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Legal Reasoning Redux #6

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You Are Either Too Smart or Too Stupid For Law

Too Smart

Although it doesn't always seem this way, the elite law schools are packed full of geniuses. A score in the 95th percentile on the LSAT will qualify you for Mensa; this is about a 165-166.

Yale, Columbia, and NYU all have LSAT 25th percentiles of 170. Harvard's is 171. Every single student there is a genius. Even going all the way down to #18, USC - Gould, the 25th percentile is 165, putting the vast majority of the class in the genius range.

I don’t think Mensa membership is the final word on what constitutes genius, but it does give a pretty decent taste of just how smart students at the top schools are. It's easy for law students to lose sight of where they fall on the intelligence scale because they compare themselves to their intelligent peers, not to the population at large. These are people who, if they applied themselves in a more useful endeavor, would almost universally find success. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia agrees:

Well, you know, two chiefs ago, Chief Justice Burger, used to complain about the low quality of counsel. I used to have just the opposite reaction. I used to be disappointed that so many of the best minds in the country were being devoted to this enterprise.

I mean there’d be a, you know, a defense or public defender from Podunk, you know, and this woman is really brilliant, you know. Why isn’t she out inventing the automobile or, you know, doing something productive for this society?

I mean lawyers, after all, don’t produce anything. They enable other people to produce and to go on with their lives efficiently and in an atmosphere of freedom. That’s important, but it doesn’t put food on the table and there have to be other people who are doing that. And I worry that we are devoting too many of our very best minds to this enterprise.

And they appear here in the Court, I mean, even the ones who will only argue here once and will never come again. I’m usually impressed with how good they are. Sometimes you get one who’s not so good. But, no, by and large I don’t have any complaint about the quality of counsel, except maybe we’re wasting some of our best minds.

Now, not many lawyers have the engineering or mathematical aptitude to become great inventors, but surely there is something more productive and meaningful all these intelligent people could be doing with their time, like working in microfinance, inventing Settlers of Catan, or writing a novel that will still be read 200 years from now.


Too Stupid.

The flip side of the problem is that many law students are just too damn stupid to be trusted as attorneys. For example, a girl I know who goes to a lower ranked Tier 1 law school in New Jersey came to me with a very serious situation. Her neighbor had gone out of town for a few weeks, and had parked on the street in such a way that his car slightly blocked her drive way. Well, one day she didn’t quite clear the car and ended up putting a minor scratch on it.

She did nothing about it and let several days pass. Then, she came to be, completely freaking out, thinking that she could potentially be prosecuted for hit and run. I decided to screw with her and say that she could. What's more fun than freaking out an already freaked out law student?

Any reasonable person would have two ways of quickly finding out that a criminal prosecution was not in the cards.

First, you could Google “New Jersey hit and run law” and figure out in about two minutes that one of the elements of hit and run is that someone has to be seriously injured. When you scrape an unoccupied car, that’s not very likely to happen.

Second, you could tap into your general knowledge about American culture and remember the remedy for scratching a car: you leave a note, the owner calls you, you pay to fix the paint or whatever. What doesn’t happen is you leave a note and the owner calls the cops and they throw you in prison for 18 months.

If you can’t manage a simple Google search, or understand extremely basic policy concepts, you shouldn’t be a lawyer. And, if you’re reading this and think that you’re smarter than that, odds are you aren’t. Her school is ranked in the 40-50 range, which is probably higher than your school. You just think you’re smarter, but you’re too dumb to know you’re wrong. It's the Dunning-Kruger Effect at work.


There are some people who are just smart enough to handle the reading comprehension and logical reasoning law requires, but aren’t smart enough to do anything truly useful in society. Everyone at a T-14 school is smart enough to be doing something more productive, as are the top third at schools ranked 15-50. That's 13% of law students occupying the too smart range. In the too stupid range, let's count everyone at an unranked school, the bottom third of 101-145 ranked schools, and the bottom 5% at 51-100. That's another 36.25% of students.

49.25% of law students are either too smart to waste their talents at law school, or too stupid to be allowed within 50 feet of a paying client. ...That number seems about right.

[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.]

[Read more from BL1Y]

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