Yahui Liang ’15, Boston University School of Law

Ellis-LiangDay 1: Law School 101

To be honest, before this Princeternship, the only exposure I’d had to law school was from Legally Blonde. But after spending a day shadowing Professor James Fleming ’88, Associate Dean of Intellectual Life and professor of constitutional law at Boston University Law School, I learned that going to law school is not much different from going to undergrad. The professors don’t cold-call you by your last name or try to humiliate you. On the contrary, they’re extremely patient and willing to help, and I saw many students milling about professors’ offices asking for advice and clarification. In addition to letting us meet his colleagues and the dean of the law school, Professor Fleming also had us sit in on his Constitutional Law class, in which students evaluated the application of the Equal Protection clause to voting in elections and touched upon cases like Reynolds v. Sims (one person one vote), Harper v. Virginia (invalidating the poll tax), and Bush v. Gore. Having never been in a small, 40-student lecture before, I enjoyed how our mentor not only lectured but rather asked students how a certain case could be interpreted in different ways and encouraged them to push back as he played Devil’s Advocate. I think the smaller class sizes and wiggle room given the topic makes law school more intellectually stimulating than undergrad, but also a lot more difficult. (The American Constitutional Interpretation textbook is the width of my hand, heavy as a boulder, and probably just as dense. Just ask people who’ve taken Robbie George’s class.)

Tomorrow, we’ll be sitting in on another constitutional law class as well as a feminist legal theory class taught by Professor Fleming’s wife. Professor Fleming has also been extremely kind in arranging a meeting with an immigration lawyer who specializes in asylum and clinics for law students, since I’m interested in immigration and refugee law. In the evening, we’ll also be attending a talk by Janet Halley, a Harvard Law professor and provocateur—and Princeton grad! For example, she argues against same sex marriage because the rhetoric in same sex marriage cases has been proving how gay couples are just like straight couples when gays should really be embracing their unique queerness.

Probably the most important thing I realized today is that I’ve got a lot more to learn about law. One of the other Princeterns was up to date on all the Supreme Court cases, famous legal theorists, innovations in legal education, you name it, and I felt pretty ignorant. But a humbling experience is also a learning experience, and I asked him for a list of legal blogs to better inform myself. Today was also a little over my head in terms of the slew of constitutional terms and legal theories that I was unfamiliar with, and I hope our mentor doesn’t think I’m disinterested. But I’m optimistic about tomorrow and will challenge myself to ask more questions, even the dumb ones.

Day 2: Law from Other Lenses

“People told me to go to law school to ‘Keep my options open,’ but once you get out of law school, the only thing you can be is a lawyer,” said a lawyer at my Princeternship at WNYC last year. And while I can see her point—some lawyers I know joke that you’ll need to sell your soul to Big Law for a few years to pay off the debt—this Princeternship has taught me that law, or at least the study of law, is very interdisciplinary

Today we sat in on a feminist jurisprudence class taught by Professor Fleming’s wife, Professor Linda McClain, and it was fascinating to analyze law from a feminist lens. If you’re wondering what feminist jurisprudence entails, basically it tries to explain what this law or the rhetoric of this statute implies about the perceived status of women and society’s conception of gender equality. It’s really interesting to pick apart seemingly sterilized legal text and analyze how it both affects and is affected by contemporary social mores and standards.

When we sat in on a workshop for a research paper by a tax law professor, we again saw different disciplines engage in the common arena of law. Over lunch, the tax law professor presented her paper on how the cross-subsidization of charitable giving in the European Union reflects greater fiscal challenges in the EU. To parse it down in simpler terms, a few years ago there was a series of court cases in which residents of one EU member state tried to claim tax deductions for donations made to charities of other member states. The central court upheld that the EU member states had to give tax deductions for non-domestic charities, which as you can imagine led to many problems. (The last thing Germany wants is to subsidize charities in Greece or Italy.) The professor argues that this is just one of the problems of economic coordination within the EU.

What really impressed me about the workshop was that there were all these other law professors present to give feedback on the paper, and these professors ranged from other tax law professors to international law to constitutional law to anthropology/law to feminist jurisprudence, what have you. It was awesome to see how academics from different fields had different perspectives on the paper and all bounced ideas off of each other.

My biggest regret with this Princeternship is that we didn’t get to see more of the disciplines. Unfortunately, the immigration law professor had to go to a clinic in South Boston and couldn’t speak with us, but I wish perhaps we’d been able to talk to a clinical professor as well as more professors from different fields (such as human rights). But I know it being two days, it’s a bit unrealistic, and I can always email the professors who specialize in the areas I’m interested in.

For me, the biggest take away from this experience is that though law school will be grueling, more grueling than undergrad even, I think I’ll enjoy it and find it intellectually interesting. I really like how law professors push students to consider each issue from many different angles and that in law school classes, students argue against the text and against the professors in a way I’ve never witnessed before in my precepts.

I also like how the legal profession is a profession that requires you to use your brain 100% of the time. For some people, that might be a bad thing, but after the mind-numbing jobs I’ve had during high school, being challenged and stimulated mentally is refreshing, or at least it seems desirable from my naive never-held-a-real-job standpoint.

Coming into this Princeternship, I was unsure if I wanted to go to law school or become a lawyer. But after seeing that law is interdisciplinary and intellectually stimulating, I’m leaning more and more toward heading to law school after graduation, even with the slew of pessimistic, “there isn’t a market for lawyers” articles published recently. Professor Fleming’s career is proof that law can be a very rewarding field, and I’m amazed at the amount of books and journal articles he’s published and conferences he’s organized—while still having time to host a few Princeton students every year. Thank you, Professor Fleming, for your patience and for sharing your passion for law.

P.S. Future Princeterns of Professor Fleming: wear purple.