By Michael Serota, The Daily Journal
This last Friday, my fellow Berkeley Law School classmates and I stepped across the stage at Berkeley’s famed venue, the Greek Theatre, where rock-and-roll legends such as Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead have once played. We weren’t wielding guitars, though; instead, we received our diplomas. Although our futures are less than certain because of the fragile state of the economy and the legal market, one thing is clear: we had a special opportunity that many of our peers at other law schools did not have. We shattered the stereotypes perpetuated about Berkeley and about law school.
Movies like “The Paper Chase” or books such as “Law School Confidential” feed the conception that law school is something to be survived; that it is like a storm-ridden, fifteenth-century sea voyage, harrowing but necessary to reach the new opportunities of the professional world. But while students at other law schools may very well endure traumatic experiences, these stereotypes could not be further from the truth here. In fact, in my last class of the year, Legislation with Professor Ethan Leib, I actually witnessed one of my classmates shed a tear after realizing that her law school experience had come to an end. You certainly wouldn’t expect that outcome if you read the narrative presented in acclaimed suspense novelist Scott Turow’s “One L: The Turbulent True Story of a First Year at Harvard Law School.”
Judging from the abundance of smiling faces on campus and the warmth with which students interact with one another, you might not realize that we attend one of the nation’s leading institutions of legal education. It is not that the student body does not work hard; our library is filled with the same amount of sweat and determination and our walls are covered with the same portraits of important alumni as our peer institutions. It is just that we do not think learning the law has to be a harrowing experience. Indeed, at Berkeley Law, grades are rarely discussed, and students are more than willing to share their class notes with one another. As I often tell my friends at other law schools who complain about unfriendly classmates or unnecessary competition, as far as the law school experience goes, Berkeley Law is a small utopia.
Words like “law school” and “Berkeley” will continue to evoke a variety of preconceived notions and stereotypes. But if my experience as a Berkeley Law student has taught me anything, it is that you should not believe everything you hear. When my fellow students and I walked across the stage of the Greek Theatre to graduate this month, we did so knowing that we share a common trait with the revolutionary rock-and-roll legends who played on the same stage two decades ago. Our revolution however, is not political or even legal. It is instead that we had an experience that shattered the stereotypes of law school – a legacy that will hopefully make us better colleagues and members of society as we enter the real world.
Michael Serota holds a bachelor degree from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and a law degree from UC Berkeley School of Law. This fall he will begin working as a law clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. In 2012, he will work as a law clerk for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.