Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Richard Haigh and his student co-host Felicity Radan get together to discuss the in‘s and out‘s of Canadian law school life while attempting to be funny. Sit down, shut up, and don‘t forget to do your readings.

Transcript - Episode 5: Do Your Best, Forget the Rest!

February 3, 2019

Episode 5: Do Your Best, Forget the Rest!


Opening Music “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” Playing in the background.


Adam: No one finds out their grades until after they’re done.


Nora: Do your best, forget the rest.


Adam: Do your best, forget the rest. That could be the Latin phrase underneath all this…


Richard: Yes


Nora and Richard: [Laughing heartily]


Richard: But you’re right. That’s not a bad … and so the grades would be there…


Nora: Interesting.


Richard: …but nobody would access them.


Music Finishes.


 Adam: Welcome to What’s Law Got to Do With It: a lighthearted look at life in law school. I’m Adam Lachance.


Richard: And I’m Richard Haigh.


Adam: And we’re going to be looking at what we call law school reductionism. Is law school special?


Richard: Yeah. That’s the topic. You got it.


Adam: I don’t know if I’ll understand it this week… necessarily.


Richard: Well, did you do your readings?


Adam: No. [Laughing]


Richard: You’re laughing. You’re…


Adam: Well, I did some of the readings like a year ago…


Richard: Oh.


Adam: … and by readings I listened to one of the books, so… I feel…


Richard: Oh you…


Adam: …like I’ve gone above and beyond this week.


Richard: It was an audiobook.


Adam: Yes.


Richard: I don’t know if that counts as readings, does it? That’s listenings. You did your listenings.


Adam: I don’t know.


Richard: [Laughing]


Adam: I feel like I should get praise. [Laughing]


Richard: Ok, well, I’ll decide at the end whether you get praise.


Adam: Sure. Oh, I guess I should introduce our guest today. Our guest is Nora Parker, is that right? And – your last name. I knew your first name.


Nora: [Laughing]


Adam: Could you introduce yourself?


Nora: We spent a year together.


Adam: Tell us a little bit about yourself?


Nora: Well I am Nora Parker. I’m from Ottawa. I worked in publishing for a few years before coming to law school. I left those books for more books.


Adam: Nice.


Nora: And here I am. I’m in second year now.


Richard: I’ve taught both of you, right?


Adam: Yup. Same class. We were at least last year.


Nora: Mhmm.


Richard: Nora got me interested in something this year. Just as, we’re already off on tangents, but the fantasy court thing.


Nora: Oh yes.


Adam: Yes!


Nora: I’m plugging. I just plugged it at my last meeting as well.


Richard: You’re plugging that to all my students.


Nora: I should get a cut of the non-profit. [Laughing]


Richard: Yes. Yes.


Adam: I saw that. It actually looked very interesting.


Nora: Yeah, so the idea of Fantasy Football meets the Supreme Court of Canada decisions. People in the legal community wager on how each Justice or judge will decide: whether they allow the appeal or dismiss it. And then you get to see how your predictions rank up against other peoples’. It’s very, very nerdy. And fun!


Richard: Yeah, that’s it. [Sarcastic]


Adam: Why does it sound so interesting, then? [Laughing] Wait a minute.


Nora: And educational! Mmmm.


Richard: I wonder how many profs are on that.


Nora: I wonder. Because people are switching are pseudonyms.


Richard: Ah… that’s…


Adam: That’s smart. They don’t want people to know you’re…


Nora: But not the top 10.


Richard: Yeah.


Nora: They’re pretty proud.


Richard: Peter Hogg wouldn’t want to be 100.


Adam: Depends. It doesn’t tell about your views because you can’t… you don’t know the nexus between pessimism and their views. They might be, you know, super liberal, but they might think it’s all come down to conservative judgments.


Nora: I did that. I did that for the TWU case. I was in a pessimistic mood and I thought the court was going to rule one way and they ruled the other. Happily.


Adam: [Laughing] But not happily for you, so you hedged your bets, actually, is what you did.


Nora: Not for my… no. Yes. Yes. Yes.


