Everything you need to know about law school (is in Legally Blonde)

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Look at you. You’re pathetic. You’re one month from graduating college and your biggest achievement was making a bong out of half a grapefruit and two crazy straws. What are you going to do with your life?

You can’t get a job with your undergraduate degree. It’s in Communications. With a minor in Communications. How did you do that? Did you even meet with your adviser? Gun to your head, could you confidently point in the direction of the advisory office?

Your father wants you to work for him but that’s not going to happen. He already knows how to communicate. There was that business idea you and your friend had. Of course, you were stoned at the time and all you wrote down was, “Truck with monster in it“.

There’s only one thing to do: Just put the whole thing off for three years. But how? Now you’ve got it: Law school.


I am actually a graduate of Emory Law School.

If I weren’t, would I really have this picture?

I spent three glorious years in Atlanta, was admitted to both the Georgia and New York bars, and practiced law for twenty years.

If I didn’t, would I really have this picture?

And I am here now to tell you: Put down that grapefruit bong and pay attention! Everything you need to know about law school is spelled out in the movie Legally Blonde (and sung in the Broadway musical). These lessons are:

1. Never write a personal essay

In every law school application, they ask for a personal essay. Never write one. It’s a trap.

A whole lot of people want you to think that the purpose of the personal statement is to demonstrate that you can: 1) follow directions; and 2) string together two coherent sentences. Law schools, they argue, are looking for people who can write clearly and concisely (as if that’s something lawyers actually do). And since applying the law means following multiple steps, they want you to show you can at least fake your way through step one.


What Harvard Law School admissions officers really want is a video. It’s not in any way what they asked for, but never let that stop you.

Yeah, I know. It’s Reese Witherspoon in a bikini. Try to grow up.

Look at all that this video shows: 1) This candidate has absolutely no idea how to put on clothing; 2) She just finished a bottle of champagne; 3) She’s so rich that she clearly doesn’t need a law degree; and 4) She’ll really thrive in the four feet of snow and Casey Affleck movies that make up 96% of Boston.

If you happen to be living in a musical, forget the video entirely. Burst into the admissions office with an entire damn marching band.

You can’t see it, but her grammar is flawless.

And the single most important moment in a law school entrance exam is the four minute tap break. That’s why Sutton Foster is now on the Supreme Court.

In a perfect world, anything would go.

2. The only reason to go to law school is love

Both of my parents were lawyers. I grew up in a law office, convinced that law was the language of getting things done. I wanted to provide counsel to stupid people. I wanted to shout, “Objection!” (Incidentally, it’s exactly as much fun as it sounds.) I wanted to defend the Constitution, limit police overreach, and bring heartless corporations to their knees. I wanted to yell, “Don’t tell me what I know and don’t know, I know the law!

But I was a fool. The only reason to go to law school is love. You see, in Legally Blonde, Elle Woods’ boyfriend breaks up with her because he’s going to Harvard Law and he needs to date someone serious. So Elle hatches a plan to prove she’s worthy of him by going to law school, too.

As Laura Bell Bundy memorably sings in answer to why Harvard should admit her:

Don’t say no to a woman in love, don’t laugh when I say love
Don’t think that I’m naive because even a person who’s smart
Can listen to their heart, can listen and believe
So, believe in what love can achieve.

And that, it appears, is that. In the words of the great jurist John Lennon, “Love is all you need.”

Any sort of understanding of what lawyers do? Forget it. Any grounding in political philosophy? That’s for n00bz. Any actual desire to be a lawyer? Shmuck. The only thing that matters is that you’re trying to impress a guy who already dumped you.

3. Everyone in law school belongs there but you

It’s just this simple: everyone in your law school class deserves to be there except you. You are the one and only person who should never be allowed inside any institution that grants post-graduate degrees. Just look at the bewilderment from the other students at Harvard.

“Harumph! Harumph, I say!”

“We literally hate you. Also, none of us are Dave Franco.”

That’s exactly the way it is. Everyone else was president of their class, double Russian Lit and Chemistry majors, LGBTQ activists, and people who look like Dave Franco but are not, in fact, Dave Franco.

You have the worst grades of anyone coming into law school. You have the worst LSAT score. You’re just all around the worst.

Could the truth be that everyone in your 1L class is exactly as terrified as you? Could it be that there are two solid days of orientation just to get everyone to stop shaking? Could it be that everyone is really, really friendly because they’re alone in a new city as well? Is it possible that when the dean announced, “Every single one of you belongs here and every single one of you will graduate,” he was just being a jerk?

My actual law school dean. What a jerk.

Now, I will admit that it certainly felt like I didn’t belong. There are still times I’m a little afraid Emory will call and want their degree back. Ask this guy, he was there. But in my case, I was wrong. It’s you who are not like the others. It’s you who doesn’t belong. It’s you who just got that song stuck in my head.

4. Law students hate pretty girls

Let’s take a look at the legally blonde women who are so reviled by their classmates.

