It’s been an honor to write for Impact. As graduation approaches, I’ve been thinking about what my final post should be about. The words have always come so easily when I sit down to write. But for this last one, the opposite has been the case.
As I sit here staring at the cursor blinking back at me, I think of the ending of Superman Returns, when Lois Lane, a journalist trying to summarize the events of the film, stares at a blank Word document with a flashing cursor under the heading, “Why the World Needs Superman.”
While I’m neither Lois nor Superman, the last three years have been an action packed adventure not easily captured with words.
I’ve always figured my last post would be a reflection on my time at BC Law. But writing such a reflection requires looking back on the last several years and putting things into perspective. How do I sum it all up? After telling stories on this blog and BC Law’s podcast for three years, how do I tell this one final story?
I guess by starting at the beginning.
It’s always bugged me that I do not remember the exact moment I decided to go to law school. I do remember a period of time in 2017, when I was working through business school and the wheels began to turn. At that point I was running a media business that I had started, working with Google and other companies in the streaming space. 2016 was a banner year, but in 2017–particularly following narratives of social media exploiting divisions–attention began to turn to deeper problems in the business of the Big Tech companies, advertising, and surveillance capitalism.
I became more interested in the overarching policy questions than the substratal business dimensions of the work. But there was also another driver of my interest in law school that I would only begin to understand later on. It offered a way up.
I’ve written a lot about being a first generation college and law student. But I only began to understand what this meant when I was nearly through college. Growing up in Boston–a city that’s equal parts riven by a deep history of inequity and classism and dominated by its institutions–there was always this inveterate sense of duality. It has become the stuff of satire–the sense that one was either the Casey Affleck “Mayor of Dunkin’ Donuts” townie from the now infamous SNL skit, or the absurdly coiffed aristocrat looking down his nose at him at the end of the skit.
Law school provided a sense of access to a bolder future, in an America where upward mobility seemed to disappear with Bradlees and Full House.
Little did I know when I finally applied to law school in 2019—submitting applications on my laptop from the back of a car dealership while waiting to get new tires put on—what was coming next. Through COVID-19, through the made-for-TV drama of our politics as the nation struggled to better understand itself, through social unrest, through war and peace, inflation and recession, and one unfathomable crisis after the next, things that seemingly could not become worse often found a way to do precisely that.
Needless to say, it has been a chaotic time to study what John Adams called “a government of laws and not men.” The government, its laws, and the people charged with carrying out its work have been more the impellers of an undulating national chaos over the last several years than the stoic and august “law” that generations of law students before ours went to school to study.
Years ago, the most common depictions of the legal profession and law school were centered on dusty books, mahogany-laden offices, oil paintings of judges and politicians, and the rest of the tropes that comprise the time honored aesthetic. Today scenes of unrest, leaked Supreme Court opinions, the chaos of things like January 6th, and the inflammation around the nation’s simmering fault lines have supplanted these images with a seemingly endless continuum of “breaking news,” in which each chapter is more absurd and jarring than the last.
My BC Law class did not know COVID-19 and the many maelstroms of our time were coming when we all took the LSAT and applied to law school. The change between the world we imagined ascending into versus the one we now head off to try and make a difference in is striking.
The summer before law school was spent in this odd COVID-19 haze; at the dawn of COVID, everything stopped and everywhere was shuttered. The only activity available was going for walks. This of course was the time when people crossed the street when they saw someone coming. You’d go back inside and watch the news, which looked like fabricated television news b-roll from an apocalypse movie about a pandemic. The screen would be awash in numbers—infections, deaths, the economy—every order of dire statistic scrolling through the chyron.
Eventually we moved past the novelty of washing mail and groceries and sitting at socially distanced picnic tables in the middle of the street at what few restaurants remained in operation. Then another crisis gripped the nation, following the murder of George Floyd. We all wondered if there would even be a fall semester, if school would be entirely online, or if we might ever even be in person, given talk of how vaccines were at best years away.
I remember sitting six feet apart inside the Chatham Squire on Cape Cod, receiving an email on my phone from BC, finally spilling the beans on the tentative plans for a hybrid fall semester.
By August 31st, 2020, my first official day, we were still in the depths of the pandemic. And in September, like most then 1Ls in my class, I was far from settled. It feels like a century ago today, but less than three years ago we sat six feet apart in East Wing Room 115, masked and with half of our classes online.
