A friend of mine has been having some serious problems with inappropriate, harassing student behavior at his school, and he wanted some information on how the law works in this area- specifically, how he could get these kids to see the back of a cop car to wipe the smug “I can get away with anything” look off their faces.

Being a law student, I was a natural person to ask about these sorts of things. Here’s the thing, though: I didn’t have any idea. I live in Illinois! The penal code is state by state! But even if I went to law school in California, I doubt I would be able to provide a quick clear answer to the question: “what crime is this kid committing?”

What I did know was where to look. I dutifully logged on to Westlaw, searched the California Penal Code, and found some answers.* That’s when it hit me: law school is a lot like librarian school. Want to know when Brown v. Board of Education first went to court? I can find that for you, ma’am. Looking for information on Illinois property tax rates? Just give me a moment, sir. You say you have a bet with your friend and need to know if there are any cases out there featuring a party by the name “Humpty”? Sure, I can find that, just give me a moment. Fifty grand a year for what I could achieve with just a Westlaw password and an internet connection.

I know, I know, I’m also learning how to think, and craft an argument, and not crumble when an old scholar destroys me while judging moot court and yadda yadda yadda. Lawyers know that this is what law school does. They expect this. Non-lawyers, however, (and I’m happy to say that most of my friends and family are still non-lawyers- this gig hasn’t completely taken over my life,) expect that because you’re in law school, you will know something about the law. Silly non-lawyers. Did you hear me? WE DON’T KNOW THAT MUCH ABOUT THE LAW. (sorry.) We’d be happy to look it up for you, though!

Perhaps the reason this is not widely known is that people might balk at the idea of paying $300 an hour ($900 in New York) for the services of someone who is, most likely, looking up the answers on the internet (or asking their lowly associate to look up the answers on the internet.) I hope I’m not violating some unspoken code of lawyer conduct by revealing this. You know, something like “thou shalt not break the sacred trust and inform non-lawyers that we are ripping them off, and if you do you will be forced to be a tax attorney all the rest of your days, because tax lawyers really do have some valuable expertise which should make you happy since you seem weirdly concerned about our clients getting a good value for their money so hahahahahahahaha now you’re stuck in tax!” Yeah, I hope that’s not the case, because I REALLY don’t want to be in tax. I mean, would you?


[*] The victims of the behavior, if the harassment would cause a normal person to feel anxious or afraid, can get an injunction (like a restraining order) against him and if he does it again he can be arrested. I think. But don’t quote me on that. Maybe you’d best look it up on Westlaw yourself.

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