Richard: Yeah. All right, so when we said today’s topic is law school reductionisms, or is law school special? And I think the reading was supposed to be, Adam, Scott Turow’s 1L.


Adam: That’s the one I listened to! I listened to the whole thing.


Richard: Oh.


Adam: So, I’m very…


Richard: I’m…


Nora: That makes both of us.


Adam: I could listen to things very fast.


Richard: Ok.


Adam: Also why I’m into podcast production.


Richard: I’m very impressed because the usual answer’s been, “No, I didn’t do it. I didn’t do my readings.” Well that’s good! You can really participate today, then. So, we could start off. Nora, you were the one that pointed this out: the very first chapter is registration and subtitled: Meeting My Enemy. And what did you have to say about that? Where does that take us in terms of law school?


Nora: Well, that is very silly. I – reflecting on that I thought back to my first day of law school and I was a mature student, so I was more concerned about being old, not so much about being in conflict with people. I don’t know, I think there is a perception, you know, that you go to law school and that everyone is super competitive and it just wasn’t the case for me. I found similarly mature students, artists, former comedians, and really didn’t have that… even the kind of psychological fear wasn’t there. Again, I was more concerned about being old. So, maybe I was just diverting my anxie- social anxiety.


Richard: Where does that leave the professor who’s automatically old. But, I guess I- I have to meet the students, too! Does that have…


Nora: Are you ever nervous? First day?


Richard: About meeting the students?


Nora: Yeah.


Adam: Or about being old. [Chuckling]


Richard: Yeah.


[Everyone laughing]


Nora: We could talk about that. Mortality. [Laughing]


Richard: Let me tackle those one at a time. Actually, there is a bit of a nervous- a healthy nervousness going into class for the first time I’d say, yeah. But, I never think of students as the enemy.


Nora: Mmm.


Adam: Go face my enemy again.


Richard: Yeah.


Nora: I think- but there is that antagonism that does … it permeates either our perceptions of law school… and I remember the first few weeks and everyone was participating and there was a … I could sense a bit of one-upmanship.


Adam: Oh yeah.


Nora: And so it’s hard to say the “meeting my Enemy” is … reflects social attitudes, probably, and maybe not reality, but at the same time it affects people. Either gives them shields or …


Richard: Yeah. Yeah, I think… Adam here is nodding as well, right?


Adam: Yeah, I agree with that. We’re set up a little bit for that because they’re like… you’re going to get participation grades that don’t actually exist, but we didn’t know that. We’re in law school now. They could probably record everything we say and mark us per word or something.


Nora: And I’m always curious. I do like chatting in class and I have to curb it because I always think the person who is not speaking has something really interesting to say.


Adam: Yeah. Potentially.


Nora: And so that kind of … the victory of the loudest sometimes makes the whole discussion suffer. So, how do you balance that?


Adam: I usually realize. I was just trying to sound smart after I asked the question. It was like…


Nora: Yup.


Adam: … Oh that guy! Oh.


Nora: No! [Laughing]


Adam: Ouch. Haha. That hurts.


Richard: Doesn’t it… isn’t it set up, though… well let’s just say the whole “Meeting My Enemy” thing… enemy is obviously too strong a word, but…


Nora: Mhmm.


Richard: … first day you’re given different coloured t-shirts, so you’re already kind of put into a comp- it’s a competition right off the bat for spirit, right? And for Section A, versus Section B, versus Section C, versus D. It’s … There is a bit of that, I think. Again, they’re not an enemy, but there’s competition and that could be healthy competition, but then there’s less healthy competition, I guess.


Nora: Mhmm. And I think again I’ve found a friend on the first day who I’m still friends with who was similarly turned off with the coloured t-shirts and the kind of tribalism that we were part of, and the chanting. I think it maybe attracts a younger demographic?


Adam: I loved it. [Laughing]


Nora: But I didn’t realize how… [Laughing] Oh Adam! Just leading the charge!


Richard: Adam’s the … he’s the youngest!


Adam: I showed up the first day and I was like, I’m too tired now. I can’t go anymore to these events.