When I talk to my peers about all of this, it’s strange how most concur with this oxymoronic notion of law school having “flown by,” but also feeling as if we’ve all been here for a great many years. Something happened to our sense of time during all of this that I’m sure years from now researchers will fully understand. We hear about kids being set back in school, impacts from COVID-19 on the environment, the labor market, supply chains, people’s sense of themselves and their careers, and untold consequences that are still being unfurled across society today. This is of course in addition to the “empty chair at the dining room table,” faced by so many in light of the devastation wrought by the pandemic.
But we got through it. My class got through it. I remember a few nights into that first semester, meeting much of my 1L section outdoors at Cassidy Playground, sitting in a circle on the grass of the baseball field so socially distanced and masked it was impossible to hear anyone’s responses to the icebreakers. It all feels so stuck out of time now. It does not feel like it was less than three years ago, but I’m also not sure how long ago it feels like that was.
I remember parking behind Stuart, walking into the East Wing from there, and entering the first classroom I saw, which just so happened to be the right one. It was just before 9 AM, on August 31st, 2020, and I was sitting down for my first law school class—contracts with Prof. Brian Quinn. On each seat was a BC Law water bottle, a BC Law face mask, and a bottle of hand sanitizer.
I really appreciated the gesture. In fact, that whole period of time brought out so many great gestures as everyone had to adapt to a new reality.
People–particularly the people in the legal business–often espouse some pretty bad qualities. Not being understanding, being unaccommodating, rigid, aloof—COVID-19 necessitated taking a wrecking ball to so much of that.
Former President George W. Bush delivered a message in a viral video early in the pandemic, saying, “…in the final analysis we are not partisan combatants, we’re human beings, equally vulnerable, and equally wonderful in the sight of God…”
The pandemic made us all vulnerable. If there was any silver lining, it was the creation of this shared moment of understanding and concern for one another. Law school, an intimidating proposition on the doorstep of the legal field (which is another intimidating, often unwelcoming domain), became a kinder and more welcoming place.
We spent our first class of law school not learning the law, but instead going over the ground rules of how learning in this masked and distanced reality would occur. With that, we were off. It’s amazing how much of this is just filed away now—a blur, a blip, a bad memory filed under the heading, “Pandemic.” It’s equally amazing how right around the end of that academic year, as quickly as it arrived, the pandemic seemed to disappear. The mask mandate in Massachusetts was lifted in early summer 2021, and while infections came back in fits and starts that required adjusting a few rules, it was over.
But I was still unsettled. Had I made the right decision to go to law school? I simply couldn’t make up my mind about that. I was searching for a sign, some opportunity or event that would reinforce that this was right for me and where I belonged.
A couple weeks into 1L, I got an email from someone named Nathaniel Kenyon. He was the director of marketing at BC Law, and had a question for me. Apparently BC Law had tried in prior years to start up some kind of podcast that explored law-related topics and featured guests for interviews. For one reason or another, it never got off the ground. But with my experience in media, he wanted to know if I’d be interested.
I was sitting in the basement of what was my family’s home at the time about to head up to eat when I got the email.
I was thrilled.
That was exactly what I was searching for. It married my talents, interests, and background—this study of the law, plus something much broader and creative. It gave me a unique opportunity, and a voice.
At that moment, any doubt or hesitancy I had was gone. I knew this was where I was supposed to be.
Over three years, 60 episodes, and nearly as many guests—from elected officials, journalists, law professors, small business owners, and newsmakers of all stripes, we built something.
My goal for both the blog and the podcast, sometimes to a fault, was to shine a light into the places that sorely needed sunlight. To talk about law school rankings, big law hiring, and the brass tacks of a profession and system of local politics that loves to take an airbrush and rose tinted glasses to itself.
People asked me how I found the time to do all those episodes and write for this blog. For me, the feedback and encouraging comments I received from members of the community and veteran professors, seemingly comprising a silent majority that had qualms over the lack of discussion of some typically sequestered but important issues, provided the incentive.
In “What’s Done In the Dark: The Inside Story Of Law School Admissions,” I did a deep dive on the law school admissions industrial complex, highlighting how two corporations, US News & World Report and the Law School Admissions Council have created a truly kafkaesque racket of a system that collides the entrenched ugliness of notions of privilege and prestige in America, with money, statistics, and a model built around deception.
I profiled a woman whose personal story is perhaps among the most sympathetic and qualifying of any law school applicant in a given admissions cycle to a law school, who due to the cold, hard, quantitative reality of the admissions process, was stonewalled by the law schools until an advocacy group brought her case behind the closed doors of the admissions world and helped her get admitted to Georgetown Law.
