Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Former Law Professor Speaks Out on the Majesty of the Socratic Method

One long-running debate that is central to the notion of the Law School Scam is whether or not law school instruction serves its students well and is worth the significant time and cost investment.  For years, the answer from the Establishment was a resounding "Yes, of course it does," if for no other reason than no one dared question it - peer pressure exists, even in the rational, hallowed halls of academia.  Those who did question the system were generally JD graduates in the loser's bracket of the law school sorting mechanism, and shame was allowed to do its dirty work and silence the critics instead of fostering real debate.
The times, they are a'changin.'  It is my opinion that Carthage must be footnoted's comment in MA's prior post deserved its own post.  Without further ado:
I’m a former law professor, and I have a slightly different take on this then Orin [Kerr].

When I was in law school, I would have disagreed with this post 100%. Law school can teach a handful of particular, distinct skills. The main skill it teaches is how to write a law school exam—which is a skill that has cognates in writing bench memos for judges/appellate briefs.

The questions that I didn’t ask until I was a law professor:

1. Does the Socratic method do a good job of teaching the above skills?
2. Are those the most useful skills for our students to learn?

Many law professors cannot answer those questions from an unbiased position because one side of the answers, if true, would be hard on their egos.

The Socratic method must do a good job of teaching those skills, law professors tell themselves, because we are invested in the myth of our own success. The system that produced us must be good. Maybe not perfect—maybe in need of some alteration—but generally good. Law professors are theory-heavy and practice-light. If the answer is “no, this skill is not useful,” then we have a huge problem, because law profs—and our colleagues—are fundamentally not equipped to teach any other skill.

And so we avoid the truth.

The Socratic method is a shitty method of teaching. As a law student, I could see only my own success. I did awesomely in law school, so of course the Socratic method appeared to work. As a law professor, when I graded exams, it became clear that a large percentage of my students weren’t learning the skills that I had tried to teach them, and when I talked to my colleagues, I was told that this was just the way things were, that the students who failed were dumb/lazy/slow to get it.

But I knew my students, and while I’m sure some were dumb/lazy (inevitable in any large class) I didn’t buy that most of them were. And I’ve learned a number of different skills in my life over a variety of disciplines, and I know how good students generally are at learning skills that are well taught.

Thinking like a law professor isn’t hard; we are just incredibly shitty at teaching it.

(The second problem is that we use the Socratic method to teach two things at once: both the substance of the law and this ineffable “thinking like a law professor” skill. When both are opaque, it’s sort of like blindfolding your students, handing them legos dipped in goo, and asking them to construct a railroad depot, with the added caveat that you do not, in fact, want a railroad depot; you really want a museum of trains, something that only looks like a railroad depot from a distance. The fact that some students manage to produce the appropriate museum is no reason to pat ourselves on the backs.)

As for the second question, it became quickly obvious to me that most of my students would not, in fact, ever need to think like a law professor—that if I wanted to help them succeed, I needed to give them projects and tasks that mimicked the sort of things they would actually be doing in practice even though I taught nonclinical classes.

But I know fuck-all about practice, and while people all around me told me it didn’t matter, it soon became apparent to me that this was a self-serving myth created by the practice-light environment of academia. In what actual world would a total lack of experience and knowledge ever be irrelevant?

I was not comfortable saying, “Oh, well, I just made this shitty exercise up, and I know as much as you about how you’d approach this problem in real life, so snap to it, and I’ll grade you based on what I think the right answer is. But I could be completely wrong, and also, do practitioners approach this problem like this? IDEK.”

In any event, TL;DR: Law school teaches low value skills badly, and law professors are by and large too invested in their own success to cop to this.
Straight up, Carthage, and I hope we see you around here again in the future.  These ideas would have been considered heretical a scant few years ago, when the Law School machine was running full tilt with models and bottles.  Clearly, when a system produces "successful" results, it is clearly because the system was inherently a good system, not due to other outside contributing factors that are difficult to quantify.  Nope, it was nothing but sheer LawProf awesomeness, full stop.
Until the music stopped playing, of course, and the number of seats grew fewer than the number of players and the cost per seat rose out of control.  It took decades to see, but now we are all living the results now that they can no longer be swept under the rug.  Kind of like the Great Recession.


  1. Socratic method or not, it doesn't really matter. It's the school the degree is from that gets you the job or not. Who cares if you actually learn anything?

    Unless ALL law schools (including Harvard, Yale and the very top ones) agree to alter the style of teaching, it won't matter that a TTT offers more practical teaching styles.