She’s a mother of three, perv.

My God, its full of stars.

What does beauty get you in law school? Absolutely nothing. At best, you’ll be relentlessly mocked for your hotness.  At worst, the students will play endless pranks on you like telling you to come to a costume party and you show up at a formal mixer like this:

Look at her, she’s hideous.

Now for some carpet bombing of truth:

When my father went to law school, virtually the entire student body (of all men) were married. Today, however, it’s 50/50 men and women and almost everyone comes in single. Also, since we very rarely met anyone outside of law school, there was a whole lot of inter-class boning. Just nonstop boning.

Here’s a picture of some recent Emory Law students for comparison:

L to R: Yes; dude; absolutely; damn straight; dude; squinty but sure; dude; dude I might turn for; dude.

These are not ugly people. One of them is even wearing pink! And I guarantee you everyone in this picture has boned.

Every year, we had something called the Harvest Moon Ball which was a drunken costumed rave that was so debauched there are no pictures of it on the internet. However, if you didn’t go home with Velma from Scooby Doo, it’s because you were too drunk to pick her out at the end of the evening.

Law school is stressful. Law students are in their twenties. A keg of beer is pretty cheap and I owe Velma from Scooby Doo a long-overdue apology.

But otherwise, being good looking is the worst sin a law student can commit.

5. A bunch of other stuff

A. On your first day, your law professor will demand you answer impossible questions without sufficient facts and throw you out for getting them wrong.

B. In fact, it matters a great deal what each and every professor says in class. It’s not like there are entire books that summarize every case you’ll be presented with, or that explain every rule you’ll be tested on, or just outline every important point on which your grade will depend. It’s not like there’s no reason to go to class at all. It’s law school, yet nobody has figured out a way to lawyer the system.

Pictured: 1,757 books that do not exist.

C. Your 3L adviser has weeks of free time to devote to you alone and will not in any way disappear right before your eyes like a ghost on the second day of school, never to be seen again.

D. First year law students are given prestigious internships at criminal law firms that don’t involve sorting through boxes of discovery, highlighting the September 3rd conversation.

E. Your 3L adviser will magically turn into a lawyer and junior partner somewhere during his third year, despite not even taking the bar exam.

Oh, it’s Luke Wilson. Because if it were Owen, this would be completely ridiculous.

And finally:

6. A 1L can successfully defend a murder case

In both the movie and the musical, Brooke Taylor Windham is accused of killing her old, rich husband.

Yeah, I know. It’s Ali Larter in a bikini. Try to grow up.

Brooke trusts Elle because they were in the same sorority. Then she fires Victor Garber, despite the fact that he’s clearly Victor Garber, and hires Elle (a first year law student) as her attorney.

Nikki Snelson from the musical. Try to… never mind. Go to town.

Question: Is it possible for a 1L to defend a murder case (other than her own)? Answer: Absolutely. You see, in many states, third-year law students under the close supervision of a managing attorney as part of an official internship through their law school may represent a defendant if both the court and the prosecutor agree in writing.

And really, when you think about it, a 1L is just a 3L who’s two years less jaded.

Of course, some might point to another problem: First years know absolutely nothing about anything, especially the law.

To that, I say, “Ha!” I’ll say it again. “Ha!”

The first case every student reads upon entering law school is called Pennoyer v. Neff. You can read the full text here and revel in the trials of Mr. Neff and the travails of Mr. Pennoyer. But I will reproduce the most important part of the opinion:

The want of authority of the tribunals of a State to adjudicate upon the obligations of nonresidents, where they have no property within its limits, is not denied by the court below: but the position is assumed, that, where they have property within the State, it is immaterial whether the property is in the first instance brought under the control of the court by attachment or some other equivalent act, and afterwards applied by its judgment to the satisfaction of demands against its owner; or such demands be first established in a personal action, and the property of the nonresident be afterwards seized and sold on execution. But the answer to this position has already been given in the statement that the jurisdiction of the court to inquire into and determine his obligations at all is only incidental to its jurisdiction over the property. Its jurisdiction in that respect cannot be made to depend upon facts to be ascertained after it has tried the cause and rendered the judgment.

Find me even one word in the above opinion that doesn’t prepare a 1L to try a murder case. Find even one phrase that is inapplicable to the rules of discovery, declaratory judgments, and demonstrative evidence. You cannot.

Could Elle Woods have defended Ali Larter’s character who probably had a name? Not only could she have, but justice outright demanded it.

And that’s basically everything you need to know about law school. Also, Victor Garber.

V I C T O R  G A R B E R !

Jordon Davis

B.A. Political Science, SUNY Albany - 1991
Master of Public Administration, University of Georgia - 1993
Juris Doctorate, Emory University - 1996

State of Georgia - 1996
State of New York - 1997

Fields Medal (with Laurent Lafforgue and Vladimir Voevodsky) - 1998

Follow Jordon at @LossLeader on Twitter.

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