To Seton Hall Law Professor Paula Franzese, of BarBri and "Loving the Law Day" fame, goes the distinction of being the first law professor to write a book recommending that law students and lawyers imitate fictional movie character Forrest Gump. See Franzese, Paula (2014-03-20). A Short and Happy Guide to Being a Law Student (Short and Happy Series) (pp. 78-79). West Academic Publishing. Kindle Edition. ("Embrace a Forrest Gump-like view of the world and the people in it. Do not overcomplicate things. Be guileless and refuse to dwell on the negative. Stay positive as you focus on the good. When the cynics say, "Well, that’s just stupid," smile and reply, "Stupid is as stupid does"").
Forrest Gump, for those who have not seen the hit movie, is a fictional mentally-deficient platitude-spouting innocent, a person who would be an unwitting menace to self and everybody around him but for a lifelong streak of improbable good fortune somehow generated by his simple and trusting good nature.
In Franzese's view, the Gumpish lemmings who fill today's non-elite law schools are similarly destined to be "instruments for greatness." They need only be reminded, via strategically-placed notes bearing words of inspiration, of the existence of their protective lucky star. See Short & Happy at pp. 84 ("Surround yourself with messages of hope to remind you of the mightiness of your mission and the multi-dimensional magnitude of your abilities. There is a star you are under, and you are precisely where you are meant to be. Keep words of inspiration in places where you can see them regularly").
Franzese's book purports to have structure. It is divided into 8 sections, which are in turn divided into 63 chapters (each bearing a smiley-face-with-clock-hands illustration, identical to the one on the cover), which in turn are sectioned into multiple half-page to two-page-long subchapters, each of which provides some tidbit of advice or inspiration. In fact, the identical smileys are a truer guide to the book’s organization and content than the section or chapter titles. The entire book consists of bromides and banalities and anecdotes drawn from motivational literature and Franzese's own life of pampered ease, which are presented over and over and over again, in only slightly reworded form.
For instance, Part 1 is entitled "You are Going to Be a Lawyer. Be Excited and Feel Proud." Chapter 1 is entitled "Dreams Brought You here. You are Now Making Them Come True." The subchapter headings of Chapter 1 include the following: "The world is yours."; "Your degree will equip you to use the rule of law to advance the cause of progress."; "You will teach others that kindness comes from strength."; "The most significant lawyers and law students value the gentler virtues. They know that wisdom and compassion are indivisible."; "You will teach others that kindness comes from strength."; "As a lawyer, you are uniquely trained to ordain positive outcomes and alter the course of history for the better."; "The law is a noble profession."; "A good lawyer defies the push of the crowds and takes a stand for decency." and "You will lead with both your mind and your heart."
Somewhat similarly, Chapter 3 is entitled "The Majesty of the Law and Your Place in It: Ten Reasons to Be Really Happy About Becoming a Lawyer." The subchapter headings present the ten reasons. Among them are "REASON ONE: Law school will teach you a method of analysis and hone your powers of discernment so that you can and will become a ninja for the good."; "REASON TWO: The law is a magnificent career path. It will allow you to do well and, most essentially, to find meaning in the work you do."; "REASON SEVEN: You will help the clients and constituencies that you serve be governed by what inspires them, rather than what makes them small."; "REASON NINE: You will resolve to love the law and to treat it as if you love it. You will promise yourself that you will persist in loving it, no matter the disappointments and occasional disenchantments."; and "REASON TEN: You will change your life by speaking only good things about it and others."
Isn’t this stuff already beginning to sound tedious, repetitious, and even dehumanizing-- reminiscent perhaps of a vain and untrustworthy boss who expects enthusiastic appreciation plus sky-high morale from his staff of exploited drones? Well settle in, reader (or shall I say, "ninja for the good"), because as noted the book goes on like this for 63 chapters, the only consolation being that the chapters seem to get shorter in length as the book progresses. To me, the movie analogy suggested by Franzese's book is not "Forrest Gump," but rather, "The Blob." Reading this book is like being engulfed and smothered by a relentlessly expanding mass of sweetly-scented toxicity.
The most insidious thing about this book is not the recycling of cheery platitudes and cutesy phrases. Rather, it is Franzese's repeated injunctions to be "be grateful," "be thankful" and "be glad" and to "refuse to heed the cynical and the jaded," even if you have to "fake it until you make it" because "gratitude is the way to joy."
All this gratitude and thankfulness, along with the pre-making fakery, has a deeply practical purpose in Franzese-world, where rhetoric and attitude alchemize into material success. Consider the following quotes:
* "Your experiences in law school, at work, in love and in life will match your level of rhetoric about your experiences in law school, in love and in life. The world rises (or falls) to meet your level of expectation. Every day, state emphatically that you love the law, law school, your job and the people in your life. Fake it until you make it. Sure enough and soon enough, reasons to be right about your declaration will start showing up." Id. at pp. 161
* "[E]ven if you have to fake it for now, you should begin to enthusiastically declare your passion and admiration for everything about the legal education that you are (or are about to) receive and the job that you have (or will have). . . In school and at work, relentlessly say thank you to everyone who is a part of your path." Id. at pp. 79
* "You are learning to harness the power of your mind to think about and talk about everything that is good, honorable and right with the world and your place in it. As a lawyer, you will have the stature to teach others to do the same. Your life will move in the direction of your predominant thoughts." Id. at pp. 18
* "The faultfinders seem so prevalent because they are so noisy. Move away from that cacophony of grievance and lead the team of cheerleaders for the good." Id. at pp. 149
Franzese is too gracious to spell out the implications of her positive thinking philosophy, but I think they are clear enough. Consider all the young persons whose lives have been severely damaged, if not ruined, by law school debt and legal market saturation. Their failure is not the fault of the aforesaid structural problems in legal education. Their failure cannot even be attributed to their own recklessness in enrolling in the first place. No, their failure must be due to their unwillingness to think happy and thankful thoughts.
Franzese’s eloquence has the profound moral force of a sated glutton kindly advising a starving person to celebrate, in word and thought, the glutton’s self-satisfied joy at her recently-devoured feast. For the starving person’s own good, mind you, because through a "persistent attitude of great gratitude," his or her life will inevitably move in the direction of a delicious meal.
Chapter 61 of A Short and Happy Guide to Being a Law Student is entitled "The Pony" and is a recitation of the old story or joke about the kid who plays delightedly in a room filled with a horse manure in the belief that with all that manure around there must be a pony in the vicinity. (Does Franzese think this chestnut is unfamiliar to anybody?) I first heard this joke when I was about six years old, and even then had a sarcastic laugh at the delusional logic of the shit-covered optimist. But Franzese admires the child's "great sincerity and strength of purpose" and wants you too to believe that the ponies of joy are sure to arrive, perhaps with the very next turn of the law school scammy-go-round. See Id. at pp. 270 ("Do you see the analogy to your present circumstances? Amidst the volumes that you must shovel and store and sanitize, there are ponies. I promise you that. There will be joys and privileges in your life’s chosen work that will astound and delight you").
The number of law school applicants has risen slightly this year, following five consecutive years of steep decline. So there may be a base level number of persons per year willing to disregard all caution and gamble six figures of nondischargeable borrowed money on the value of a JD degree. In other words, to spend a small fortune to buy a pile of manure because the manure peddler has provided earnestly-expressed but non-legally-enforceable assurances that there will be ponies too. To those contemplating law school attendance this fall, I can only quote the wisdom of Forrest Gump and Prof. Paula Franzese: "Stupid is as stupid does."