Making a Good Life in the Law

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           By far the best indicator of a good law school match for you is how well you like, respect, and trust the students who will become your peers and whether you are stimulated by them. We think, when we decide to go to law school, that we are buying a legal education. In fact, it may be more relevant to say we are buying a peer group, choosing the people who will shape our values and approach to practicing law and who, in many cases, will be the people we deal with on both a professional and social basis in the decades to come.

We’ve already discussed how critical relationships are to happiness and how important it is to trust those people with whom you spend your days. But it is also increasingly evident that our peers determine our values and influence our behavior to a degree most people find surprising. In Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler show how our peer groups influence everything from our weight to our sexual practices, not to mention our happiness. In fact, Christakis and Fowler come to the startling conclusion that not only is getting a $10,000 raise less likely to make you happy than having a happy friend—it’s also less likely to make you happy than having a friend who has a friend who is happy! “Network contagion,” the phenomenon explored by Christakis and Fowler, is incredibly powerful and is rooted deeply in our evolutionary history.

So with that in mind, consider carefully the peer group you select. Do the students at a school you are considering have the ethical values you would like to have? Do they see the world as you see it, or would like to see it? Are they, in general (there’s a grouch or two everywhere) the type of people you would be proud to call your friends? When you go on your campus visit, remember to pay at least as much attention to the students as to the architecture. Interact as much as possible with students and ask yourself if they are the type of people you would like to be—because they, in fact, will pull you in their direction for the next three years (at least). Their joys and sorrows will, to a larger extent than you ever imagine, be your joys and sorrows.

The Happy Lawyer