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Law School is Bogus

A few Harvard Law School students have endured university censorship to protest the inanity of their Class Day speakers.  The pugnacious group (called “HLS is Bogus”) should be applauded for demanding more from the school.  But while HLS insists on a self-delusional “HLS Thinks Big” event this week, law schools actually think smaller than small — and it’s a problem graver than hypocritical leftist graduation addresses.

Here’s a recurring scene in legal studies . . . You’re learning about, for example, the needless overcomplexity of the tax code.  When someone asks why it has to be this way, why deductions and credits appear so arbitrary and so difficult to discern, the class enjoys a hearty chuckle at his obvious naiveté.  Usually the mystified professor will act the cop (“I don’t make the laws . . .”) and move on, but if he’s bold enough to be honest, he’ll say that it’s because the tax code is also a lawyer employment act.  The class laughs again, this time, content that the code’s complexity will help them pay off law school debts and pleased that they’ll soon know something that the rest of America can’t figure out.  (Now that’s a “valuable” education!)

If a student hazards to wield a normative thought about how a law is enforced or why certain regulation is senseless, he has to subordinate those reflections to, at best, an exam’s “policy” section (which professors never read).  Elite law schools aren’t fostering original thinking or “big ideas,” they’re creating waves of followers who excel at “issue spotting” (applying a fixed body of law to a prefabricated body of facts under time pressure).  This may be a lawyerly skill, but its inherent lowness partly explains why we continue to be frustrated with the absurdity of our legislation process and justice system.

Speaking of justice, law schools dare not tackle sticky subjects like what “justice” or “equality” ought to mean.  Too subjective or theoretical, perhaps — as if the Supreme Court’s wild interpretations of the Equal Protection Clause are not similarly subjective.  Instead of inculcating an awe for the majesty of the Law, law schools churn out graduates who view the law as an instrument to manipulate for their own pecuniary or ideological gain.  Others simply abhor the law as meaningless minutiae and decide to tack on business school tuition to their debt pile.

It’s been big news that law school is a poor investment, and observers often lament the lack of practical training to prepare alumni for plying their trade.  These are valid criticisms, and I would prefer an apprenticeship system with three years of clinical work than the current farce of a curriculum.  If law schools are going to neglect practical considerations anyway, they should at least try to energize students when they question the status quo of our broken body of laws and enliven original thinking.  Instead, as HLS has done, they squelch dissension, reward rote minds, and pretend that an annual panel “thinks big.”  It’s not just the graduation speaker, it’s the audience, too.  Law schools, like our colleges, breed “moral midgets.”

  1. James Of England
    Louis Beckett:

    Speaking of justice, law schools dare not tackle sticky subjects like what “justice” or “equality” ought to mean.  Too subjective or theoretical, perhaps — as if the Supreme Court’s wild interpretations of the Equal Protection Clause are not similarly subjective.  Instead of inculcating an awe for the majesty of the Law, law schools churn out graduates who view the law as an instrument to manipulate for their own pecuniary or ideological gain.  Others simply abhor the law as meaningless minutiae and decide to tack on business school tuition to their debt pile.

    Do you really believe that if law schools spent more time with Rawls and less time with classes on remedies or worker’s compensation, America would be better off? I can think of few ways of making law school less good value for America than in further freeing law professors to preach their politics.

    It may be simply that my particular foci were naturally oriented towards jurisprudential meanderings, but I certainly spent a substantial amount of time reading philosophy and differing perceptions of what justice and equality meant, including some in core classes.

  2. Spoon

    Hallelujah! Or is that too normative a reaction? I just read somewhere that complexity is fraud and your post illustrates a fine example of this.

  3. Ontos
    Jerry Broaddus: If it’s recognized in top tier law schools that lawyers make money from the existence of labyrinthine and opaque laws, and that lawyers are the primary drivers in the creation of such an environment… I don’t see this ending well for lawyers or for the rest of us.  · 1 hour ago

    I would like to request clarity from you as to what the consequent would be.  ”I don’t see this ending well” is vague and mysterious.   In the spirit of the post, spit it out clearly, please.  Also, why do you think that the antecedent is not the case already?

  4. Douglas

    “It’s been big news that law school is a poor investment

    Ask Amy Schley. She could write pages on it. And she’s but the latest in a long line of people I know that went to law school on the promise of plentiful jobs and big bucks awaiting, only to be hung with six-figure law school loans with no realistic way of paying them off. 

    Like colleges themselves, we have far too many law schools and far too many attending them. But colleges scramble to get them and grow them because they’ve been such an easy and profitable sell to potential students.

  5. Frederick Key

    How dare you call our tax code a lawyer employment act!

    It’s also a favors-dispensary act!

    How else can lawmakers keep their courtiers in line?

