New Students: Avert Your Gaze!

Paper ChaseI know most of you reading this have just been admitted to the Boston University School of Law Class of 2011. Congratulations are in order, but so is one very important warning, no matter what school you attend next year:

Do not, under any circumstances, watch The Paper Chase.

Some of you may not have even heard of this 1973 “gem” but believe me, the first thing most lawyers over 30 will ask you as soon as you tell them you are about to start law school is “Have you seen The Paper Chase? It was one of my FAVORITE law school movies!” Here’s a summation of the plot: law students come from across the country to go to Harvard Law School, they have miserable lives, professors are old and cranky, and the social dynamics in a competitive environment drive people to new extremes. An episode of “The Hills” is less predictable.

I’m adamant about this position for three reasons. First, watching The Paper Chase does not give you a sudden idea of what to expect in law school. No movie can accomplish this goal. It would be like watching Armageddon and deciding you knew what to expect in your future career as an astronaut. This leads me to my second point: this movie is over 35 years old. It gives little, if any, illumination to how a modern law school is run or operated, or what is that modern law students do. Would you read a computer science textbook from 1985 to fix your laptop’s DVD player? Half of the struggle for these people is whether to take the time to reserve a typewriter and a “copy machine” to distribute their outlines.

Finally, and most importantly, putting too much faith into The Paper Chase forces you to brace for the worst and inserts old, hackneyed stereotypes into your future experience as a law student. You start getting the idea that all of your classmates are plotting your demise, all of your professors are grizzled old men bent on destroying your soul, any job worth having is in New York, and every woman in Boston is a daughter of one of your professors. While I wouldn’t underestimate the virility of the BU Law faculty, it is more important to come into law school with an open perspective and allow the people around you the privilege of a fair first impression. Don’t let your experience be painted early on by an overrated movie focused on the pain of the process.

If you have to, read the book. It’s a quick and easy read, it’s better written, and you can get people to stop asking you about the movie if you can tell them who Professor Kingsfield is. In the meantime, try to get over to the local megaplex a few times before law school – it may be a while until you see a quality movie again.