November 15, 2010 -
Thinking and Doing...Together
Having been out of undergrad for a number of years, I walked into the first day of 1L orientation feeling self-assured. I was humbled to have been chosen to be part of such an illustrious institution; at the same time, I also felt like I had something unique to contribute. Then Dean Post read his convocation speech, where he rattled off the accomplishments of my classmates. I grew increasingly impressed—and increasingly unsure of myself—until Dean Post capped off his list by stating that one of my classmates had been “an advisor to the Korean Ministry of Finance and Economy, the China Development Bank, the China Ministry of Finance, and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.” At that point, I thought to myself, “Wow, do I really belong here?”
Well, as evidenced by the fact that I am writing this, I answered my own question with a resounding yes! And what enables me to say that so enthusiastically—and what enabled me to overcome my initial doubts so quickly—is something I discovered in my very first class: yes, the students here are accomplished. But perhaps even more importantly, they are somehow still humble, open-minded, and willing to learn not just from the faculty, but from one another.
My small group, which is a torts class, is the best example of this ideal. Two days a week, sixteen people with widely differing experiences—and an age range of nearly 20 years—all engage in some of the most interesting discussion about whether cases reflect the "right" principles of personal, governmental, and societal accountability and responsibility. Some of us have more law-and-economics and utilitarian perspectives, others bring in critical race and feminist theories, and still others like myself bring in a mixture of viewpoints. Yet, despite these differences, my classmates are so supportive and willing to engage that I remain encouraged to be a rather regular participant in discussion, not just in this, but in all of my classes.
And what is even more interesting to see is how others, throughout the semester, have subtly adapted their viewpoints, or their way of argumentation, to address what my other classmates and I say. To me, this is clear evidence of the learning process—and it's not merely the professor who is doing the teaching, for even he would admit that in many classes, we sixteen pretty much lead ourselves! (An interesting tidbit: the advisor to the various Asian economic ministries is actually in my small group and is now one of my closest friends at YLS.)
This environment of intellectual freedom is one of the things I appreciate most about YLS. Of course, I would be remiss to say that the students are the only factor in this environment. My four professors, all looming large in their respective fields, have been key to our development. They push us to be very precise in our analysis and language. At the same time, they are also nurturing, desiring of our success, and open to being engaged themselves. Two of them are what I call my "Constitutional therapists”—I tend to have a lot of philosophical questions about the Constitution—and one of them actually sets aside time for lunch with our class once a week. So in a short amount of time, I have learned a lot, and I have built potentially important relationships too. (Another interesting tidbit: my small group will also, by the end of the semester, have spent time with each of our professors in a social setting outside of class.)
At this point, of course, I must attempt to dispel the notion—which I realize I've just contributed to—that Yale is a purely theoretical school. It is not at all. In fact, my favorite assignments this semester have been not reading the many interesting cases, but actually drafting various complaints, memos, and briefs. We've focused quite a bit on these assignments, and to sharpen our legal research and writing, we have the help not only of our professors, but of our various TAs, who have painstakingly read—and given line-by-line detailed feedback on—each of these assignments.
So YLS is full not just of thinkers, but of doers. And speaking of which, there are a wide array of opportunities to get involved immediately in practical work as a 1L. I myself have gotten involved with the Lowenstein Human Rights Project, drafting a memo on military accountability for torture. I have also become involved in the Yale Law and Policy Review, getting the opportunity already to play a leadership role in editing an important piece on asylum claims. Furthermore, I've gotten involved in the publications committee for Yale Law Women, an organization that exemplifies the nurturing nature of YLS: these publications are not works of scholarship, but class outlines, course evaluations, research assistantship recommendations, and other helpful tools for navigating YLS. Finally, I had the opportunity recently to help with Alumni Weekend. Though Samuel Alito regretted that he could not attend his Class of 1975 reunion (darn!), I did get to have a one-on-one breakfast with one of the top arbitrators in the country, who has worked with, among other entities, the NHL and Major League Baseball.
And so despite my initial apprehension regarding my place here at YLS, I have quickly found my footing. I am so proud to be part of such an accomplished, yet supportive class and faculty. I look forward to seeing what my classmates will accomplish in the next three years and beyond, and to seeing what we continue to learn from each other.