  6. Douglas
    Jerry Broaddus: If it’s recognized in top tier law schools that lawyers make money from the existence of labyrinthine and opaque laws, and that lawyers are the primary drivers in the creation of such an environment… I don’t see this ending well for lawyers or for the rest of us.  · 1 hour ago

    Most of such people I know… none who went to “good” law schools… aren’t working as lawyers. The only one I know that’s even close to being in law is working as an administrative assistant by day, and teaching paralegal classes at night (for a well known for-profit “professional education” chain) to supplement his income. All such instructors are of course considered adjunct faculty, and thus, no tenure, no benefits, no big bucks or chance for advancement.

  7. Fred Williams

    I suffered through a law school commencement this week in Boston (not HLS).  The rhetoric was brutal.  Not only small, but stale.  The student speakers perform for the faculty, the faculty performs for the administration, and the honoree performs for everybody.  The use of the word “inclusion” ad infinitum, pushing the homosexual agenda, praising the first black president, gushing over their “diversity trophies” (credit to M Steyn), e.g., foreign students, lesbian faculty, denouncing fossil fuels and free enterprise and on and on.  I understand about 75% of the graduates don’t even have job prospects, yet they give each other standing ovations!

    When will people sober up and stop writing big checks and incurring massive debt for this rubbish?

  8. Chris Campion
    Fred Williams: I suffered through a law school commencement this week in Boston (not HLS).  The rhetoric was brutal.  Not only small, but stale.  The student speakers perform for the faculty, the faculty performs for the administration, and the honoree performs for everybody.  The use of the word “inclusion” ad infinitum, pushing the homosexual agenda, praising the first black president, gushing over their “diversity trophies” (credit to M Steyn), e.g., foreign students, lesbian faculty, denouncing fossil fuels and free enterprise and on and on.  I understand about 75% of the graduates don’t even have job prospects, yet they give each other standing ovations!

    When will people sober up and stop writing big checks and incurring massive debt for this rubbish? · 1 minute ago

    When student loans can be discharged in bankruptcy?  Maybe when banks and schools discover that the unending pit of borrowing that constitutes the bulk of financial “aid” has dried up, they’ll actually be subject to real-world market forces.  Until then, the costs will go up 2-3X the rate of inflation every year – because there’s no reason not to.

  9. Douglas
    Chris Campion

    Fred Williams:

    When will people sober up and stop writing big checks and incurring massive debt for this rubbish? · 1 minute ago

    When student loans can be discharged in bankruptcy?  

    Now you don’t even have to go that far. Some loans, paid at an absolute minimum for 20 years, are then automatically forgiven. I personally know one such student in California who is in fact making his post-graduate financial plans on these basis. He plans to pay the bare minimum for the 20 and no more. When questioned about this, he has not one whit of shame, stating up front that as far as he’s concerned, education is a human right and the government should make tuition free for all anyway. My friend that’s related to him… politically, a very different person… was enraged upon hearing this, as he rightly pointed it that it was guys like him… people that actually pay their bills, including the tuitions of two daughters in college… that will end up paying for the likes of this guy.

  10. Nick Stuart

    Meanwhile, if you’re a person of ordinary means try to find an attorney to handle a straightforward medical power of attorney using the standard state form, or a simple guardianship.

    I know the attorneys on the thread will say there’s no such thing as a “straightforward” or “simple” when it comes to anything legal, and that’s a big part of the problem.

  11. Joe
    Louis Beckett: When someone asks why it has to be this way, why deductions and credits appear so arbitrary and so difficult to discern, the class enjoys a hearty chuckle at his obvious naiveté.  

    Not my experience. My secured transactions and bankruptcy prof was a crusty retired Air Force pilot for whom 70% of all bankruptcy code answers were “because they had better lobbyists.” Same with my tax prof -  he would regularly shred the tax code, to chuckles from everyone.

    Louis Beckett: If a student hazards to wield a normative thought about how a law is enforced or why certain regulation is senseless, he has to subordinate those reflections to, at best, an exam’s “policy” section (which professors never read).

    Law school exams rewarded one thing – talking about every side of the issue like it’s a cube. The empirical issues were just one part of it. I blame the format, not the ideology. Also, law school exams aren’t a good measure of what is taught in law school.

    As a conservative, I went into law school prepared for the worst, and was pleasantly surprised. 

  12. Joe
    Jerry Broaddus: If it’s recognized in top tier law schools that lawyers make money from the existence of labyrinthine and opaque laws, and that lawyers are the primary drivers in the creation of such an environment… I don’t see this ending well for lawyers or for the rest of us.

    I went to a top law school, and there were two types of people: 1) poli sci kids that came straight from undergrad and had never worked a job outside non-profit internships, and 2) second career adults who had worked in the real world for 2+ years and had a sense of how the world worked. The former group generally did well in school, often had parents who were lawyers, and went to work for law firms or government agencies within the system. The latter group took lower paying jobs that focused on the interaction of law with other areas, often their former life’s expertise.

