My Race to the Finish

By Dany Horovitz

Whenever anyone asks me what the difference is between an MBA and a JD for a joint degree student, I tell them that an MBA is more much more intense, and a law degree is far more stressful. This summer, while in the MBA program, I probably spent 3 hours everyday on homework, but the grade curve is kept pretty tight; as long as I kept on top of the work I would do well.

Law school is very different. For the first 8 weeks of a semester, you just need to show up to class and do readings (a week’s worth of readings can usually all be done on a Saturday). The last 4 weeks of the semester are spent in a mad-dash, trying to consolidate your understanding of the law, to make sure that you get how all the pieces of the legal puzzles fit together. At the end of the process, you should have a brief summation that you can refer to during the open book final exam.

In reality, summaries are rare brief. To return to an old favorite, in the movie The Paper Chase, one student praises his property law summary as being “800 pages long and fantastic.” To give you a real world example, a friend of mine who graduated and now works at a top Toronto law firm showed me her corporate law summary of 150 pages.

The theory goes that law professors are given more leeway than undergraduate professors to create tricky and specific questions because students have access to all of their notes. In reality, the problems are so many and complex that if you have to check your summary during an exam, you’re already in trouble. The invention of the computer has, I suspect, made law school tougher, not easier. Someone who copies and pastes a case summary from the Internet can be just as competitive in an exam situation as someone who has actually read all of the cases. Competition is fierce, and professors are under pressure to hand out a certain amount of each letter grade that the difference between a B+ and a C+ may be as many as a single multiple choice question (a recent Civil Procedure mid-term at UWO law had exactly that result). And, as I have mentioned before, getting a job as a lawyer is all about grades.

I am not here to criticize the process – after all, with so many applicants, comparing trascripts seems to be the most efficient way to discriminate between prospective new hires. But it also means that the last month before exams is a blur of 12 hour work days, every day including weekends; for those who suggest that real lawyers work just as hard, I counter that real lawyer gets paid for it. Law students get marked, and perhaps poorly, depending on the temperament of the marker on a given moment. Exams are nothing more than legal fiction, but studying for them is more stressful than real work.

Of course I cannot change the way it is, and I will not try. I don’t have the time anyway. Yesterday I ran out of food but didn’t have time to go grocery shopping, so I started eating the basics of food. For dinner tonight I ate chicken broth and peanut butter.

It is currently the first semester of my second year. It is also the only semester that I have at law school before next summer because I will go back to Ivey in January. I need to have a good average this semester, because when you only have four classes, even one bad mark will stand out as some student recruiter look at my transcript. If I don’t get good marks, it becomes much harder to find a job. In a nutshell, that’s why I say that an MBA is more intense but law school is more stressful.

I can’t wait for this semester to be over, to go back to Ivey to that every day grind reading and solving problems on a case-by-case basis. It is intense, difficult, and you have to keep up with the workload; no doubt about it, the MBA experience far more accurately mimics what work as a lawyer will be like. Yes, I can’t wait for this semester to be over, and more than anything else I can’t wait to be a lawyer.

Posted: November 16, 2008, by Reproduced from the Financial Post Executive Blog with the author’s permission.

3 Comments on "My Race to the Finish"

  1. You must be one hell of a fast reader if you can do all of your course readings in one day – either that or they don’t assign readings in the same amounts as they use to.

  2. …they don’t assign readings in the same amounts as they use to.

    My guess? He’s BS’ing. Great way to start a legal career, with a statement all lawyers would know instantly is a lie.

  3. I should have communicated more effectively that its a long Saturday to get the readings done for all four of my courses (with breaks, its about 10 hours in the library) but it leaves my evenings and Sundays free for the first two thirds of the semester.

    I hope that you understand my point is not that I do my readings in one day (that statement was parenthetical at best). My point was that at law school, the workload piles on in overwhelming quantities during the weeks leading up to an exam because you (or, at least, I) cannot effectively start working on a summary until the pieces start falling into place, which happens to be near the end of the course. As this pileup occurs, my stress levels begin to rise dramatically. In an MBA program there is far more homework on an everyday level, but there doesn’t seem to be some grand pileup near exams. It seems to be more organic, and less about memorization and categorization. At least, that is how my experience with the MBA has been so far.

    Thanks for the comment and I hope that you keep reading my blog. Best,


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