• Natasha

When Does a Little bit of Law School Competition Become too Much?

Would you ever put a laxative in a peer’s drink just before an exam? Rip out pages from a library book? While most of you would answer no, the shocking fact is that some students do this to get ahead. Sure, a little competition is to be expected in a law school but when does a little competition become too much?

I heard a story last week that illustrated this competitive nature in the extreme. A student had created two sets of law notes, one real for himself and another for those who ask him for notes, with false fact scenarios and case names. Needless to say, those that had relied on the notes hadn’t done as well as expected.

Maybe some students would go this far is because of the high demand for legal jobs. A study in the US has shown that universities that have high graduate employment rates are far less competitive than those with low employment rates. In fact, one of the most prestigious law schools, Yale, has been measured to have the least competition of all law schools. In Australia, and the rest of the world, this already high demand for jobs increased during the global financial recession where graduate positions at some firms had more than halved.

The bell curve system of grading that some Australian universities use may further encourage competition. The system rewards those who are better than their peers and ‘scales’ down those who didn’t do as well. This system makes it less likely that students will work together in order to get the best marks possible because one of them might make the HD cut and the other might not.

Competition is also recognised as a personality trait that many high achieving people (such as lawyers and law students) possess. Many people motivate themselves to achieve certain goals in order to be better than someone else.

However, this is bound to cause disappointment, especially in the legal profession where an adversarial system ensures that there will always be a winner and a loser. People with this personality trait will most likely find it difficult to stay motivated to continue achieving. Thus it is better to be motivated by a genuine passion for something in the law rather than by the competition.

Another downside to competition in law schools is its potential role in the creation of animosity between law students and the development of a cutthroat culture. It damages the spirit of cooperation that should exist between students. We’re all in the same boat, facing the same difficulties and obstacles. Instead of giving each other a helping hand we are further isolating students that are having a hard time. With less competition, there could be the potential for a strong peer support structure.

Problems of competitiveness also reach to the legal profession. Your competitive nature during your university days could come back to bite you. It is a small world in law and there is a chance that an old classmate may be on the other side of a matter (and not be very cooperative with you). Not only could competitiveness create a less collegiate profession, it may also cost you your job. I recently heard about a lawyer who was let go by his firm due to his competitive behaviour that created a bad team environment.

I challenge all Survive Law readers to reach out to others and give them a helping hand (even if you are worried they might do better than you will). Curb that desire to beat every single person; instead try your best and find a passion. The benefits of this are infinite. You could make friends with someone you will work very closely with for the rest of your life, you could be supported through a tough time by a strong peer network or it could even save your job!

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