College of Law

by Jinryu

super rant to follow.

So today was my first day doing the “Practical Legal Training” stuff– essentially, the last bit of formal schooling I’ll need to do.  Well, not exactly last when I really think about it.  I still have to finish my final papers for my actual postgraduate law degree in tandem.

But anyway, this PLT stuff is supposed to be the last gate before they release us into the real world of lawyers– after having completed this, then I will have to do a work experience component of about 75 days (which you can normally do with an employer who is paying you a full salary it turns out, so that’s good).  Once I get those 75 days in, then I’ll  be eligible for the “Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice” (aka a GDLP).  Or something like that.

It’s basically a piece of paper that says that I can lawyer.

Almost.

I’ll still need to get licensed by the New South Wales Law Society, which costs something in the neighborhood of another 200 bucks or so.  Yes, I know– it turns out you actually need a hella lot of money before you can make money.

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I’m trying to be positive about things, so I’ll say something positive here.

I’m enjoying PLTs.  It’s very practical stuff so far.  I enjoy getting the chance to practice client interviewing skills, for instance.  Today was the first day of PLTs and already I had the chance to observe interviewing techniques of my peers several times, and I got to try my hand twice as well.

I’m not too impressed by how we have to critique eachother– the problem was that all the criticism was positive. They didn’t tell me anything I could do better.  I seriously doubt that I’m a natural born genius at this sort of thing, so I think it’s more that my peers either didn’t know what to say or they were just being too nice.  Or both.

In that sense, the weakpoint is the reliance of feedback on equally unskilled peers.  It’s a big difference from when I was working for the German law firm, or the Hong Kong firm– my work there was torn to shreds, but I learned shitloads in a really small amount of time.

However, at least we’re getting practical experience actually doing the things– it’s exercising brain muscles that we almost never had the opportunity to do in university.

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The huge contrast in what we’re doing in PLT, versus what we do in university, versus what I learned on the job… it begs a lot of questions about tertiary education in general.

I reblogged something by [InfiniteFreeTime] a couple of days ago– turns out he’s a gradeschool teacher, and has a number of opinions on educational systems.

I’ve always felt that education was important– but at the same time, it is a waste of money.  That statement requires some explanation.

Education is important— but the kind of education we need and the kind of education we often end up paying for are often two different things.

I have pretty strong opinions on this after having worked in several different job industries, based on the kinds of peers that I’ve had to work with, and also based on the clients we deal with.  I’ve worked with and for all age ranges, from children to the elderly.

The things that we need to learn in schools are the things that give us tools to think for ourselves in the future.  Usually when you start off in primary school you have some really basic stuff, and that’s normal and that’s right, because you never know what someone will want to do 10 years down the line– so primary school education is necessarily broad.

By the time you get to high school, I think that the system is starting to really make judgments about how much you’re worth.  I think most countries let you get through primary without holding you back too much.  Once you’re in high school though, it’s sink or swim in a number of different, simultaneous dimensions.

For instance, you are suddenly doing things like chemistry and possibly physics.  I was doing a bit of pre-calculus even.  Certain things like algebra are a bit of a gamble.  Yes, it’s important to understand things like fractions and percentages.  But when it gets on to things like geometry and stuff… well, that’s where I start getting a bit suspicious.

Don’t get me wrong– I love math and science.  I don’t explicitly use much of either of those anymore on a day to day basis, but they were the basis for my understanding of physics, which informs every aspect of my understand of martial arts, for instance.  They also make the foundations for programming courses, which in turn inform my sense of logical ordering and reasoning and things like that.  That stuff turns out to be really important when it comes to making decisions, and working in the corporate world where everything will be evaluated in terms of how it funnels down to bottom lines.

But you see, part of the problem with education is that it’s got such a carpet-bombing approach to giving you options in the future that a lot of kids, and frankly, a lot of adults, lose interest and don’t give a fuck about it.  Sure, they can get some satisfaction from being good at it.  But not everyone does– nor should everyone enjoy it.  You’re entitled to like and dislike what you want.

But if there’s one thing that educational institutions do right is give you a sense of structure in your life.  I don’t mean structure in terms of your education. I mean in terms of the way that it tells you what to do with your day– what you’re supposed to be doing, where you’re supposed to be, and when you have to be doing it.

