The Value of the Value Judgment

Five years is not a long time. Until you’re suddenly roughly five years older than most of those around you. Then it feels like forever.

I’m what those in higher education like to call a “nontraditional student.” Rather than go directly into law school from undergrad, I took a little detour known as a journalism career.

When I graduated from Michigan State in 2003, I fully expected that my formal education was over. That didn’t exactly happen.  And although I was excited to start something new, going back to school was downright terrifying. The introductory paralegal class I took at the local community college while trying to decide if this law school thing was for me gave me a taste, but it really couldn’t prepare me being a full-time student again. I worried that six years of being out of practice would put me at a disadvantage. But after almost two years back in the student saddle, I’m beginning to think that, like the NBA, new graduates should have to wait (at least) a year before entering law school (or any advanced degree program, really).

While many of my classmates have the advantage of familiarity, my fellow “nontraditional students” and I have something they haven’t had the chance to gain–perspective.

I’m lucky that my perspective isn’t thrust upon me as it is with some of my classmates. I’m not married with kids, I’m not working full time and attending school part time. I’m not forced to decide between playing with my kids or getting that report done for work and reading all the cases for class the next day and still getting some sleep. Frankly, many of my choices not to be the most diligent student have more to do with my mental health and getting a good night’s sleep.

But just when I begin to wonder why I thought returning to school was a good idea, I look around and realize I’m in a much better position. As my classmates worry themselves into ulcers over every little thing, I’ve realized that at some point, worrying does me no good. Sure, I worry–more than I wish I did about things I wish I didn’t worry about. But time away from school has given me the wisdom to finally accept that everything cannot be the priority all the time.

When you’ve been in the artificial environment school creates for too long, you’re not forced to or even allowed to make value judgments. Every professor and teacher expects that you have done what they’ve assigned and they insist that the time management required is good practice for the “real world.”  All due respect to the fine lineup of instructors throughout my life, but that’s crap. In the real world, you have to make value judgments, because–guess what?–not everything is as important as everything else. Ideally, you’d like to get everything done and done well, but it’s just not going to happen. And while school provides you with the base knowledge needed for your career, and various hands-on experiences teach you some of the more practical elements, at no point does anyone teach you the value of the value judgment.

Advantage: “Real world.”

I’d like to say I’ve been calm, cool, and collected through my law school experience. Of course, that’s not true. But I also know that when it comes down to it, I’m worrying about what I should be worried about. I might not have a deep understanding of every case I’ve read for class, but you know what? I trust my instructors to help me through that. If they choose to use Socratic Method for abusive purposes instead of using it to make me think (which is what it should be used for), then it’s not worth my time to put in the effort. If I could learn everything I needed to know from reading my case books, why would they bother to hold classes? The same goes for my legal writing papers. Certainly, I aim to turn in quality work, but if I haven’t hit the mark completely, then my instructor will tell me what I did wrong. It’s called learning. That’s what I’m going into debt for.

So, when I’m staring down 100+ pages and a looming trial brief deadline, I have a few moments of panic. And then, usually with my boyfriend’s very helpful reminder to take “one thing at a time,” I take a deep breath and prioritize. Not everything gets done. I’m not proud of that, but it’s true. And I’m fine with that. Ultimately, I get what needs to be done done. What I don’t do is stay up all night reading. And I’m not spending the next day worried that I might not look like a legal genius in class. At this point and situation in my life, it’s not worth all the trouble.

Some day, when I have a family of my own and a job in the legal “real world,” there will be nights when I’m up all night doing work for my clients. I’m certain I will value tucking my children in at night over a few extra Zzzzs.

For right now, I think I’ll take the sleep.

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~ by yellowbrickrodeo on April 17, 2011.

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