Why law school is like the Biggest Loser.

While watching a little TV on Hulu earlier tonight something dawned on me. NBC's hit show the Biggest Loser and the American legal education system have a lot more in common than it would seem. Allow me to explain.

  1. Limit breaking. The Biggest Loser pushes contestants past their physical limits in grueling workouts. Law school pushes students past their mental, emotional and during finals, physical, limits as well. In order to succeed on the show contestants must confront their fears about working out. They are forced to confront what they believe to be their physical limitations. In order to succeed in law schools students must also confront their fears. Cold calling & advocacy requirements force students to become comfortably with public speaking. Reading assignments and internships coupled with regular daily life force students to work harder and smarter than they believed they could.
  2. The intimidator. On the Biggest Loser that intimidator is the personal trainer. They yell and scream at the contestants. In a law school classroom the professor often fills a similar role. While they may not scream like a BL trainer, they push back. Professors challenge your thinking, frequently backing you into a corner and forcing you to defend your answer. When confronted with a tough question the law student is not allowed to chose "I don't know they're both good options." No, the law student must chose option A or option B or propose an option C. While the trainers and the professors may seem bent on doing you harm they're often actually doing you good, forcing you to confront yourself be it intellectually or physically. 
  3. The yellow line. On the show contestants often face a "yellow line." At the weigh-ins contestants are ranked based on their percentage of weight-loss that week. The lower percentages risk falling below the yellow line. Falling below the yellow line means that a contestant is up for elimination; the other contestants will be forced to eliminate one of those below the line. While there may not be a yellow line in law school there is the curve. Students are graded on a curve and like contestants on the Biggest Loser are ranked according to how many points they accumulated on the test. A law student's competition is the other students taking the exam with them. Many law school professors describe their essay questions as "onions:" the better the student, the more layers they will be successfully able to peel away and analyze. Neither the contestant nor the law student knows where they will fall until the final test. Further, neither knows where they will fall with real certainty until everyone's performance is weighed (mentally or physically). The curve and the yellow line are out of both parties' control. All either can do is work their hardest so that no matter where they fall, they can walk away with their heads held high.
  4. Transformation. The finale of the Biggest Loser is probably one of the most dramatic moments. Contestants that were formerly morbidly obese make a grand entrance as healthy, fit individuals. They walk in with their heads held high. All the world can see the physical results that hard work has created. For the law student the grand finale isn't really graduation. It's the day they pass the bar exam. On that day the reward of their hard work is realized. And like the Biggest Loser contestant the law student, now a lawyer, has undergone a dramatic transformation. While there may not be a physical manifestation there is still a transformation. The lawyer has been re-molded to think like a lawyer. Their entire view of the world and themselves has undergone a dramatic realignment during the past three years. Like a finalist on the Biggest Loser the triumphant new lawyer enters the world a totally new person. Their lives are never the same again. 
  5. Elimination. Not everyone makes it through either experience. By nature both are in fact designed to eliminate all but the strongest. While law students aren't voted off like contestants on the Biggest Loser, they are eliminated especially following the first year of law school. Some fail out, some drop out. And like the eliminated contestants, they aren't failures even though they were not successful in this one arena. 
  6. Starting point. When a contestant walks away from the Biggest Loser finale their journey is far from over. Their time at the ranch is only a starting point. It's a place where they will un-learn and re-learn everything they think about health and themselves. Reality waits beyond the stage doors at the finale. When a law student walks off the stage at graduation their journey is likewise far from over. Their time in law school is only a starting point. And like the contestant, the law student must un-learn and re-learn the way they think about the world and themselves. Similarly both journeys are only temporary.
  7. Controversy. The Biggest Loser's methodology is rather controversial but then we all knew that. As it turns out, so is law school's methodology. Medical students must undergo a period of residency in order to graduate. During this time they practice medicine, albeit in a supervised fashion. The bottom line is, they aren't just studying in a classroom. They're out their applying those skills in a real life setting. Law school has no equivalent requirement. Sure the law student typically interns but a summer or even a part time internship can only prepare you so much. Many new lawyers find themselves woefully unprepared for some of the challenges that come with being an attorney. As a result, many have challenged the long-standing tradition of American legal education calling instead for more of an apprenticeship model of education. Much like the Biggest Loser, the legal education system remains largely unchanged despite cries against it. 
No the Biggest Loser and law school are not the same thing. But they do have a little something in common.

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