Nora: Yeah. But, I mean it does – and Turow mentions this, how you get to know your section. You move through first year with these, in our case, around 70 people and you really do become close, for better or worse.


Richard: Yup.


Nora: And it really only hit home for me when we went to Old Osgoode Hall downtown at the end of the first day. The only day I really participated in in a week. And we got a tour of the building, Old Osgoode Hall, by a now-judge, and he said, “I’m a proud Section C.” And I didn’t know that it was something, you know, that 40 years from now I may remember.


Richard: You still remember.


Adam: Ahahaha. He probably had a good memory.


Nora: Yeah.


Richard: No, but that- it is true! I remember my section!


Adam: Oh yeah! I think you told us that.


Richard: I went to Dalhousie and yeah, I remember my section. We only had three sections, but the same…


Nora: Yeah.


Richard: … same concept.


Nora: Yeah.


Richard: And you do use- you make lifelong friends in your sections. More likely than you’ll make lifelong friends from outside your section, I think.


Adam: Yeah, I still get – even people I don’t talk to from Section C, which was our section, when I walk past them, I get a little bit happier now in second year. I don’t know why.


Nora: Hmm! [Happy sound] It’s camaraderie.


Adam: I don’t know if it’s because I really liked that class. Same as when we came back from break. I was like, last term, the second semester, I do not want to go back. Professor Haigh gave us 100 pages of Federalism readings…


Nora: And I left my textbook in Toronto and I was in Ottawa the entire time.


Richard: Oh, yes. So, you come buy it honestly, then.


Adam: But when I got back to class I was like- I got kind of a positive vibe from being around everyone.


Nora: Mmm. [Sound of agreement]


Adam: … because really, it’s almost like that enemy thing is in all of our heads, so the fact that we’re not enemies is like, we’re aware of that, almost.


Nora: Yeah.


Adam: It’s like everyone knows we’re supposed to be competitive, so there’s a lot of people that go out of their way to intentionally avoid that, which almost cultivates…


Nora: Yeah.


Adam: … you can find the right people that are like… they’re imagining a world of competitive people that don’t actually exist so that we can just be all happy together and have an excuse for it, essentially.


Nora: Yeah.


Adam: And so that’s what I thought happened a lot.


Nora: And yet there are some structures imposed on us that do make competition inevitable, and it’s… so it’s … there’s a kind of conflict between our choice not to exude that competition and the reality that we’re graded on a curve, and those grades seem to matter to certain places that might hire us, and I have lots of thoughts on that whole structure and how it does a disservice not only to the profession. People rule things out who shouldn’t be ruling out certain professions, and yeah, I think grades are coercive along with many things.


Richard: Well, we can get into that in a little bit, I think.


Nora: Yeah. Sure.


Richard: … because that is part of, I think, probably what Turow was talking about, about “Meeting the Enemy.” This idea of competition for grades…


Nora: Mhmm.


Richard: … is a serious problem at law schools.


Nora: Yeah. And it’s not even the internal, it’s just the – sorry the external competition. It’s the internal. When grades are released you suddenly realize either I did well, or I didn’t do well, and my friends did well, or they didn’t do well. And that does something.


Adam: Yeah.


Nora: And it’s kind of cruel to human interaction to create this.


Richard: Yeah, and I wonder if it’s partly because everybody arriving at law school has done well.


Nora: Mhmm.


Richard: Pretty much.


Nora: Mhmm. [More enthusiastically]


Richard: So, suddenly you’re thrust into an environment where, because of the curve, some of you won’t do well.


Adam: Yeah.


Richard: It’s the iron-clad logic of the curve, right? In a sense.


Adam: Right. Yeah. That makes sense. Maybe, but what’s the- I guess the other option is fail some people and then grade us normally? But I don’t like that. I like this safety net thing with the curve.


Nora: Mm. You ride the curve.


Adam: Yeah! You can ride that. [Laughing]


Nora: Like surfers! Yeah.


