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Epistemological Status

Moderately high. This post is a generalization of my personal experience organizing a law reading group this past year. That said, I know that not everything can be generalized to everyone: please read with a grain of salt.

Why Organize an EA Law Group

Law students, by virtue of their credentials or institutions, are well-connected and well placed to make a difference in the world. 

In the short term, law students who are motivated to do good are often skilled at realizing their goals, especially through written or oral advocacy. They could use these skills to support different cause areas, especially through movement building or essay writing.

In the long term, folks with law degrees have easier access to influential decision-making positions, especially in the U.S. Their legal knowledge also lets them build and run effective organizations, especially when those organizations reach a critical mass.

Challenges Law Reading Groups Face

Law Students’ Stress-road

Law students often follow a similar stress-road. This quip summarizes it: in the first year, they make you cry (with readings); in the second year, they make you stress (with applications); and in the third year, they let you coast.

Because of this tract, organizing a reading group for law students is hard. Curious and open first-year students loathe doing more readings. Skilled and experienced second-year students limit their time to CV-enhancers and soft job hunts (e.g. through networking and cold-calls). Exhausted third-year students just want out. 

Headhunting Environment

Law students are also flooded with corporate bids for their attention. Big legal names will frequently (combined, two to three times a week) host mentorship blitzes, meet-and-greets, and sponsored cinq à septs to scout and attract top students. Career development offices are complicit, offering detailed guides to navigate and thrive within this ecosystem.

This environment competes with and devalues EA reading groups. Big firms’ career options are detailed, developed, and widely advertised; to paraphrase Robert Frost, they are the road more travelled by. Following corporate career paths is easier, clearer, and so more attractive than self-directed exploration. Plus, in this time-constrained and highly competitive environment, any exploration and reflection feels like it’s taking away from students’ corporate career prospects.

Lack of EA Career Supports

There are few established and centralized mentorship and career resources for law students (especially outside the U.S.). 

LPP’s Slack has been a fantastic hub for law-oriented folks to gather and share some job opportunities. But, those features are complementary, not central, to LPP’s main mandate: academic legal research. 

While 80K lists jobs lawyers have the skills for, few jobs require a law degree, reducing lawyers’ counterfactual value. Even policy work - lawyer’s most obvious career option - can be done with an MPP instead of a law degree (more true outside the U.S.).

As such, there are few follow-up options for reading group graduates. Most of the options that are available to undergraduate groups, like picking the right graduate program, are less attractive for law students since their area of study is already a kind of career. The options available to law students could only be acted on later and feature a high risk of value drift. Those options are:

  • Book a session with an 80K advisor;
  • Connect with other legal professionals through LPP or other reading groups;
  • Orient your career towards earning to give;
  • Gain experience for 3-5 years in a firm, then return to see what EA orgs need.

Rarely, a graduate is interested in taking on a group leadership role.

Possible Solutions for Group Organizers

Reading-less curriculums: these curriculums can feature only podcasts, videos, or shared readings to lighten the reading load. Alternatively, groups can host regular socials, where group leaders present on the night’s conversation topic briefly at the start of supper.

Action-oriented activities: these activities invite students to get involved in, take charge of, or create a high-impact project. These initiatives would be designed so that they introduce students to EA principles and offer them opportunities for connection and growth. They are easier to frame so that they look good on a resume, e.g. by naming it a fellowship. 

Invest in Networking: sharing legal mentors across countries or, in Canada, across provinces is of limited use since job applications differ depending on the region. Local groups would benefit from having their own, small pool of professionals who are willing to help students out.  

Further Reading

John Bliss’ article discusses why law students’ switch from public-interest careers to corporate firms. Two reasons he highlights are: (1) students enter law schools with but a vague idea of how law school can help them achieve their public interest goals, and (2) firms’ interview processes sway students, uninformed about alternatives, to careers in firms. He recommends policy-makers offer students opportunities to self-reflect and learn about alternative careers.

 John Bliss, “From Idealists to Hired Guns? An Empirical Analysis of ‘Public Interest Drift’ in Law School” 51.





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