Dear Fellow Law Students: The Curve is a Lie

The forty-something having fun at law school in this meme is supposed to be me, I imagine. But the cigar-smoking golfer is John Daly. Hard-driving, hard-drinking, ‘Long John’ Daly. He’s played golf most of his life. He still plays golf. Through alcoholism, failed marriages, and personal turmoil, John Daly keeps playing golf. And he’s 56.

Funny thing, golf. Even the best player in the world is going to lose. A lot. And they’re going to lose for one very simple, very human reason. They just weren’t good enough. Maybe the greens were faster than they like, or their short game was off. I don’t know; I don’t play golf. But whatever the multitude of reasons, there’s only one that matters. On that day, in those conditions, someone else did it better. For whatever reason. 

I’ve thought about this quite a bit as we’ve plummeted towards final exams, and as I’ve watched the sick realization of competition take hold and threaten to distort friendship into rivalry. I’ve thought about losing, and law school, and what I can learn from John Daly. And what I’ve decided is…

The curve is a lie. 

And the lie is this: that we are all in competition for a scarce good. As if ‘A’ grades were Elmo dolls or Cabbage Patch Kids at Christmas time. It’s a good lie, as far as lies go. Venerable, at least. Entrenched, certainly. But still a lie. And so I wheel my suitcase of law books through the halls, happy and unconcerned. I’m not stressed about finals, or about my rank, or about competition. I sleep well. And even now, even here, oh yes. I’m having the time of my life. For one sole, simple reason.

The curve is a lie. 

That is why I work hard, study late, and push and push and push. Because I know that you are not my competition, and an ‘A’ is not a reward. It’s a golden apple of Atalanta designed to make you less than you are. My real competition, and yours as well, is someone else. And you will meet her sooner than you would like. Shall I show you? The face of your true competition? Alright then, here you go.

Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

That is our true competition, all of us, and this image should haunt your dreams more than grades in January or the Erie Doctrine. And her name, which everyone already knows, is…opposing counsel. 

I have no idea who she actually is, or what she knows, or how long she’s been practicing law, or a hundred other things that will make her a better lawyer than I am. But she’s out there, and she’s thinking the exact same thing about me. And one day soon, sooner than I would like, we will meet. And my client will lose. Because at that time, in that place, she did it better. In spite of my knowledge and skill, in spite of my drive, I won’t be good enough. It’s inevitable. Unavoidable. And I expect I won’t like it one damn bit. Just like John Daly.

That is why the curve is a lie, but also a problem. It distorts the lesson. We are all of us only in competition with one another as a proxy, a stand-in, for that nameless, faceless opposing counsel. Let’s call her ‘The ideally reasonable lawyer.’ She is the lawyer we would all be when we are at our absolute best. And as far as I’m concerned, that is my competition, the only competition that matters. Because in the end, she is just a symbol, a representation of that all too human fear that I will not be good enough when it matters. And sometimes, I just won’t be.

That is the secret of John Daly playing golf, and of a forty-something going to law school for fun. Our passion demands nothing less than the best we can give it. And what we know, what we’ve learned in the crucible of hard loss, is that sometimes, more times than we would like, our best will not be enough – and that doesn’t stop us. Doesn’t even slow us down. John Daly keeps playing golf, and I keep learning the law. I don’t care about an A, or a rank, or bragging rights. Keep your golden apples, if they motivate you. I care about her, my ideal best, my opposing counsel. 

And believe it or not, I care about you. It may be hard to hear with ears tuned to cutthroat competition, but it’s true. At bottom, at its deepest core, that’s why the curve is a lie. It pits us against one another, when we should be rooting for one another. That is my secret, although I don’t think Long John Daly would agree with me: I want you to succeed. I want you to pursue the unknown and elusive lawyer who represents your own best ability. I will happily celebrate your successes, cheer your accomplishments, and honor you at your best. And knowing you’re out there, working toward that goal, makes me work harder. Pushes me to be my best. Yet, my goal is not to beat you. Ok…well…not only that. My goal is to make you beat me, when I am at my best. So that when you sit down across the table, you will be prepared for someone like me: a lawyer at his able best, unafraid to lose, who practices law for fun

See you in court, counselor. 


Michael Deere is a first-year student at BC Law and a new Impact blogger. Contact him at deerem@bc.edu.

Image of Elle Woods and Legally Blonde is a trademark of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

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