Can’t Handle Exams In Light of Garner Decision? Maybe Law Isn’t For You

Harvard University is now considering joining Columbia Law in granting extensions for final exams to those students too traumatized by the Grand Jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. :

The grand juries’ determinations to return non-indictments in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases have shaken the faith of some in the integrity of the grand jury system and in the law more generally. For some law students, particularly, though not only, students of color, this chain of events is all the more profound as it threatens to undermine a sense that the law is a fundamental pillar of society designed to protect fairness, due process and equality,”  interim Dean Robert Scott said in an email to law students. No kidding. That is an understatement.  But the law is not perfect and decisions that shake your core beliefs in the justice system will occur time and time again. Hell, I nearly couldn’t work for a whole week when Citizens United  came down.

But these students have chosen to work in the law. That many of them were protesting the decisions leads me to believe that they want to effectuate change in the law. That is a noble and necessary pursuit. But you are not going to get  that done by being a hothouse flower. Social change requires tenacity and a steely resolve. You will be hit with defeat and disappointment every step of the way. No significant change has ever come about without that. It should serve as a vehicle for  motivation not procrastination.

malcolm x - adversity

But even if you do not aspire to be the next Malcolm X, Clarence Darrow or  Ralph Nader, the practice of law itself is fraught with the need to keep working in the face of difficult times. Whether you work for a big law firm that demands thousand upon thousands of hours or a small firm where the work will not get done if you don’t do it or as a solo practitioner, where you won’t eat if you don’t do it, “the law is a jealous mistress” as Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story once said (in 1829).  I have often told my kids, my law students, and many others who have asked me the key to a successful law practice: “Unfortunately, there is no substitute for hard work.”  Believe me, I have tried to find one. But whether you deal with transactions or litigation,  adversity will come into your life and you will have to deal with it and plow ahead. There is a client to represent and, particularly if you are in trial, you must be laser-focused on zealously representing that client to the exclusion of all else..

As an adjunct professor at New York Law School, I was asked from time to time for extensions of time on assignments and final papers from students for a variety of reasons. The school had a strict policy against extensions but even if it didn’t I would rarely grant them. The only exception I made was for documented personal illness or a death in the family. To grant extensions for emotional reaction to societal failures is simply a too mild and weak way to treat aspiring lawyers. It rather sounds like they are running  Los Feliz Day Care instead.  [INSERT: Over-50-year-old’s rant about how soft and coddled this new generation is HERE]

Most lawyers and indeed law students can tell you tales of hardships they had to endure to get  through a case, a class,  a trial, an exam, etc. I alone could fill pages and pages of this blog with similar stories about serious misfortunes that happened to me during my law school and law career; but that is called life. It is called reality. It’s called MOTIVATION. We should require our future members of the Bar to be able to use their anger and frustration to  forge ahead and be driven by these miscarriages of justice – not cowed and requesting a time out. We need resilient folks now more than ever who are willing to effectuate change and correct our flawed system. Students who have their ideals in place and whose strength is at full power.

This is not the time to baby them.

We simply can’t afford to.

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Read more about Columbia’s decision at :



  1. “Harvard University is now considering joining Columbia Law in granting extensions for final exams to those students too traumatized by the Grand Jury decisions in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases”

    I’m assuming you fact checked this or I would attribute it to The Onion. I may have been traumatized by reading it.

  2. These kids need to grow up fast. I can’t believe this is what Haahvard is producing these days. Our system is replete with actual and perceived injustices (I personally find the two instant cases actual but that is neither here nor there). Deal with it. Most of these precious souls will be off to Cravath or some such place so they can stop pretending they will be saving the world anyway. Those that pass on the big $$ and go into the trenches need to toughen up. OK, lecture over. That’s your business.

    There was some cheery news today though. The arrest of Gary Southern.

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