Adam: I just feel like everyone’s here, you can just focus on learning because no one’s going to fail. And then you just convince yourself you’ll get a job after and then worry about it later. [Laughing]


Nora: Mmm. [Doesn’t sound entirely convinced]


Adam: I got advice on the first week of school that grades won’t matter at all, for me, because I said I wanted to go into Criminal Law, and I…


Richard: Oh. They’ll take anybody!


Nora: [Laughing]


Adam: Yeah. Essentially. So, that was the first advice I got. Now, I’m not going to say it’s necessarily good advice, but I liked the idea of just being… it’s like… I don’t think about it, but I was always the first person to talk about grades with people. And then a lot of people didn’t like talking about grades. But people seemed to talk to me about them anyway and it didn’t seem like weird.


Nora: Mhmm.


Adam: So, randomly I just knew everybody’s grades.


Richard: Yeah…


Adam: I was just…


Nora: You don’t know mine.


Richard: [Laughing]


Adam: Yeah, I do!


Nora: And I’m not … [Laughing]


Richard: He has access to the student database.


Adam: I’m a hacker. [Chuckling]


Nora: Well, let me raise this colleague of mine, also in second year, has reached law school nirvana. He is enlightened. He has not checked his grades.


Richard: Ohhh.


Nora: He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know. And he has a catch phrase, “Do your best, forget the rest.” And there he goes, and he’s one in a million. I think all of us have at least a shred of masochism. Just show it to me. Just …


Adam: Oh yeah.


Nora: But that option, I think it’s fascinating.


Richard: Well, it does exist, yeah.


Adam: If he was my partner on a group assignment, and he said, what was it?


Nora: Do your best, forget the rest.


Richard: You don’t want him on your team.


Nora: You’re out! I think it’s inspired.


Adam: Yeah, that’s pretty cool. That’s pretty ballsy.


Richard: So, I have to say, one thing I always thought about – and this… I’m going to use the term Prisoner’s Dilemma- but I’m not quite sure if it is a Prisoner’s Dilemma- but, I always thought why don’t students get together, since the curve is fixed, and if all of you, all 75 of you just chose not to do anything you’re still going to get the same breakdown grades.


Adam and Nora: Yeah.


Richard: Why participate in this charade? But then, of course, all it takes is one person to say, “If they’re all 74 are not going to do anything I’ll put in the effort and I’ll…”


Adam: Subtopic gunners.


Richard: Yes. So, it is a bit…


Adam: Yeah. [Laughing]


Nora: So that’s the kind of dilemma of collective action.


Richard: Yeah.


Nora: You need a kind of critical mass to do that, and people who want to head to certain professions need high grades, so they just won’t. But I like that. It’s a nice idea.


Adam: We could try that.


Richard: [Laughing] Maybe in your upper years, you can say, “Look, we can band together.”


Adam: If you’re in Professor Haigh’s class right now …


Richard: I’m not necessarily condoning this behaviour whatsoever!


[All laughing]


Nora: Nor am I.


Richard: In some hypothetical law school, this could happen.


Nora: If the whole system were different. And maybe yet it will be. I thought it was very curious. We take a class on ethical lawyering and the question of imposing a curve onto an ethical… like a course in which you need to learn how to engage with your own kind of ethical dialogue, and yet you’re writing for a professor who has their own ethics, and then people cater to that ethics, which defeats the purpose of creating your own compass.


Adam: No comment.


Nora: It seems bonkers to me! It should be pass/fail. “No comment!” [Repeating after Adam and laughing] You know? Anyway, that’s …


Richard: Well, would it be a radical change to make law school pass/fail? And not like U of T… U of T is a complete sham, right?


Nora: Yes.


Richard: You know how they do theirs?


Adam: They have the high pass/low pass.


Nora: They do the Yale Model.


Richard: Yeah, they just change the A to a high pass, a B is a pass, and – what is – C is a low pass.


Adam: Yeah it can [indistinct] you.


Richard: Anyway, but if you just had a pure pass/fail…


Adam and Nora: Mhmm.


Richard: … and you just- I think medical schools do this, some in Canada, right?


Nora: Yeah.


