In Arthurian legend,* a young knight of the Round Table named Percival once visited a place where a castle, and the ruined land around it, were ruled by a wounded king. While in the castle, Percival saw numerous miraculous things, including the king eating from a glowing chalice that was surely Holy Grail. Percival was amazed and curious by what he saw, but kept silent. His training as a knight instructed him not to ask questions, and instead to rely on available information for decision-making.
When Percival left the castle, both castle and king (and Grail) magically disappeared. According to legend, had Percival asked the right question, he would have obtained the Grail, and both king and land would have been healed. He was later asked, “How could someone appearing to be so successful fail to use common sense and distrust his intuition by not questioning what might be occurring?”
Eventually – after many long years of trials and challenges – Percival re-discovers the castle, and finally is able to ask the king the proper question about the Grail: “Whom does it serve?” King and land are healed, Percival wins the Grail, though many long years had needlessly passed between.
In law school, the question I find myself asking the most is “whom does it serve?” Not because I’m afraid that my legal knowledge will be put to ill use, or because I think I’m on the quest for the Holy Grail (literally or metaphorically). Rather, it’s a question of logical organization: as Nikki noted in her previous post, law students deal with a massive amount of information. Understanding why we’re studying something can help us relate lessons to each other, put pieces in context, and ask the right questions. At a cognitive level, knowing what we’ll do with information can help us to store, process, and understand it.
For some, the answer seems to be informed by desired career paths. If I want to be a litigator, I might focus carefully on my moot assignment. If I’m interested Charter challenges, I’ll pay close attention to constitutional, criminal, and transnational law readings. Still, that’s not a sure bet: UBC Law’s Career Services Office has been fantastic at setting up lunch-hour career panels, but one thing I’ve learned from them is that legal career paths often take unexpected turns. One panelist from an environmental-focused public interest law firm had never taken an environmental law class in his life; another, a federal court judge, told us that being a justice was never his career goal. You don’t always know where you’ll end up after law school, we’ve been told, just as we’ve heard “it doesn’t matter what classes you take” from multiple panelists. While wading through piles of reading, I find myself on shaky ground when trying to figure out “whom does it serve.”
One thing is clear, though: at this point, the information is in great part being learned to “serve” our April exams. Wading through hundreds of pages of reading each week, it’s important to figure out what we’ll need to know for the tests (since those tests, in turn, decide our all-important grades). Practical considerations can be secondary; more than one assignment has edited out real-world aspects. Still, I’m not sure that I’d go as far as to repeat what we occasionally hear from legal practitioners, that “what you learn in law school won’t apply in your legal career.” At the very least, we’re getting a background in theory and knowledge of the law. We’re learning to sharpen our minds, work hard, and hopefully – just like Percival – ask the right questions.
(* Like most legends, there are many variations of this story of Percival and the Grail. This is simply the version I’m most familiar with.)