Dreaming Within Bounds

Over the past couple semesters, several of my classmates have been dismissed from law school because of their grades. It's heart-wrenching to watch in most cases, because the expelled are students whose past struggles seem to entitle them to be exactly where they are: working toward a degree they've given up so much for. On the other hand, we all have to dream within bounds and accept the rules set out before us.

In a conversation with a friend about a classmate who was recently dismissed, she said: "I feel that they didn't understand that getting a law degree meant so much more to him than getting a good job and paying back his debt. He wanted to receive one of the highest forms of education in Jamaican culture and to be considered an educated professional in the eyes of his son despite the adversity he's faced in his life." I think it was noble of this particular classmate to aspire to a difficult career and to work a full-time job while supporting a child. His dedication says a lot about who he is as a person, and his kindness was a breath of fresh air in the overly competitive atmosphere of law school. And yet, all of that does not a lawyer make.

As you can read in the school newspaper editorial below, the Deans looks at a student's grades over the course of a few semesters as an indicator of his or her ability to pass the bar exam, and how well that student will fare in the job market. It's true, I don't think the Dean's Office factors personal considerations into their calculation. I'm not sure they should. While setting GPA standards is certainly not a perfect method for determining who will and will not be successful in law, and certainly not a great method for determining who should be able to attain the career they aspire to, there has to be a standard. We all have different aptitudes, and perhaps forcibly closing one door nudges us in the direction of our strengths.

The editorial also suggests that law schools should refund some or all of the tuition costs to students who are dismissed because "frankly, they did not get what they paid for." But students don't sign up for law school with a guarantee to graduate; none of us are entitled to the shiny seal on our Juris Doctor diploma. Law students pay for the opportunity to get a legal education - more concretely - for the classes they sign up for over six semesters. The rest is up to them.

There are many things I would like to say about opportunity and the harshness of allowing the faults of one's earlier life to dictate where one can go and what one can do in the future. I think we need to continue to think long and hard about these structural issues that are difficult to resolve.