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Hip to be Square By: Marni Soupcoff
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, October 04, 2002

He wasn't the first one to say so, but back in the eighties, crooner Huey Lewis told us that it was hip (hip, so hip) to be square. Today, it's far hipper to be a leftist.

That's what I learned at Stanford Law School, anyway, and I haven't been convinced otherwise since I graduated two years ago.

I had been interested in public interest law from the time I started at Stanford (an unfortunate propensity of mine to be drawn to low paying careers). And public interest law was actually quite hip. True, the majority of my lefty classmates went corporate at the end of their legal schooling, but it was something you didn't talk about until it happened. The hip line throughout law school was that you wanted to work for a non-profit, preferably one centered on minorities and the underprivileged. Disabled people and the environment were reasonable targets, too, but the best was some combination of all three. Like working for an organization that highlighted the disproportionate impact of environmental disasters on underprivileged minorities causing them to constitute a disproportionate segment of the disabled population. Or something.

I was not your typical public interest law student.

True, I wanted to pass up the big bucks and mind numbing experience of working for a large firm, but I considered myself a libertarian, I didn't object to money-making per se, and I opposed affirmative action. None of that was very hip. When I came out for the death penalty in one of my criminal law classes, I lost all chances of ever seeming in vogue.

The problem for me, as I suspect for many students, was that, Huey's words be damned, it just isn't hip to be square. In legal academia today, admitting you believe in an objective reality is a humiliating faux pas. So is voicing a desire to prosecute criminals or to hold everyone to the same standard without regards to their backgrounds. You get looked at like you've got ring around the collar. Or one of last year's huge cross necklaces, which won't be in again for another ten years.

The one thing you are still allowed to be an old-fashioned law and order type about is domestic violence. Let the man accused of hitting his girlfriend be hanged, civil rights or no. But please don't forget that gay people sometimes beat up their same sex partners too. So, you have to be tough on violent lesbians also to be truly a la mode.

For me, being hip has never been a real priority (I'd fail even if I tried due to my soft spot for socks with sandals), so why do I care so much? What does it matter to me that being a leftist is socially acceptable, while being right wing is passé and out of touch? Because in an academic environment like law school, the picky trends and social conventions are ultimately what define the paths students take with their lives. Don't see a lot of Ivy League law grads heading into criminal prosecution? Probably has something to do with the fact that the folks in the public interest law society only considered being a defense attorney as working in the public interest. (Except for domestic violence prosecutions, which are okay, but still not great since they involve sullying yourself by working for a fascist district attorney's office.) Don't see a lot of attorneys at big firms devoting their pro bono time to anything but heavily left wing causes? (And studies have shown this is the case.) Maybe it's because these attorneys never heard a diverging view about anything back in law school where the only group that held debates with both sides of the question represented was the conservative Federalist Society, and going to a Federalist Society meeting was about as hip as becoming a polka champion.

It is always dangerous to try to explain what is trendy. It is impossible to really pinpoint hip-ness and efforts to define it usually only reveal how far from it the person doing the defining really is. Oh, please, as if I'm going to take style advice from someone wearing that. But I'll take that risk here to point out that a traditionally right wing or even libertarian viewpoint is one of the least fashionable things you can wear these days, especially in a law school. I'm sad to say that it's decidedly unhip to be square, and until that changes, there's little hope that our graduates from institutes of higher learning (particularly future lawyers) will grow any more sensible.

Marni Soupcoff is an attorney and Toronto-based writer. She is a frequent contributor to http://www.iconoclast.ca.

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