    To your point, the second group had a lot of policy people, but they were more aware of conditions on the ground. It’s that first group that was terrifying.

  13. ShellGamer

    My tax professor (Wally Blum, may he rest in peace) convinced me never to become a tax attorney. He essentially forbade tax policy discussions in class. The exercise was to identify and defend every possible position regarding the treatment of a transaction for federal tax purposes. Not even six month into practicing law, I realized that he was training us to be tax attorneys. Securities regulation at least has some grounding in fraud; tax regulation is sophistry at its finest (in many senses of that word).

  14. x

    Tax-Cartoon.jpgMy favorite tax law cartoon.

  15. x

    I actually recall looking normatively at as many sides of a question as we could find as being the principal pre-occupation of many of my law school classes.  That was 20+ years ago and likely a different school than Louis attended, but I just recall a much more intellectually stimulating and personally fulfilling educational experience than Mr. Beckett describes.

    For those whose complaint is about costs and loans though, you’ll get no argument from me.  As far as I can tell, government stupidity and law school administrator greed have combined to leave a whole generation of innocents in an insane and unjustifiable financial mess.

    The costs were high when I was there, but 8% inflation since then have left them staggeringly high, and the problem is compounded by the loss of a large percentage of the highest paying jobs in the post-Lehman legal economy.  The upshot is, simply, that many people are drowning under loans they have little prospect of ever being able to repay.

    More evidence for Reagan’s aphorism that one of the scariest sentences in the English language was:  “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

  16. Amy Schley
    Douglas: “It’s been big news that law school is a poor investment

    Ask Amy Schley. She could write pages on it. And she’s but the latest in a long line of people I know that went to law school on the promise of plentiful jobs and big bucks awaiting, only to be hung with six-figure law school loans with no realistic way of paying them off. 

    Douglas

    Now you don’t even have to go that far. Some loans, paid at an absolute minimum for 20 years, are then automatically forgiven. I personally know one such student in California who is in fact making his post-graduate financial plans on these basis. He plans to pay the bare minimum for the 20 and no more. When questioned about this, he has not one whit of shame ..

    I’ll be honest; I’m doing the same thing with no shame.  Not because I believe that education is a human right or some such nonsense, but because my other option is to spend the next twenty years paying literally every dime I would make at the kinds of jobs I can get to pay off my loans.

  17. Howellis

    I wonder if law students would benefit from some required pre-law study (while undergrads) in the philosophy of justice, microeconomics, and an introduction to business.  My impression of too many lawyers, and the politicians they often become, is that they don’t understand what it takes to make a profit, they don’t understand the difference between consequentialist and deontological notions of justice, and they don’t understand how incentives motivate behavior at the margins. 

  18. barbara lydick
    GayFreedomLover

    My favorite tax law cartoon. · 1 hour ago

    Wish I could ‘like’ this 5-6 times!!

    Interestingly, some of the best attorneys I learned to know were corporate attorneys.  One became my mentor.  As a chemistry major posing as a contracts writer and negotiator, had gone to his office to ask a question. Leaning back in his chair, feet on desk and hands behind head, he explained the corporate position.  Then planting his feet on the floor and leaning forward, he said, “Now, let me tell you about reality.”  (He and I made one helluva’ team with our utility customers.)

    The other had an engineering degree, then an MBA, followed thereafter with a law degree.  The man understood well the technology and the business of business, to which he applied the law, making him one of the most valuable lawyers the corporation had. 

    Both lived in the real world and both were closers (rare for any lawyer), making them a joy to work with.  Perhaps those days are gone.

  19. Jerry Broaddus
    Ontos

    Jerry Broaddus:

    … I don’t see this ending well for lawyers or for the rest of us. 

    I would like to request clarity from you as to what the consequent would be.  ”I don’t see this ending well” is vague and mysterious.   In the spirit of the post, spit it out clearly, please.  Also, why do you think that the antecedent is not the case already?

    At the very best, we live under the rule of law. Described in the post is an active sickness, a parasite of the very organ that produces that law. This parasite designs laws to it’s benefit, constructed to empower itself to the detriment of others.

    This isn’t a tick or a flea that drinks the hosts blood yet maintains it’s own identity. This is a heart worm or a liver fluke that infests the vital center of our society. To remove or to render the parasite benign would take extraordinary measures that might kill us outright. And even if there’s a cure, the damage to our most vital organ has been done.

    I’m not sure what you mean concerning the antecedent. Your turn to spit clearly.

  20. Jerry Broaddus

    I’m not a lawyer. In fact, I believe that I’m an optimist. The attorneys I know personally are nothing like the law school professors Louis Beckett describes.

    And other attorneys that I know by reputation don’t fit that mold either, for instance our own professors Yoo and Epstein.

    But I take mister Beckett at his word, and my “vague and mysterious” warning is based on his description.