after the little guy. We studied it mostly in contracts. A paternalistic way of adjudicating a contract dispute would be to infer and apply more protective doctrines in defense of the party with unequal bargaining power. In a sense it manhandles the result, picking and choosing doctrines that seem to allow the greatest sense of overall justice even though a more literal application of more entrenched contract doctrines might seem to suggest an alternative result.
My problem is that law school itself is starting to seem extremely paternalistic. I'm developing the distinct sense that my academic career is not what I make it out to be, but rather only what the school permits it to be. In earlier months, and even prior to matriculation, I was introduced to and tantalized by all sorts of interesting educational opportunities I could draw from. With some idea of what I wanted my Great Change to be like, and with an eye on where I want to be when I'm done Changing, I set my sights on the opportunities that would work best with my plans. Opportunities where I could really sink my teeth into interesting material. Opportunities where I could distinguish myself in the particular way I wanted. When I considered what I wanted law school to be for me, these were the things I decided needed to be in it. So I researched and planned meticulously. I was not going to wander aimlessly through law school with no sense of purpose: I knew what I wanted and I was determined to do what it took to get it.
It turns out it doesn't work like that. The opportunities presented to me are not so readily available after all. Their promise in a surprising number of instances remains illusory. There are far more hoops to jump through to get them than I had anticipated, there is more competition to obtain them than was communicated, and the criteria for obtaining them seems to have little to do with the passion the student might express for fully milking their educational value.
I knew that certain things would work like that, like journals. Because there is a prestige factor to writing for a journal, there is a writing competition to get on them (which is what I need to work on this week.) But still, such a process seems pointless. The reason journal positions are so impacted is because there are so many students who seek to do them just because they are afraid of not having them on their resumes. So students (like me, for instance) who would like to do a journal to feed their interest in legal writing and publishing have to compete with those for whom there is no equivalent educational desire.
In other instances the competition arises out of there being scarce resources. While this is not entirely unexpected either, there may be more scarcity than there really need be and also far more than was communicated. After I chose certain opportunities I wanted to pursue I went ahead and planned around them accordingly because no one ever indicated that there would be cutthroat competition to obtain them, nor did anyone ever articulate what the criteria would be in order to be judged worthy of winning them. Had they done so, I would have set my expectations accordingly and not now feel so discouraged and stymied upon learning that I can't have them.
In the last several days I've confronted several situations where I've faced these disappointments (although in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I got one opportunity that works out according to plan. Of course I have no idea on what basis I got so lucky while others of my peers didn't.) And my frustration has led me to feel that Law School is a very paternalistic place. I knew that it controlled the first year, making students do things the way it prescribed. It was pointless to resist since the school was going to demand what it wanted and if you wanted to succeed in it you had to comply. I think I managed to go along with that, and I thought without completely subjugating myself. A professor had convinced me to appreciate it, that the controlled curriculum of the first year of law school was a luxury that would not be subsequently experienced again. (Personally, I think I will gladly bear the sacrifice of not having to experience it again, but I digress.)
But what about the other years of law school? Most of the friends who had gone through law school before me hated it. Their souls got smashed and broken down but I always thought it was because they weren't committed or directed enough to be able to assert their own sense of self in the face of all the ways Law School commands conformity. I thought with me it would be different. Surely my stronger sense of purpose would inoculate me from those effects and allow me to protect my education. After all, I'm a little older and wiser than some of my peers, some of whom are straight out of college and who just shrugged their shoulders and went to law school because they didn't have a better plan. Surely my more determined sense of direction would serve me well.
My point about paternalism is that I don't feel any of what makes me me matters. I don't feel I can plot my own course, no matter how ambitious or hard-working I make myself to be. My education is not mine to direct, it's subject to the whims of the school. Even in instances without the aspect of competition, like course offerings, I'm finding the best-laid plans are subject to being crushed by the Godzilla-like presence of the Institution as it stomps through my metropolis of personal goals. It will control what I learn and when, and more and more I see that very little is up to me.
This is amazingly frustrating and surprising. I feel so broken down and anonymous, as if nothing I brought to it with me matters. I feel as though I were a child, naked and raw, who needed looking after because she couldn't possibly have any idea of what may be good for her. While I want to respect the wisdom of those who came before me, surely I don't need to be looked after so thoroughly. Surely Cathy Gellis, in all the ways she is who she is and for all the reasons she got to this place, has some sort of legitimate sense of how her education should progress. But I feel increasingly that I'm banging my head against the wall, trying to make the experience what I want it to be because I want it to be that way, and that it will just lead to failure and frustration.
It seems I need to accept my anonymity and go along with the flow. What law school ends up being in my life seems more a chance of fate than any sort of just desserts. Education itself doesn't even seem to be the overarching value. Passion for learning doesn't seem particularly rewarded either. No matter how much you want to learn, or what you want to learn, you will learn only what law school lets you and on the schedule it permits. At this moment I'm not happy to be giving up years of my life and thousands of dollars to play this game. It doesn't seem like one I can win. At the moment it feels like one I've already lost.