Student Perspectives: Ian Davis


“Striking a balance between purpose and practice is a key to success”

Nietzsche famously remarked: “If we have our own why of life, we shall get along with almost any how.” Never mind the historical uses and abuses to which Nietzsche’s maxim has been put, the point is well taken. In law school, as in life, few challenges are conquered (still less conquered well) without the motivational thrust of commitment to a purpose.

It is then no accident that the law school requires that a statement of purpose accompany your application. Stripped down, I suspect that the bulk of them came in the following form: I want to study law (how) because I want to x (why). Of course, x varies: I want to study law because I want to make a lot of money, or because I want to promote social justice, or because I want to wear a suit, or because I want to vindicate the innocent, or because I want to object in court, or because of some further combination. Whatever your why, I encourage you to revisit it once first year gets underway and several times thereafter. Commit to it. And rely on it if (or when) the how becomes insufferable.

Yet don’t be afraid to revise it. Another approach is available. It takes the following form: I want to study law (how) because I want to study law (why). To be sure, this why strikes one as boring or unhelpful in a statement of purpose. But it should be no less compelling. Of things worth doing, some have intrinsic value, some have merely instrumental value, and yet others have both. What value does the study of law have for you?

Whatever your answer, you’ll have to square it with the tension between the two approaches that pervades the law school experience. For example, sharing work may or may not foster learning for learning’s sake, but it may or may not translate into great exam scores and initial job prospects. You might like nothing more than to explore law and literature but the business law firm that you’re interested in working with may or may not balk at the sight of it on your transcript. However you weigh the instrumental and intrinsic value of the study of law, I think you’d do well to adopt and stay true to an approach that reflects your own considered judgment. Again, in law school, as in life, striking a balance between purpose and practice is a key to success.

Congratulations, welcome, good luck and enjoy!


Ian Davis

Feel free to contact me via email at

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