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Legal Reasoning Redux #4

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Little Value Added

I was going to start this off by saying you shouldn't go to law school because there's no value added, but I figured that was too much hyperbole, and in today's world, defenders of the law school system (ie: professors) like to dismiss any argument that is in the slightest bit off point rather than giving them the benefit of a savings clause, because, as we know, law professors aren't neutral arbiters of the value of law school, they are advocates.

Anyways, little value added. It's long been accepted that law school doesn't prepare you to immediately practice law. It merely supposes to prepare you to learn how to practice law. It doesn't prepare you for the bar exam either. Sure, some of your classes may be relevant, but your education won't be broad enough to save you the expense of a bar review course, unless of course you somehow managed to squeeze Trusts and Estates, Criminal Procedure, and Commercial Paper all into your law school schedule, in which case, sorry to hear you wasted 3 years of your life when you could have just wasted 3 months with BarBri.

There are two values that law school defenders like to say that it adds, that it "teaches you to think like a lawyer," and that it makes you generally more appealing to a wide variety of employers, from defense department contract administration to health care industry contract administration.


So, the first one, learning to think like a lawyer. ...No on actually knows what that means, and apparently doing BlueBook exercises, sitting in a feminism seminar, sitting in a Socratic method lecture hall getting grilled by a professor and sitting in a Socratic method lecture hall "watching" someone else get grilled by a professor but actually playing World of Warcraft all somehow manage to accomplish this ambiguous task of teaching you how to think like a lawyer. Literally anything a law school does is defended this way, which is how you know that the entire idea is rubbish.

Perhaps "thinking like a lawyer," is just supposed to mean "thinking better, smarter, more analytically and critically." That is at least something that a traditional Socratic method class gets at, forcing you to look at the individual pieces of your argument, realize that they're not as strong as you thought, and figure out how to advocate for your position while knowing that the other side has an equally weak argument. But, you don't need law school to do that. This can be accomplished in about 9 hours of undergraduate analytical philosophy classes and an extra 3 hours of formal logic. In fact, undergraduate philosophy will probably do a better job, because you're actually learn to break down arguments into their constituent parts and study how one premise moves on to the next. Law is more like looking at the constituent parts, and then putting them into a bowl, giving it a shake and saying "Tada! Argument salad!"

If what you're hoping to get out of law school is the general ability to think more good, see how many classes you can take from other programs at the school, and sign up from some philosophy. And really, I mean the analytical stuff, not continental philosophy, which is just more argument salad but with words that don't actually mean anything. Aristotle, not Dierdre.


The other thing, making you more generally employable, that's a bunch of rubbish, too. I know, the economy is still in the pooper right now, so things are particularly bad, but really they just expose how useless businesses see your law school education. If a legal education made you into a great flexible business asset, you'd be a great flexible business asset even in a bad economy. Despite the recession, you'd still be able to make a company better, and then they'd want to hire you, and that's simply not the case. They don't.

No amount of professorial insistence that you're skilled at everything in the world now that you have a JD actually convinces hiring managers to give you money. Contract administration, that involves contracts, contracts are legal documents, and what's more, you took a class called Contracts, so you should be qualified for this job, right?


Contract administration involves things like reading contracts, an activity you likely never performed in law school. And I mean a real contract, a 50 page boilerplate monstrosity, not a handwritten 3 line document from then 1840s that's put into your text book just so that professor can claim you did in fact read a contract. The people companies want for these jobs are people with specific training in them. All that contract admin and procurement work goes to people with degrees in accounting or health care administration, not to someone who can rattle off theories about promissory estoppel. In a booming economy, when there aren't enough accountants to go around, sure employers might reach deeper into the barrel and pick up a JD, but that's not their first choice.

If you want to work outside of the legal industry, rather than going to law school you'd be better off finding some menial entry level position within that industry and working your way up, because even if you're just a lowly file clerk, you're still learning about how that particular industry operates, which will make you more qualified for a higher level position than someone who's never actually heard of the industry before. Alternatively, get a Master's degree in that field and work a couple internships.

Trying to use a JD as a well rounded, "I can do anything" sort of credential is like trying to play a well rounded RPG character. Your sneak skill is good enough to get you in the door, but not close enough for an overpowered backstab, you can perform some basic magic spells, but not the incredibly powerful summoning stuff, and your sword swing is stronger than that of a typical sneak or magic character, but only about half as good as the tank character who's running around with a giant warhammer and scoring bonus attacks every time he gets a kill. Turns out that none of your skills are good enough to get you through a boss fight.

Being well rounded is important in football. If your offense is only good in rushing or passing, it's very easy for the other team to shut you down; you move the ball by making them defend everything all at once. Likewise, if your defense is only good at defending the pass or stopping a running game, the offense will just choose to exploit your weakness and consistently move the ball down the field.

But, the real world isn't like football. An HR department wants someone who understands ERISA and OSHA really well, not someone who kinda knows about them a little, but also knows a bit about trusts and civil procedure. Employees aren't expected to be able to fill every role, that's the point of having multiple employees. Sure, you may be minimally qualified for a wide variety of positions, and in that way it's true that you can "do anything with a law degree," but if by "do anything" you mean "actually be hired to do it," then you have to factor in the fact that you're competing against a bunch of people who can only do one thing, but that one thing is the thing they're hiring for.


Law school might teach you to think in a more intelligent, critical way, but it's not by design, it's just something that happens by accident through three years of professors conducting their classes in which ever way happens to be their preference. There's no coordinated effort to actually improve your reasoning skills. So yeah, you'll make get slightly more intelligent, though odds are if you broke 168 on the LSAT, your reasoning skills are already good enough that law school won't help your thinking one bit. And as for the idea that it makes you generally more employable, balls. It's like showing up to a barbecue competition and arguing that while your brisket is only average, that's okay, because so is your potato salad.


[If you think you have good reasons to law school, feel free to enter our Legal Reasoning Challenge. The rules are simple, you need 2 reasons for going to law school, they have to be good, and they have to be your actual reasons for attention. E-mail them to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , and please include your school (or top choice if you're not yet enrolled) and any scholarships or instate tuition discounts (we won't publish your name). Anyone winning, decided at my sole discretion, will receive their choice of Philadelphia Lawyer's Happy Hour is for Amateurs, or Dr. Rob's Crazy.]

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