Friday, April 29, 2016

Cherish the slackers in your life !

Yesterday, my network of law students and lawyer friends are spreading news about the suicide of a legal trainee who was recently not retained by a reputable law firm and dumped by his girlfriend. Beyond this piece of news, I am unable to verify the information further because if it were true, it should have been all over the mainstream media by now.

One question I ask myself about my law school experience in SMU is that why is it so different from my time in NUS Engineering and Business school.

In Engineering school, we were generally left alone to pursue our own interests, the biggest problem is that there is too little drama so most of us have little to talk about beyond circuit diagrams and equations. To seek trouble I did public speaking and hung out with the bohemians from the other faculties.  In Finance school, there was no academic pressure because we all worshipped money. Grade were secondary to passing the levels of the CFA.

Law school is a new beast. The experience is overwhelmingly negative and I think we cope by becoming sociopaths. Group work has plenty of politics and, without providing details, some people I know do stupid things which may affect their reputation after they leave.

There is too much drama in Law School and I want to propose a reason for this.

There are insufficient slackers in Law School ! The folks who drink and party from Law School are not real slackers. They are well read in their cases and can argue even in a drunken state.

In Engineering and Business school in the 90s, there will always be a bunch of students who do not prioritise Engineering in their lives. Often they might spend a lot of time on CCAs. Others party and drink. Slackers, if anything, are probably more intelligent than the hard workers like me during my undergraduate days. It's not easy to get into University by slacking off when only 15% of the population could get into NUS in those days. So I believe that slackers just have other priorities in life.

In the modern University, slackers matter a lot.

For the folks who put in decent effort in school, we occasionally get bad grades but because of the existence of slackers, we don't really fall very far down the curve. A friend even claimed that his academic achievements were not by virtue of his brilliance, but by the fact that his peers were so bad.

The situation changes in a place like Law School. There is no room for error. Put in 99% of effort as opposed to 100% of everything you have, you may slip from 75% percentile to the 40% percentile because everyone has already figured out how to do well.

This is not a healthy environment.

People become neurotic and anxious. In SMU, there are rumours that  some students conceal red-spot textbooks in the libraries.

Perhaps the anxiety is the reason why the trainee just decided to off himself. From his perspective, his world has ended. There are so many folks who can't even get into a local University. Some can't even get into a Secondary school. Being a parent myself, I am very sad for his parents.

While I have yet to get a training contract, I will avoid that rumoured law firm. Once a life is at stake, I cannot but wonder as to the kind of corporate culture which can lead to this tragedy.

For the folks who are in University like me but in other faculties, I hope that you would cherish the slackers amongst you. Don't write them off. They are probably just as smart and capable as you are but subscribe to a different life philosophy than you do.

Without them, your lives are going to be a lot more dramatic with no room for error.

This can warp your perspective.

And it can cost you your life.


  1. Hi Chris,

    I am afraid I don't quite agree with you on his point. In my Engineering school days, I actually dislike these slackers. Because they are so "active" in other activities in school and their personal life, they become people that you would rather not work with. But sometimes, you got assigned to do lab projects or cases with them and that is when the problem starts.

    Try doing a programming project with them. Most possibly, you will end up filling up for their part and also writing most of the report, and having to figure out which part that needs to put their name in order to make sure that it seems to be an equal contribution by all parties involved.

    Try doing a case with them for a Human Resource Management assignment. Most possibly, they would have something on and not much free time to meet-up to do the case. Even if they appear, they were normally late and you have to fill them up on what had been discussed so far so that we can continue the discussion.

    The end result is that they will normally get around the same grade as you for these projects, despite lesser effort being put in on their part.

    That is not the end of the story. Sometimes, they borrow your completed tutorials and forget to return or late in doing so. It seems that they are so busy that I think they should actually quit their studies and focus on what is more important in their life.


    Thanks for sharing !

    It certainly provides a different perspective on slackers.

    I really miss them now as a Law student.

    But do note that in Law school sabo-kings still abound in group work. They are just super-on for their individual work so they are hardly slackers at all.


  3. I think that is the main difference between them and those Engineering school slackers that I have encountered. Those that I met last time were frequent re-takers in some subjects that they have registered. In fact, some of them might seem to be 3rd year and final year students but you can see them taking 2nd year modules as they have failed them, some multiple times in the same module. They also overloaded their classes by taking up more modules that they can cope as they wanted to finish their course in time. As you have said, they are also smart people but their priorities were not in their studies.

    You mean there were no slackers in Law school? Nobody failed any modules? Those who failed were hardworking?

  4. Law school is not like Engineering because you can't really end up with a wrong answer. So law students almost never fail a module.

    In an extreme case a law student gets a C+ which can prevent him from qualifying for the bar if his grades go below a certain threshold.

    There might be that one or two rare slackers in Law School. Some are so brilliant, their grades are fine. The remaining slackers are so small in number, it makes no difference in class. a 1% reduction in effort might lead to a drop of 25% in the curve.