In the two years since then, the entire rankings system is now teetering, as more and more law schools, realizing the game is rigged, withdraw from cooperation with US News and World Report. “The Unraveling of the U.S. News College Rankings,” recently wrote the Wall Street Journal.
Other stories–like an interview with the retiring owner of local institution Cabot’s Ice Cream, where I used to visit years ago as a little tike with my family–are moments I really enjoyed, and hearing that others in the community also enjoyed these moments made the work of it all so fulfilling.
It was amazing to me, having grown up here, to have not only earned a place in this community but to have been able to play this role in it. It’s something I’ll truly miss, most of all perhaps because it made all the sense in the world.
In that Cabot’s Ice Cream episode, all I could think of was going there so long ago, just a cheeky kid with all sorts of dreams about the future. The craziest part is most of them came true. As I prepare to graduate and set off on this adventure, it’s fitting for everything to come full circle.
I think it would test the limits of time and space to have packed more into the last three years. It has been an exhilarating, rich experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. It’s taken disparate parts of my background and connected them together, provided meaning where there were questions and light where there were shadows. It’s given me a path, a sense of purpose, and a conviction that the struggles made to get to this point, the hardships overcome, and–as a decidedly first generation everything, stepping from one world into another–is part of a broader arc towards a career of service.
So much of the learning of the last three years has not just been the learning done in the legal classroom or in halls of power, but learning about the barriers in place that keep people out of those places—the inequality of opportunity in the legal field, and the graft and iniquity that lives beneath the veneer of prestige and pieties.
Many Americans today have a feeling that there is something rotten at the heart of “the system:” politics, the legal field, big business, etc.
I remember Dave Chappelle’s monologue on Saturday Night Live last year where he referred to one of the 2016 Presidential debates, when then candidate Donald Trump infamously explained that he’d pay more taxes if the tax code required it, but that it would likely never be updated because many donors of all political stripes utilize the same tax loopholes. “No one had ever seen anything like that,” Chappelle said. “No one had ever seen somebody come from inside of that house, outside, and tell all the commoners, ‘We’re doing everything that you think we are doing inside of that house.’ Then he just went right back in the house and started playing the game again.”
Notwithstanding the full extent of Mr. Trump’s remarks, Chappelle’s sentiments on this impression are salient.
For the last three years, I got to spend a lot of time in that house.
What you find living in there, in big law firms and big business, behind prestigious judgeships and elite job opportunities, in state government and in politics, behind the vanity and the narcissism, beneath the Scrooge McDuck-style pools of gold coins hoarded by law firms with record profits per equity partner, behind the straight-out-of-Hollywood super secret missions I got to do with three-letter government agencies, the heartfelt public interest work I got to do with veterans and the downtrodden, the interviews with top law firms I got to have, the public policy I got to help shape, the events and the elbow rubbing, the pomp and circumstance, the staring off into the dark at night to reflect on the absurd and rapturous mental movie of the last three years, is a nation straining to understand its identity, full of those straining to understand themselves.
In reflecting on the last three years, I’ve looked back at all my prior posts. A constant theme found in many of the events captured by those articles relate to what goes on in what Dave Chappelle described as “that house”—how things really work, and the distance between the veneer and the reality—the distance between the Wikipedia profile, the sleek law firm website, the speeches, the recruiting pitches, the rankings, and how the sausage is actually made.
For a long time, I bought into all that—the #prestige and the #rankingzzz. I recall these goofy memories of scrolling through law firm websites on my phone in college when I was considering law schools and trying to calculate what schools the majority of the people went to, so that I might one day join their ranks.
At the beginning of this adventure, the goal was always to “end up with it,” in the words of my dad, paraphrasing the words spoken by certain expert appraisers to the pawn shop owner on the TV show Pawn Stars after having appraised a valuable item that’s been brought in for sale. If I simply “ended up with it,” I figured, then I’d be happy and would be all set. It didn’t quite go down like that.
It’s not that I didn’t “end up with it.” In fact, I ended up with far more in terms of experiences, lessons, and opportunities in the last three years than I ever could have imagined. It’s also not that the journey was hopelessly arduous either. Instead of a jagged, hazardous mountain that was impossible to climb, the story of law school for me became more about the people I met on my way up the mountain, and the things I saw and heard along its escarpment.
In a way, there were few better vantage points from which to understand America during the last handful of endemically tumultuous years than where we were.
Law school contains the most highly concentrated crucible of the most prominent themes in our nation the last several years: elitism, economic inequality, a thorough plunge into the dividing lines of policy, law, and government, as well as a front row seat to the gnashing teeth of privilege and identity in America, in a place where you’ll at times hear individuals’ worth measured in the Chambers ranking of their law firm.
