Professional vs. Graduate Education, or, Law School is not Grad School

I realize that’s not news to most law students but it was news to me.

Here’s my situation. I am taking a wonderful Chinese Law class this quarter, it’s engaging, it’s not socratic, it’s a wonderfully lively little seminar-style class that’s cross-listed with the graduate school of International Studies. I love sharing the time with grad students, because not so long ago I was where they are, coddled in the warm comfort of academia.

And I really do miss grad school. Sometimes I look back at the time when I was faced with two paths: continue my MA by taking qualification exams instead of comprehensive exams and begin my PhD – leading to a life of academia, or go to law school and know for sure that only 3 more years of school lie ahead of me before real world non-academic work. Obviously I chose law school, because hindsight is 20/20 and I was sick of school and sick of academia and I wanted something more “practical.”

I realize now I had no idea what that meant. The practical learning I get now is from my (rather rich and varied) externship experience. What I have learned in law school is how to take law school exams. I know that I made the right choice, but the difference between graduate education and professional education has been permanently tattooed upon my brain in the last year and a half. And on days like this, I really miss grad school.

Going off the wonderful high I get from the genuinely academic discussion in my seminar, I approached the professor about writing a long paper for the class instead of taking the exam – this would satisfy the law school’s advanced writing requirement, and would let me pretend to be in grad school and write a real, non law-review style, academic paper. This happens sometimes, and there’s a procedure for it, supposedly.

I’ve spent the past 2 weeks trying to navigate the bureaucracy – and at this point my (sainted) professor and I are so far beyond bewildered about what we are supposed to do, and now, it’s arguable that there is not enough time for me to write the 20-25 page paper (original goal was 30) that I wanted to write. I think I’m getting the message that this isn’t the preferred method for fulfilling the advanced writing requirement.

Don’t get me wrong… I go to a great law school, and I’m happy I came here – and I know I’m still getting knowledge out of the class… I just can’t help the fact that I still feel like a political scientist at heart sometimes, and right now I wish I’d had a chance to write that paper.


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