The education’s contents itself are probably a total mess– subjects that have no relationship to eachother, and shitloads of things you’ll never use in your life.  Whatever happened to “home economics”?  We used to learn how to cook and sew in school.  Sewing is less important nowadays, because it turns out globalisation dumped all of that on Asia and it’s less work to buy something new than it is to fix something– ditto for woodworking and metal shop.

But cooking?

The majority of people I know from postgraduate law school and med school would probably die if their parents disappeared.

Now, perhaps cooking is one of those things your family should teach you– but the thing about education is that structure, the one I was talking about in terms of your life, has taken up a hella lot of time from your day.  Kids aren’t nearly as apprenticed to their parents as they were a decade, two decades, or three decades ago– they’re always in school. 

I’m not sure how or when this shift happened, but that leads to another problem– parents offload a lot of the parenting onto schools.  It becomes more and more important for kids to go to good schools because that’s where kids will get a lot of their formation.

There is no substitute for good parenting, and that’s not because you know any better than a teacher– it’s because parenting is the closest thing a kid will get to exclusive attention from a teacher figure.  A parent is supposed to take time to correct behaviours and bring them up with the kinds of knowledge they need to survive in the world– because a parent has the close eye on the kid, the parent is supposed to notice what’s missing and steer things.

But institutionally, this has become difficult, in a rather viscious circle kind of way.

As the quality of public schools decline, the importance of private schools becomes more important.  Good universities? Ditto.

In sending our kids to expensive schoools, yes, they’ll probably have better chances some day.  But it’s going to cost money– which means more time woring, which means more time away from the kids.  This is assuming that you want to spend the time with the kids to begin with– if one has the money and doesn’t, that’s another story altogether.

So we send kinds to school, they get trained up in the culture of education, and then what? After almost two decades in school, they’re released into the world– with an education that has almost nothing to do with what they need to do their first job.

Now, I’m not saying that learning math, history, geography, English, and such– I’m not saying it’s not important.  But what I am saying is that the thing that every school is lacking, and this becomes more and more apparent the higher up the education chain you go– is practiccal experience in being a functional member of society.

Nevermind job skills– I’m just talking about the ability to hold a conversation with someone.  The ability to dress appropriately.  The ability to feed themselves properly.

If we think about this in terms of Maslow’s heirachy of needs, things become a bit more easily defined.  His basic idea was that there’s a pyramid of prioritisation that describes what we need out of the world.  A the base is the basic survival stuff… food, shelter, clothing, etc.  As you work your way up the pyramid, the needs become less physical and become more intellectual.  So while at the bottom, it was just enough to eat, higher up the phyramid you have things like job security.

At the very top are super intellectual and spiritual pursuits– “self-actualisation” things.  Feeling that you have a place in society and all that.

The thing is, industralisation and globalisation has allowed us to comodotise everything which alters’ peoples pyramids into some pretty fucked up shapes.

Usually you’re suppose to start from the bottom up.  But now you have people doing all sorts of things out of order.  Self-actualisation is happening in social networking, or through wearing brand name clothes. Are you really going to try and argue with me that you need $365 basketball pumps, when you don’t play basketball?  But it’s what we can do– at the expense of spending the extra dollar a day for a healthier meal.

What about people who are all about wellness and try to tell you about all that self-discovery they did crossing the sahara and backpacking across europe? That’s cool shit. It really is.  But then, they get clipped by a car because they never look both ways before they jay walk.  Or they got mugged, because they have no sense of self-awareness on the street to avoid becoming victims.  Or they have no money saved up for retirement, because dollars come in, and dollars go out.

We’ve skipped steps.  Marketting has made it easy to let us know all the things we’re missing out on.  And we’re missing out on tons of cool shit, all the time!

WHat comodotisation has done though is make everyting possible, and if it isn’t immediately affordable, well, we can save a bit and it’s still not impossible impossible. 

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Commodotisation has also happened to our work futures and educations.  The beauty of commodisation is that it’s an added value market– the thing which we’re getting is great, but sometimes it can sell for 1000x it’s material worth because of a social enhancement effect.  For instance– pay between 10 to 20 bucks to see a movie.  How much is that movie worth to you? Whatever it is, it’s worth more because other people are buying into it as well– if you were the only one who ever saw Harry Potter in the whole world, it wouldn’t be all that great. You couldn’t talk to anyone about it because nobody would care, because you were the only person who had seen it.