Richard: … and you just say to yourself as a law school we believe the students we brought in are all capable. We’re only going to make sure that they meet a certain standard and that will be a fail, that obviously would be very, very small if any. And then everybody else is the same boat. And let the profession sort out who it is they want for their firm or for their office. You know? I wonder…


Adam: Yeah. I feel like also like a credit/no credit style is more – it’s going to encourage you to do more actual practical work essentially because it’s more of an administrative thing to complete a credit/no credit.


Nora: Mhmm.


Adam: Like I’m in Trial Advocacy right now. It’s more like keeping track of your things and breaching a level of confidence- competence, sorry- and the rest is just your own. Like how much you care about your reputation, essentially, is how much effort you’re going to be put in, right? Because it doesn’t… you could slack through, but what am I getting out of that?


Richard: Yeah.


Nora: Mhmm.


Adam: So, you could kind of separate people just with that, because if you have difficult classes with a reasonable chance of fail, but it’s not expected, because obviously everyone … most people should pass I would hope!


Nora: Mhmm.


Adam: It would be a lot of money for nothing.


Richard: Right, but even if, as you say, …


Adam: Just a prospect.


Richard: …even if there was just a hint that a prospect that somebody… a few people… I would…


Adam: It sounds like… I don’t know why I’m proposing this. [Laughing]


Richard: Well…


Nora: Well, I think it would have to be… the charge would have to be led at schools like Osgoode, because I think the kind of… the reputation of Osgoode would kind of ensure to employers that they’ve received a certain degree of…


Adam: What about no one finds out their grades until after they’re done?


Nora: Do your best, forget the rest.


Adam: Do your best, forget the rest. That could be the Latin phrase underneath all this…


Richard: Yes


Nora and Richard: [Laughing heartily]


Richard: But you’re right. That’s not a bad … and so the grades would be there…


Nora: Interesting.


Richard: …but nobody would access them.


Adam: But you can’t see them.


Richard: Nobody has access to them until …


Adam: They just tell you if you failed.


Richard: Yeah.


Nora: And have to take the course again.


Richard: Yeah. That would be the only thing they would…


Nora: And then the fear of failure would cause people to work hard. And it wouldn’t be competition, but it would be, again, competence.


Adam: Your exam review time would be really cryptic.


Richard: That’s a very radical suggestion.


Nora: I love it. I like the idea of something changing.


Adam: That creative appeal process would be terrible! [Laughing]


Richard: And then what about if the person says, “If I’d have known I’d only gotten a C in this course in Year 1, I would have worked harder. But I didn’t know so I …” But I guess the answer would be, well, just work harder no matter what.


Adam: [Laughing]


Nora: Well, because you don’t… with our 100 percent exams you don’t know how you… there’s no working hard or… You know, you just write your exam and then there’s your grade. So,


Adam: Plus, I’m convinced that if we wrote two exams that they would not be statistically significant where everyone placed themselves. I’m convinced because sometimes it’s a matter of: Here’s eight topics. Learn the eight topics. They’re all separate. They’re not going to overlap all that much. Maybe the odd one will overlap with another. And then you know your good ones, you know your bad ones, and then which ones will be on the test in the end. So that makes- I’m on a whole range of positions I could land on any given exam.


Richard: I’m not sure … I didn’t hear that.


Adam: [Laughing]


Richard: I always tell students…


Nora: You’re a hired gun of grading.


Richard: … do not try to second guess me by not studying for certain aspects because you’ll never know.


Adam: [Laughing] You always have a weak subject.


Richard: I guess.


Adam: Always.


Richard: Yes. Yes.


Adam: Your professor will always put it as the fact pattern…


Nora: Yeah. 


Adam: … at the end of their exam. [Laughing]


Nora: But what I think the other kind of…


Richard: We just know. We intuit. We have ESP.


Adam: [Chuckling] You guys…


Nora: But the effect of grades on mental health as well, or even combined with learning. I find that if people are so concerned about the curve, they’re not loosening up and just engaging with the material, which I think really leads to competence, and kind of long-term success. So that… it could be detrimental.


Richard: You know, as an educator, I… I mean, to me, one of the things that really irks me is that students just constantly asking, “Is this going to be on the exam?”


