This Is NOT What We Are Trying to Achieve in Law School

Jeremy Blachman, Are You Having Trouble Paying Attention to This Post?:

“I heard a story about someone at a fine law school that is thinking about starting to take Ritalin (or something like it). Apparently he feels like he hasn't been grasping the material as well as some of his classmates, and hopes that this will help him concentrate better and give him the competitive edge he needs. Or at least restore parity — he apparently says he knows lots of people taking it, and feels like it's not fair for them to get this drug-induced edge, and not him.”

Great. Something new that maybe I should be worrying about. I have no problem with people taking Ritalin if they have a genuine disorder — and know at least one serious person who genuinely believes he does have ADD and the drug helps him. I do worry that the disorder is over-diagnosed, and that some people will shop for doctors willing to prescribe stuff they might be better off without.

Mr. Blachman worries about the morality of it all, expressing dismay

“at the thought that we live in a world where this becomes a choice that people feel an incentive to make. That the pressure to succeed, the pressure to get the slightly higher grade, the pressure to go beyond what you can do on your own — is great enough that someone feels it's worth it to medicate themselves and try to correct for what is perhaps just a natural variation in attention span and concentration.”

Of course, from my point of view it's potentially an even more personal issue: what if I am part of the pressure-inducing problem? Am I helping create a generation of drug-dependant lawyers? I run a tough class, I push people, I demand precision. Would adopting a more touchy-feelie approach be healthier for students? And, just as important, which will be better for their eventual clients?

Perhaps comfortingly, though, as Mr. Blachman describes it, the main pressure seems to be competition with other students. So, so long as I'm even-handed in my pushiness…

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2 Responses to This Is NOT What We Are Trying to Achieve in Law School

  1. Anonymous says:

    “So, so long as [you are] even-handed in [your] pushiness…” and you don’t grade your students on a curve (I have no idea whether you do).

    The fact students are graded on a curve is a much more important factor contributing to the competition than a particular professor’s “work product” requirements. However, in my experience, lots of professors like to pass the buck and blame “the system” that requires them to grade on a curve rather than acknowledge that they can have an impact on this requirement. And due to the fact that they could eliminate the curve requirement (if they were so motivated) there is some responsibility for it’s continued existence. Consequently, they must take some responsibility for the cut-throat competition that results in, among a number of behaviors, students taking Ritalin.

  2. Michael says:

    We have a required curve for first year classes (other than the first-year elective). I think this is a good rule because we run multiple sections and it’s important to enforce equity between them–especially since the grades are used to decide who gets on law review and also have disproportionate effect on things like federal clerkships.

    We don’t have a required curve for upper-level courses, and I don’t use one. I tell every class, sincerely, that I hope they all get A’s. But it never happens. Nevertheless, the grades tend towards either a normal distribution or a two-humped curve.

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