July 7, 2004

One Thing They Got Right

If you ask me, there's no arguing with the 9 months of education, 3 months of work model. By the end of the school year, I was sick of being a student and ready to be a productive member of society. Here, I may not be the MOST productive citizen, but I'm doing things that matter to some people--I'm actually getting things that people need done and I feel useful.

I'm learning, too, but it's a different kind of learning than school. First of all, much of it is too practical for what they teach in school. I've learned about several gotchas you have to check for when a file is transferred from an incompetent lawyer. I've learned that much of what I did in my prior career is considered "legal skills." And, I've learned that I shouldn't bother spending time on formatting documents because I'll never be as good as my admin at word processing and any work I do just makes her workload increase when she has to undo it.

It's also a slower type of learning than school. It's the spaces between the grunt work where there's actual legal stuff (some of which I haven't seen before)--that's where the learning occurs. After the whirlwind of last year, it's nice to cushion knowledge acquisition between easy required tasks and pretty-please-come-work-here perks. Having weekends and a paycheck are additional bonuses which I am doing my best to enjoy heartily.

Now, I'm almost halfway through my summer and I can see that after another half of a summer, I'll be ready to re-enter school with a healthy thirst for speed-demon learning. I know this because when I see issues that I'm not qualified to address, I'll think, "why can't I be done with school already? That work looks so interesting and the only reason I can't offer to take it is because I don't know anything about it (and I'm a Summer)."

In short, I think the 3/4 of a year at school and 1/4 of the year in the environment where you may eventually work is a fabulous model for education. I wonder why more fields don't do it. After two summers, when you get out, you actually have a chance at having a clue and being useful. I certainly think that engineering educations would be better if everyone was required to do an internship or two before they graduated. You need the fish-in-water portion of your education, and it's either going to happen on your first job, or before you get out. Why not graduate qualified people who have some idea of the field where they will be working?

An associate asked me whether I liked working or school better. I told him that I really liked the 3/4-1/4 split, but knew that it wasn't sustainable. He smiled and said, "yeah, those were some good years..." and walked off. I wonder if that should scare me. I try not to think about it, but I suspect that next year is going to be much more demanding than last year. That's fine, I'll handle it. I'm just happy to have this summer to slow down a bit, get a feel for what I'm working for, and enjoy life before 2L.

I guess this is my thanks to the organizations, agencies, firms, and schools who make the 3/4-1/4 split a reality. It's really quite a good life I've been living for the last year.

[update: I changed the ratio for a 2/3-1/3 split to a 3/4-1/4 split because of the 9 months, 3 months ratio. In reality, it's more like 2/3 in school, 1/4 at work and 1/12 on vacation, which may be why I so thoroughly enjoy the distribution of my time.]

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