In law school, you’ll overhear a discussion about who gets to be on law review at the same time you’ll read in the news debates about who gets to have a verification checkmark on Twitter. You’ll hear about firms’ diversity efforts at the same time you’ll hear debates about legacy admissions on TV. In law school you’ll hear about awards for pro bono work across from a table where people are raising the point of how stipend recipients should not be excluded from these awards since the awards should honor work, not one’s means.
In law school you’ll hear a sense of urgency about rankings in between meetings with people who contribute so much to the community but whose contributions are not captured in any rankings. In law school you’ll meet some of the hardest working people one could come across in the same class where you’ll find some people who are the beneficiaries of such extraordinary privilege, by birthright, by wealth, or by social class, that they may well be from different planets.
In law school you’ll see bad people get rewarded and good people suffer. You’ll also see amazing things happen: the wrongfully accused exonerated, intergenerational success stories, leaders formed, best friends and spouses meeting, ideas shaped, connections made, futures brightened, and lives transformed.
But being in this front row seat the last few years, while all of the chaos in the world around us was seething, this resonance of sorts began to take hold, where you begin to see how so many of these problems are actually the same problem—that ours is a time dangerously obsessed with vanity, elitism, and prestige, in a world where there isn’t enough to go around, all of which is of course then turbocharged by social media.
The pressures of law school amplify these dynamics—the gravity of which is hard to escape. The trope of even the most altruistic law students inevitably ending up in big law, needing the experience, the credentials, and the savings for their future endeavors, proves true.
The distance between reality and the veneer of prestige, the day to day versus the gloss of Law & Order, Suits, and Succession, goes on.
What you find at the heart of the whole thing is this roiling battle between elite power structures and challenges to those structures playing out in America, emanating through law and politics and into culture and media. You come to see that the pitched national battle over who gets verified Twitter checkmarks or the parochial drama over who gets to be on law review, is actually the same fight—a fight over the answer to the question of who gets to be seen among the ranks of today’s nobility.
After spending three years in the “house” that Dave Chappelle was talking about, you find that few places exemplify the Versaille-like qualities of the “house” of Chapelle’s analogy quite like Massachusetts’ legal and political underworld.
In Jerold Duquette and Erin O’Brien’s 2022 book, “The Politics of Massachusetts Exceptionalism,” the authors write:
“When seniority and institutional norms are valued, violating them comes at a cost. In Massachusetts, if you do not wait your turn, expect revenge, as ‘ego-driven grudges last for decades.’
Former Boston mayor Thomas Menino held office from 1993 to 2014 and is famous in this regard—and representative to many well versed in Massachusetts politics. Boston city councilman Sam Yoon ran against Menino in the 2013 Democratic mayoral primary. Popular lore, and Yoon himself, reports that he was unhireable in Boston after coming up short in the race. Revenge and his willingness to call for change in Boston institutions were to blame, said Yoon: ‘It was subtle, but clear, that the fact I had run on a reform platform left some employers not willing to take a chance on me….I knew there were risks involved for me in running against a 16-year incumbent, but I didn’t know the degree that it would pervade the important institutions.’ He moved to Washington, DC, to find employment. Tellingly, the cold shoulder Boston politics showed Yoon was blamed on Yoon not following the rules…
Not waiting one’s turn and, in so doing, violating the unwritten norms of Massachusetts politics comes with consequences. Revenge is real, and most political leaders abide by the rules even if they personally question them. A current Massachusetts political commentator aptly summarized, ‘There’s internalization of that culture & fear of retaliation that keeps political folks in line & perpetuating it.’
Those immersed in Massachusetts politics and policy too highlight the divisions between insiders and outsiders…Though Massachusetts’ economic engine, Boston remains a small town where a ‘small number of people and families….have a huge say.’
A vocal activist describes Massachusetts as offering a ‘breed of liberalism that believes in progress but wants nothing to change, combined with a Puritan holdover desire to fix all 49 other states instead of our own.’”
When I first read Duquette and O’Brien’s book last summer, I was stunned at its accuracy and poignancy—the extent to which it felt like as much a chronicle of the travails of those “outsiders” who have aspirations to join the legal and political world of our state, as it was an academic text.
Many of my peers and I, well aware of how some of the more connected among us had the inside track on certain jobs and opportunities, would lament the maddening distance between the reality of our experiences in this world, and this world as depicted through the tint of its marketing—a system that presents itself as being built around merit and innovation but is instead for those long excluded from its ranks, something that feels more akin to trying to fight an uphill battle to hew one’s way into the “Inner Party” of Orwell’s 1984.
