Richard W. Garnett (Notre Dame), Some Thoughts for New Law Students:
There is no shortage of advice, guides, warnings, and how-to’s for people preparing to study law. This fall, around 40,000 new students will show up at the 230-ish law schools in the United States and begin a substantial investment of time, talent, and treasure—lots and lots of treasure—in preparing to join the learned profession that is the law. In this essay, I offer some thoughts—ones that might not appear in the typical “what to expect in law school” essay and that probably do not resonate with the storyline of Legally Blonde—about how aspiring lawyers should think about their education and formation.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to teach first-year students at Notre Dame Law School. When I do, I usually find an occasion to propose to them that the study of law has (at least) four “layers” or “levels.” Though it may sound odd, the language of “layers” captures better than “levels” what I am trying to get at, because it suggests a sphere—a giant onion, perhaps—and reminds us that going deeper, from any particular point on the surface, brings us closer to the center, or core. ...
We have traveled a long way from learning to report the implications of a fee simple or to recite the Model Penal Code’s hierarchy of culpable mental states. At the end of the day, it all comes down to Layer Four. Whether we realize it or not, this is where “the law” is. Yes, some law schools, teachers, judges, and scholars will insist or pretend otherwise; some will propose that the law in fact is, and must be, “neutral” with respect to Layer Four matters. However, it cannot, and should not, be.