By Traci Yoder, NLG Education and Research Director
It has become a truism that many are drawn to law school initially to further social justice, only to end up working in areas of the law that have little potential to serve these ideals. The most common reason cited for this is economic: the average law student emerges into practice with well over $100,000 in debt. However, this is not the only factor. In most universities, the culture and pedagogy of legal education tend to emphasize commercial law over public interest fields and the intellectual pressure of law school undermines student’s commitment to their ideals. Very often students feel very little support within the institution, and a subtle pressure to abandon the political and moral values that informed their decision to pursue law in the service of the people.
In order to combat these trends, the National Lawyers Guild has initiated the Radical Law Student Project, which includes a collaborative Radical Law Student Manual (RLSM) outlining organizing campaigns undertaken by NLG students as well as a growing faculty network of NLG scholars. The RLSM builds on the NLG Disorientation Manual, by presenting an extended analysis of contemporary legal education as well as concrete strategies to change the culture of law school using examples from other students who have successfully fought for improvements in their institutions. Topics covered include the dominant legal career narrative, the psychological effects of law school, teaching and grading practices, barriers to legal education, tuition increases, law student debt,
radical faculty and curriculum, contemplation and the law, starting and reviving NLG chapters, and advice for life as a new lawyer.
Changing the practices, pedagogy, and expectations of law school in order to transform the culture of legal education will not be an easy process. Remember that you are not alone! The NLG offers a nationwide community of lawyers, law students, legal workers, and scholars who can assist you in changing the conditions at your law school. Our experience comes directly from the research and organizing of other NLG law students and faculty, who can support your efforts to make similar changes at your law school.
To learn more about the NLG’s legal education initiatives, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Featured Image: Original painting by Southwestern Law School NLG member Cassady Davidson.