Social enhancement is funny like that– it doesn’t change the material basis of the thing or event, but suddenly it becomes perceived to be worth so much more.

There are a lot of products and services are like that, but the biggest one on my mind, right now, is education.

Specifically a tertiary education.   My undergrad degree was useless.  Absolutely useless in terms of jobs, anyhow.  Sure, it was good for my interest– I did find it interesting.  But in terms of preparing me for the world? Nada.

Ditto for about 95% of my law degree.

What I got out of my postgrad studies in law was endurance for flogging.  I learned to work hard on stuff that had no application in real law firms.  But I learned to endure– I learned to read until my vision was fuzzy in the wee hours of the morning, I learned to organise my notes for exams to game the finals, I learned to speak up to rob my peers of grades by gaming the teachers.  This is not stuff that the school taught me– this is all incidental of playing the game.  The actual textbooks teach us nothing of this.

So why do we spend so much time and money in schools like this?

It seems that somewhere there was a reversal of educational mentality.

WHen we were in primary school, it was about giving us options, and opening up bright futures for us.

By the time we get to postgraduate law, which is about as specific as you can get in higher education towards really pointing you at a specific career path, we are doing nothing to give you a foundation that will help you in the real world.

The basic fractions and percentages that I learned in primary and secondary? Still use it, every day, whenever I go to buy groceries. Mental math is important shit, kids.  I use it when calculating my timesheets at work, I use it when crunching numbers on a client’s costs agreements– you name it.  Thank you public school education!

But tertiary education?

How in the hell did I spend over $100k in tuition?  Why has this education so bankrupted me that I spent three years– THREE YEARS– borrowing all my textbooks from libraries because I couldn’t afford to buy them?  Why are you telling me that this education is important when it has done almost nothing to help me in law firms?

This has happened because privitisation has hit upper levels of education.  It’s the effect of capitalism.  Competition doesn’t necessarily improve the product– it encourages you to innovate to improve profitability, and that’s where the disconnect starts.

You see, yes, people will only buy it if it’s a good product.  But remember that social enhancement stuff I talked about– you can always make people think it’s worth more than it really is if you get enough people onboard.

Instead of producing a better product, what we have done is generate demand for the image of higher education– and somehow, we have extended education by another 4, 5, 6 or more years, while we’re ony learning less than a year’s worth of actual practical life lessons and career skills that we would get if only someone would mentor us.

We have fallen into a trap.

We’ve bought into the cult of higher education.

But the employers have bought it too– so they won’t hire you, no matter how much promise, no matter how much intelligence or hard workingness you have in your bones– unless you have this piece of paper that says that you endured all of this.

This is not making us smarter.  It is a race to the bottom that is saddling students with outrageous student loans to go through an unnecesary process.

I hope I one day work as a lawyer and make a lot of money– because I spent a lot of money to get here, and because I need to pay it back.  I can’t turn back at this point.

But if I could rewind things– I might just have spent a tenth of what I did, and saved myself a bit short a decade of extra schooling, and become a carpenter in trade school instead.

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That being said, I did say I was trying to be more positive, right?

Given what the game is, I’m good at the game.  I’ve been paying for a long time.  All I need is a chance– an initial, real paying solicitor’s job– and then I’m set.

This is one of those games where you realised about half way through that it’s not all that fun sometimes, and that maybe the reason why you go through with it, despite what you know will be the emptiness at the end of it, is because you’ve already invested so much time in it that you don’t want to just abort


halfway.  Granted, my situation is a bit different because, unlike a lot of other people in my current stage, I actually cannot afford to quit due to debts.

But I can say, I am good at this game.   And yes, I enjoy it.  I enjoy the fact that I was good at law school.  I enjoy the PLT that I’m doing right now.

I just wish it didn’t cost much.  I bought into it, you see.  I saw all the marketing of the lifestyle of a lawyer.  It’s amazing shit, really.  I bought into it.

Maybe it will all be worth it when I get a solicitor’s job.

But at the moment, I can’t help but feel conflicted, as if the whole economy conspired to sell me this bull and I gobbled it all up.  And the insiduous part is that, the only way for me to get my happy ending, is to encourage the cycle on future generations.

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