HLS lawyers, 10 years on.

I came across this article – “Who’s killing the Great Lawyers of Harvard?” a few days ago and read it eagerly to find out how it turned out for law grads of the premium Harvard Law School. In a lot of ways it resonated with my experience at NLS Bangalore and afterwards. 5 years is perhaps too early to judge but a lot of the things mentioned in the article will probably come true for my contemporaries as well.

But the article made me ponder whether there was something wrong with law students, the law firms, the litigation system or whether all graduates from all spheres are equally unhappy. From my limited experience, it seems to me that the average young engineer or doctor probably cribs less than his legal counterpart – maybe that has to do with the inherent nature of the work, or maybe it’s just that lawyers have a higher sense of purpose (a rather lofty sense of self) and their impact on the world (as makers of laws, fighters for justice, earners of big money) – which is in turned probably fuelled by liberal arts education (which usually precedes legal courses) and studying legal philosophy, constitutional law, human rights etc. Thus the common refrain – “I didn’t do law to help one evil corporation to screw another evil corporation”. There’s an inherent condescension in that sentence.

Here is an excerpt from an article on Peter Thiel (a lawyer turned technology entrepreneur – he founded Paypal, invested in Facebook etc.). The highlighted part caught my eye.

It’s easy to criticize higher education for burdening students with years of debt, which can force them into careers, like law and finance, that they otherwise might not have embraced. And a university degree has become an unquestioned prerequisite in an increasingly stratified society. But Thiel goes much further: he dislikes the whole idea of using college to find an intellectual focus. Majoring in the humanities strikes him as particularly unwise, since it so often leads to the default choice of law school. The academic sciences are nearly as dubious—timid and narrow, driven by turf battles rather than by the quest for breakthroughs. Above all, a college education teaches nothing about entrepreneurship. Thiel thinks that young people—especially the most talented ones—should establish a plan for their lives early, and he favors one plan in particular: starting a technology company.

Or it could be just that people from elite institutions generally crib more. So take HLS, or HBS or HMS (medical school) (or NLS, IIMs, or AIIMs), and maybe all their alumni are equally dissatisfied with how their lives turned out. It would make for a fascinating study.

Or it could be that just like intelligent people are more likely to be atheist, they are also more likely to be unhappy. So which field or institution you are from does not matter, if you are intelligent, chances are you’d be dissatisfied with how your life turned out (because you are intelligent enough to figure out a) how the world works; b) that you amount to nothing).

Or it could be that it is not intelligence but ambition which makes us unhappy. Ambition could make us unhappy in only two ways – when we are not able to chase it at all (working at a law firm when you’d rather be an author), or despite chasing it, not being able to achieve what you set out to. The latter rarely creates as much unhappiness as the former.

Hmm. I’m unable to draw any conclusions. Maybe life will bring more clarity in the future.

In the meantime, it makes me feel good that so many people I know from my days at NLS have ended up writing books in the last couple of years. There’s Shishir Vaytadden who wrote about Takeover Code, Amit Agrawal who wrote about SEBI Act, Aditya Sudarshan who’s written two novels, and several stunning plays (one of which won the Hindu prize), Satyajit Sarna who’s written the best-seller The Angel’s Share and Madhav Khosla’s OUP Introduction to the Indian Constitution.

I’m sure there’s a lot more to come.



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