Nora: Mmm.


Richard: “Do we need to know this for the exam?” And, you know, my… I really have to develop a standard response because my view is you’re here to learn. That’s the first and foremost important thing. Exam is just one way that we …


Adam: See if you did it?


Richard: Yeah. We assess. But, it… it’s not the reason why you’re here. It shouldn’t be the reason why you’re here.


Nora: Mhmm.


Richard: But, of course, it is. That is the problem.


Nora: Mhmm.


Adam: It becomes… Yeah. Everything’s pushing on the second…


Richard: But, if you adopted Adam’s idea or the pass/fail idea, then you’re right, hopefully it would… people would still be interested enough in becoming a good lawyer. That would be the driver, not the grades.


Nora: Yeah. And I think, you know, as we think about law school, exceptionalism, and this whole idea, I think so much comes out of that competitive environment. I mean, you think about medical school and its reputation. It’s hard. You know. And we kind of – again, is law school hard? Yes, but at the same time no. The material is difficult, but I did a degree in English Literature and at the graduate level, trying to parse literary theory.


Adam: Parse what?


Nora and Richard: [Laughing]


Nora: You know. You read two paragraphs in four hours and that’s great success.


Richard: Oh. That’s right. Takes time.


Nora: Takes time, and it’s dense, and you think about the implications if we think about law school as this terribly hard thing that only the select few can do, that impedes us from relating to clients. From helping people how to figure out how to use the law themselves in cases where they really don’t need our help, and/or they can’t afford our help.


Richard:  But, of course, it also translates into the way the profession views itself, which is: we are special.


Nora and Adam: Mhmm.


Richard: We …


Adam: We had to cultivate that.


Richard: Yeah. [Laughing] It starts early! Right?


Adam: Yeah.


Richard: It does start early. It starts in law school and the fact that you, you know, I got into law school. Nine out of ten people did not, and now I’m in this special profession, and now I get to- that’s why you get to bill $800 an hour as well if you get to … It’s all… it kind of falls… It traces a path.


Adam: Through line. (?)


Richard: That’s a good description: through line. (?)


Adam: So, just some words of advice for law students coming into this… I guess a new law student or something? What might you give yourself as for advice coming in?


Richard: Let’s go around the table. Let’s ask each of us to …


Adam: Aw. I have to come up with another? Start with her.


Richard: You do. You go last.


Nora: I have lots of advice- not coming from any position of knowledge. Make sure when you’re making a pot of tea and it’s your final exam of your first term to turn on the correct element and don’t leave a dish towel on the other element. Because I did set a fire in my apartment.


Richard: Sounds like …


Adam: That’s practical.


Nora: And no exam is worth burning your house down. And just be kind to yourself.


Richard: [Chuckling] That’s a… what a piece of advice that is.


Nora: Don’t set fires.


Richard: That came out of nowhere, I have to say. I was going to …


Nora: It came down to lived experience!


Richard: I was about to say … Yeah. Lived experience. I was about to say, just try to be yourself even in law school. Remember who you are from before and don’t let law school turn that too much into a new direction. You are who you are already formed by the time you come here.


Adam: Wow, ok. Well, thanks guys. It’s supposed to be an uphill to mine, but I guess we’ll go back down to mine. I’d say, this is something that I’ve been learning… just to keep yourself inspired if you can. Listen to podcasts, particularly this one.


Nora and Richard: [Laughing]


Nora: The shameless plug.


Adam: [Laughing] No shame. And just stay thinking about law and so it’s not homework, it’s something you want to do. Like I get excited about doing a lot of legal homework because I’m still excited about it. So, hopefully if I can stay engaged with it that won’t go away because it would be a shame for that to be the case, I think.


Richard: All right.


Adam: So, I guess I have this reading list for next episode?


Richard: Yup! So you’ll do your readings, Adam? Right?


Adam: Yeah.


Nora: Always.


Richard: And we want to thank Nora for joining us.


Nora: My pleasure.


Adam: Thank you.


Richard: Until next time.


Theme song “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” Playing in the background.




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