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April 03, 2007

Finishing Up at a Liberal Arts Finishing School

"Take It From Me"
By Bria LaSalle

As the only graduating member of the RG editorial staff, I have the sole privilege of penning a “So Long, and Thanks For All The Pizza” column. It occurs to me that this situation cuts into a solid good-bad dichotomy. The good: our faithful RG readers only have to suffer through one page of 3L nostalgia. The bad: I bear full responsibility for providing such nostalgia to those who are so inclined to enjoy it. As I am not generally given to shmoopy bouts of glowing nostalgia, there’s a substantial risk that anything I say will be so overly precious that level-headed readers will vomit slightly in their mouths upon first read.

But I’ll do my best.

In the months before I came to Michigan, before I began what others affectionately named “liberal arts finishing school,” I had many conversations with friends and coworkers that seemed to take the inevitable turn to law school’s giant, awe-inspiring price tag. Most of them had not contemplated committing to a $150,000+ purchase at the tender age of 24, so it soon became the conversation gap-filler, mostly supplanting the traditional weather and Astro’s talk that abounds in a Houston July. Many of them knew I chose Michigan over a few far cheaper options; they were frequently overcome by the temptation to ask “will it be worth it?”

Today I look back at the past three years to see what I got for my money; call it my review of the Law School credit card statement. In a few months, I’ll have a fancy piece of paper that will represent the totality of my tuition spending to some. I think the value lies more in the intangibles, and I think some of them have already proven to produce excellent dividends.

The obvious intangibles barely merit mention; naturally, three years of sharing classrooms with brilliant, articulate, shrewd, funny, imaginative, and challenging peers under the talented leadership of our stellar faculty is essentially priceless. But this is the set of goods we all knew we would receive in exchange for our money. It’s the other stuff, the things we can’t quite capture in a brochure, that have made this whole expensive ride “worth it.”

So what did I get?

On May 5 I’ll leave the Law School with the following: several hundred pounds of well-loved (and well-hated) books; a bizarre but undeniable love of tax policy discussions; a not quite fully-healed broken toe, the amusing but painful reminder of an ill-fated run in with Krier’s property book; a soon-to-be husband; a love of Indian food; a job in an office full of people I greatly like; a GPA that was just good enough to get me the aforementioned job but never so good that I had to worry about “ruining” it; a new religion; a flat stomach; a guilty love of America’s Next Top Model; countless friends; a very few enemies; a food processor.

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list. Perhaps more obviously (nearly to the point of being banal), there are many items on the list that are not, strictly speaking, the direct result of having attended law school. Or are they? When we arrive as 1Ls, it’s easy and natural to compare law school to high school. I certainly did. In the beginning, law school felt like a glorious High School Redux, where everyone had another chance to be cool. Yet here at the end, I can’t help compare, somewhat inelegantly, law school to a giant, beautiful Petri dish.

Deposited in an environment that is highly conducive to growth and change, we run amok with some sort of catalyst for three years and come out anew on the other side. What’s the catalyst, exactly? Each other? Hutchins? The mystique of law school? Perhaps a little of column A and a little of columns B and C? Whatever the combination, it brought me to a series of results I didn’t dare to expect. How many people can say that about their ING account?

My walk through the Petri dish (this simile is really starting to grow on me) exposed me to the people, places, and situations that brought about everything I could think to list as a “benefit,” and countless others. Law school hasn’t been the where so much as the how. It is how I figured out my strengths. It is how I met my spouse. It is how I became a Jew. It is how I came to fully own the confidence and sense of self I always suspected was lurking somewhere in here. Liberal arts finishing school, indeed.

If the question ever arises again – whether it was worth it to spend the money for law school – I will unequivocally answer yes. And then I will smile, knowing the interested party has no idea just how much value I received in exchange for my purchase. That will be fine. Like so many other things, the value of what is said will pale in measure to what remains unsaid. They, like you, will just have to take it from me.

Bria LaSalle is a graduating 3L. Thank you for suffering through her many bathroom-related rants, exhortations of love for Jeremy Piven, and the rest of the dribble that made up "Take It From Me."