Conversations with undergraduate students pursuing degrees in English, Communication Studies, History or Sociology reveal an intriguing trend in the direction of a growing attraction to the practice of law.
Insight was not out to perform a complete empirical study but in each of the four disciplines mentioned, a number of students confessed to using these courses as an ad-hoc pre-law course, joining them with the hope of switching to the law programme in their second years.
Insight asked one young lady in the Sociology department if she was not enjoying the time in the faculty. “Yes, sociology is nice. But, it’s law I wanted to do at U.G (University of Guyana). So I’m doing this as a pre-Law course.” When pressed as to why law she paused. Then, she replied, “Law is a good career.”
It’s an isolated incident but intriguing nonetheless. Year after year, teenagers leave high school bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to enter the law department, in addition to the adults heading there. They don’t all make it, but oftentimes their hopes are not dashed. They try again the next year. Their enthusiasm is impressive but their reasons for it seem occasionally illusory.
Why do so many young people seem hell-bent on a career in law?
Tiffany Jeffrey, a third year law student at University of Guyana weighs in. “On the first day of classes at University the criminal law lecturer usually asks students why they are in the law department and everybody has a reason, sometimes it just ends up being a frivolous reason.”
Tiffany chuckles as she relays a story of a girl who said she focused on law because her aunt always had a dream of her in black and white.
“Sometimes it’s just a matter of elimination. Some people saw what they did well in at high school and through the elimination process ended up in the law department. Or, people would tell you, You’re good at arguing, so be a lawyer. Or, they watched a lot of Matlock growing up. And, ultimately, they settle on law because it provides a stable career,” she said.
Saudia Edghill, in Second Year at the University of Guyana says, “I do believe that many students enter the law department because they were influenced from a very young age by people who expressed the financial gains of being a lawyer.”
It’s a recurring statement, law gives you stability. When I left high-school, faced with the options of a degree in English or a degree in Law the incessant advice from countless adults was to choose law – it leads to a ready career, not so much for English they argue.
It is true, a law degree arms one with the semblance of a certain idea of a career path more than some other disciplines. Ralph Ramkarran S.C writes,
“The opportunities for newly qualified lawyers are expanding rapidly. Private practice is still the most attractive option. But wide opportunities now exist and continue to open up in other state sector areas and in the private sector.”
Approaching a university major with a career choice in sight is not a new one. Or even one peculiar to Guyana. The UK Guardian, in a piece Do students choose subjects for love or money? found more and more college students were entering fields not for passion but for the hopes of a good job.
But, with the law degree so incessantly seen as one of the most arduous undergraduate degrees by students and lecturers it seems unlikely that someone with only an incidental inclination for the law would last too long at law school. For example, the law programme at University of Guyana is a notably competitive one. Each year sees approximately sixty students entered and at the end of the three year programme the top 25 with the highest GPAs are offered a place at the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad to complete the final two years. It would seem the cream rises to the top, but because of love of the trade or just hard work?
Milassa Benjamin, is not studying at University of Guyana but pursuing a law degree in her first year at a private university, School of the Nations University. But even there she admits: “I am not sure whether persons are driven by passion for the law though or just passion for doing better than their peers and making their resumes look good for future job prospects. I think of those who do well some do excel because they love it but doing well for its own reward is a major part, too.”
If the students are succeeding, though, one wonders if the reasons why are important. Students may be working assiduously in hopes of attaining a partnership at a good firm at the end of the program, but is that such a bad thing?
Jan Ginter Deutsch of Yale Law School in a paper “Corporate Law as the Ideology of Capitalism” considers a number of issues on the relationship between law and economics. Her issues are not the same as ours in Guyana, but if the relationship between law and economics is close, is the lawyer fighting for his client urged on only by economics, an expressly bad lawyer?
The argument has been turning for centuries, philosopher John Dewey contended:
“Economics has been treated as on a lower level than either morals or politics. Yet the life which men, women and children actually lead, the opportunities open to them, the values they are capable of enjoying, their education, their share in all the things of art and science, are mainly determined by economic conditions. Hence we can hardly expect a moral system which ignores economic conditions to be other than remote and empty.”
Lauren agrees that a future battery of lawyers in it only for the economics is not ideal but then she points out. “A carpenter might not love his job but he still has the skill to make good furniture. At the end of the day I don’t have a problem with people being driven by money as long as they do their job competently and justly. Still, it would be a sad future if people just go through the system as is without really looking to see change and development.”
And, perhaps, therein rests the crux. Because lawyers exist in such a public sphere the moralistic roots of their assertions are almost always in question. Students may be flocking to the law department with zeal but if they’re doing well and performing their duties assiduously does it matter why they’re entering the field? Or, maybe we should be worried if an excess of them are not in it for the love of the law.
At the end of the day Tiffany says she is not too worried about the profession she hopes to call her own in a few years. “I think every profession has a few or more than a few people that have become jaded but there will always be those intrepid few that are compelled to excel for the love of the job itself. And even if it’s just one in ten, those few with their hearts and minds in the right place will lead the way.”
Perhaps, Tiffany is right. At the end of the day, those with the vested interest might end up being the ones leading the way. At least, that is the situation one hopes will transpire.