I’ve been debating the difference between law school and grad school since I started a PhD program this fall. (I’m talking about the humanities and social sciences — I don’t know if this applies in other fields!) Granted, grad school is a huge amount of difficult and complex reading. Since it’s essentially professional training for academics, it also means learning a new working environment, a new kind of jargon, and a new bureaucracy. What it isn’t — and what law school is — is a whole new way of thinking about and approaching the world.
Now that it’s exam season, and I’m facing the prospect of reading 100 Intro to IP exam answers, I confront again the great puzzle: What is it about the Law that is so difficult for people to “get”? I think I have the answer to that. The Law is hard –uniquely hard, I’m tempted to say — because you demonstrate your expertise not so much by displaying what you know, but by displaying what you don’t know.
This captures at least one aspect of the alternative way of thinking that’s required by studying law: issue spotting. That is, finding and focusing on what you don’t know instead of what you do. The entire 1L year is like this: shaking up your analysis and forcing you to approach problems in a different way.
Yes, grad school requires learning new approaches, new theories, new ways of thinking. Some of this even makes your head spin. But it simply doesn’t require the same radical realignment that law school does. What you learned as an undergraduate applies to grad school — but not so much to law school. It’s like starting a new job, versus emigrating to a new country.
And that’s why I think law school is harder than grad school.