The distance is felt in the experience of hearing about peers getting the vaunted firm job months before the hiring process was even said to start—a tacit and disheartening reminder that there always seems to exist that inside track for some, and what’s left over for everyone else.
There exist few fora, however, that examine that distance, telling people’s stories, and at times frustrating the dominant narratives.
In three years of podcasts, it’s been an honor and a privilege to try and tell those stories. It made my time in law school so rich, so connected, and so authentic.
It was some of the most fun to go to bar reviews and other events and be recognized by people I didn’t know, have episode suggestions tossed my way, and meet new people. During 2L and 3L, I enjoyed becoming something of a mentor to those below me, cautioning them on what not to do, and which potholes on this journey of law school to watch out for. I enjoyed taking the lessons I learned and passing them on, and trying to “widen the door” of opportunities and notions of what’s possible in this world for those coming after me.
BC Law has for a while been described by some as “the Disneyland of law schools.” As far as I know, nobody has ever been able to track down the exact origin of this analogy. But I do know that the last three years have been at times very much like that, full of some of the best times of my life. There is something unique and something amazing about this school that has been my home, and all of our homes.
You begin to see how hollow things like rankings really are, after you’ve spent a few years in a place, a member of a community and not just another statistic on a spreadsheet.
From the law school admissions process—on the outside looking in, staring up at those steep walls of Versaille, guarded by the cold blooded and inexorable morass of LSAT percentiles, to the other side, is a heck of a journey, one that was most definitely worth it.
BC Law brought it all together. It offers a remarkable blend of academics and culture, of career opportunities and service, of work and play, of pride and humility, of allowing you the space to try and fail, and to figure out what meaning is for you.
My journey, in a word, has been unbelievable – packed to the brim with experiences I never expected. I’ve gotten to represent veterans seeking discharge upgrades, worked at Boston Children’s Hospital and helped advance groundbreaking projects for kids with disabilities, did cutting edge work with the FBI, helped members of the Massachusetts Senate write legislation, and landed a job at a firm that will help me set a strong foundation for my career.
But some of my favorite moments of my three years here did not revolve around any of that. It was what I got to do (and who I became) inside BC Law that makes it so memorable.
Despite the cliches, it truly does live up to the Jesuit ideal of the broader university—of cura personalis—care for the entire person. If you make the most of your time here, you’ll not only learn and grow, but walk away proud of the adventure you went on.
My time at BC Law did not just feel like a transaction, despite how law school in today’s day and age is often looked at that way, as this sort of math problem that balances LSAT scores, school rank, big law placement, and tuition.
BC Law allows you to tap into meaning, tradition, and purpose. So long as you bring with yourself the dedication, the work ethic, and the intellectual curiosity, BC Law will give you everything you need to become whatever type of leader you seek to be.
If you lean into all of the opportunities offered, those big and small, you can truly find yourself here.
It is this combination of local tradition, suburban calm, rich character, and decades of “if walls could talk” stories that make BC Law the place it is.
In telling those stories the last three years, it made me truly feel journalist H.L. Mencken’s famous quote: “I found myself more and more convinced that I had more fun doing news reporting than in any other enterprise. It is really the life of kings.”
My time here truly was the life of kings.
As this chapter draws to a close, it sets up an inevitable new beginning. As hard as it will be to walk away from that podcast studio and the school that has been more than just my home, this ending brings with it so many feelings.
Last September, I wrote about my last first day of school.
There I talked about the beginning of the TV show Frasier, featuring an episode where the titular character and his dad clash over culture and class and home decor, as Frasier’s dad moves in with him as he’s just moved to Seattle from Boston to begin a new chapter as a radio host.
I think now about the ending of that show, when Frasier signs off from his radio program to begin a new chapter, one that is unknown.
Frasier’s sign off to his listeners, flanked in the camera shot by the rest of the cast of characters and family that comprised the story arc who are listening to Frasier sign off one last time, is exactly how I feel now:
“While it’s tempting to play it safe, the more we’re willing to risk, the more alive we are. In the end, what we regret most are the chances we never took. And I hope that explains a little of this journey on which I’m about to embark. I have loved every minute with my KACL family and all of you. For eleven years you have heard me say, ‘I’m listening.’ Well, you were listening too. And for that I am eternally grateful. Goodnight, Seattle.”
Tom Blakely is a third-year student at BC Law and co-host of the Just Law podcast. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.