All those students studying law because someone told them it’s what successful people do should examine their values.

There is carnage outside Maccas. There is foam in the streets. And at the Park & Ride, hysterical old women claw hysterical young women screeching "It's my space, bitch!".

What's happening? Is it Armageddon? Is it Judgment Day? Should I stop eating this seventh Weetbix and plead with God for redemption from my high-carbohydrate, low-sugar gluttony?

No. The world's not ending. It's just that university students have gone back.

It's that time of year for us young things to cram ourselves into creaking lecture halls and turned-up jeans. Grandparents are looking on proudly, lecturers indifferently, and parents with relieved astonishment.

Advertisement

Ah, the smell of freshly minted dreams and $2 vodka ...

My cohort is less enthusiastic about the whole shebang by now. I'm in my final year and feeling a touch grumpy with everything. But one of the perks of being old and crusty is that younger students will seek you out.

What do I do about readings? Can I change my major? What should I do - I've just realised my life is a construct of a hetero-normative gender performative narrative! Wah!

What always strikes me most about them is how many law students there are. I tend to forget it. But it's at this time of year when I remember how law is the future career we love to settle on bright Kiwis. I remember a few years ago, I was often told to do law. Many of my friends ended up doing it.

But I've never regretted not doing it - it was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

If you're smart (and the maths puts you off engineering or med) and you want to prove it, law is your default choice at university. We as a society accept it as proof of a student's intelligence. After all, it's a bottle-necked course, so just graduating with a law degree signifies that the person was among the best in their year. That gives law graduates the stamp of exclusivity - they got on the team. And making it into a selective group is one of our favourite measures of intelligence and worth.

Plus law is an esteemed career, gives you a chance at serious money, and is seen as a difficult subject, unlike subjects such as poor, unloved sociology.

This means the pressure to do law that can be put on bright students, from eager onlookers or from themselves, is quite staggering. Whenever I've asked my friends why they're doing law they often say, "it's just what you do if you're smart, you know, it just takes you anywhere ..." It's much rarer to hear "the sense of analytical attention to detail appeals to me".

Advertisement

It's not the law degree itself that annoys me. It's what doing it signifies. Because doing a law degree is the acceptance of a received societal idea about success. When people are choosing law, a lot of people are choosing it because they think this is what successful people do.

That means they're accepting society's idea of what success looks like. Society's idea of success values intelligence, and sees law as proof of having it.

But what we should be valuing is independence of mind and judgment. If you turn down law because you realise you can get a stronger sense of achievement from bartending then that is a much wiser decision. It shows that you've thought about your values.

However, our unthinking promotion of law to smart kids means we're not encouraging them to actually think about what success means to them. We're encouraging them to accept society's idea of success.

Which is irritating, because university is the first big opportunity people get to think about what success means to them. It's a question that we have to figure out - it's kinda the key guiding force in our lives. And it's also pretty rubbish because we need all the practice we can get at working out our values.

Of course, if you're doing a law degree because it really is the definition of success for you then, great. But if you're doing a law degree because you feel you should, or your parents feel you should, then for God's sake stop a minute.

This is one of those moments when you need to rummage around in your soul.

If you're just accepting other people's ideas of achievement, then university will feel a bit s***. Plus you could start relying on everyone else to tell you what you value.

Which is a habit that's probably going to bite you on the bum when you realise you're a tax lawyer who dreams of tap dancing.