    1. Amen. This debate about the Socratic method is getting too whiny. As Hillary Clinton said "What difference does it make?" Change all the teaching methods you want, but the tuition will still be absurdly high and the same percentage of graduates will still be unemployed.

    2. I think this point is important but bigger fish must be friend firsts. First, jobs, jobs, jobs. Second, tuition and student loans. After those are dealt with, we turn to the absurdity of lawl school pedagogy.

    3. @9:09, "jobs, jobs, jobs" is a politicians' line. When I hear it I always suggest that the politician resign, start a business and hire some people. Other than the gubmint creating make-work jobs for lawyers there is nothing anyone can do about jobs. The number of jobs is a function of how much legal work there is out there that needs to get done. The issue isn't "jobs, jobs, jobs" it is "oversupply, oversupply, oversupply."

      Oversupply can only be corrected by schools closing and/or shrinking until there are fewer than half as many graduates per year as there are now. That will come about through market forces, i.e., people opting out of law school as a sucker's bet until there aren't enough warm bodies to fill the seats. It is obvious that the people employed at TTTs aren't going to fall on their swords to serve the greater good, and that many TTTs are already moving towards open admissions to save their own skins. It could take a long, long time before we see a sufficient reduction in enrollment to bring about real change.

    4. I'm gonna be somewhat contrarian here-- I think there actually is an unmet demand for lawyers. There are all kinds of things big corps and institutions try to get away with that the little guy needs help defending.

      But to meet this demand, other issues would have to be addressed first, namely, the ridiculous cost of LS, unrealistic expectations of 0Ls, and teaching methods as per the OP. If these problems could be solved, I think the number of jobs would grow naturally.

    5. There is a huge unmet demand for lawyers available to work for nothing. But there is no significant unmet demand for lawyers available to work at a rate that would enable them to live, whether or not they have student loans to pay.

    6. You are not being even remotely "contrarian" @6:11, you are beating a dead horse. "Little guys" are "little guys" because they have "little money." Before the market became so grossly over-saturated lawyers could make enough without killing themselves that they could help out the little guy now and then for reduced rates, a contingent fee or even pro bono. Doesn't work that way anymore. You've got to squeeze every last dime out of every file.

    7. Always a demand for free labor, eh? ^^^^

    8. Consider the nail hit on the head, @3:47.


    9. Ok, guys, 6:11 here again, just wondering have you ever been on the other side of this? Or know anyone who has been? Ever been the victim of an eminent domain land grab, or a big corp employer that refuses to pay contracted severance, or a consulting client that tries to skip out on a few months worth of bills-- and tried to find a lawyer to help? I have been all of these things and (and have generally done well in litigation) and I can say that finding a good lawyer is by far the hardest part of the ordeal.

      I am a "little guy", by which I mean a sophisticated individual client with a legal fees budget well into five figures. I do not expect anyone to work for free and always offer to pay someone even for a 5-minute consultation. Right now I have a smaller problem involving a medical charge for a few thousand $. I have found a grand total of one lawyer in the US with expertise in this area and was able to talk to him briefly a few months ago but have not been able to get in touch since. If you know anyone, please refer me.

    10. Finding a good lawyer is indeed difficult. Most lawyers are shite.

      I don't know what your problem is, but it does not sound like anything that requires specialized expertise or extensive legal services. How much are you willing to spend in order to chase up a few thousand dollars? At most a few hundred, I should think. Will you be happy to have spent that much if the lawyer advises you that the matter is not worth pursuing?


    11. "Will you be happy to have spent that much if the lawyer advises you that the matter is not worth pursuing?"

      Yes. But I expect details on why it is or is not worth pursuing, with reference to regs, cases, and most preferably specific situations of which the practitioner has direct knowledge. I don't want to spend $250 and just hear "Forget it, kid". And I don't know why you don't think specialized expertise is needed-- health care billing is a monstrosity involving Medicare, state laws, etc.

    12. "I expect details on why it is or is not worth pursuing, with reference to regs, cases, and most preferably specific situations of which the practitioner has direct knowledge."

      That's a $1,000 memo right there. Also makes me wonder why, if you can actually understand that level of legal detail, you need an attorney in the first place.

    13. And what if the answer is that your claim is worth pursuing? A claim for just a few thousand dollars will probably have to be taken up in small-claims court, where in many jurisdictions you are not allowed to be represented by a lawyer. The corporate insurer that you're suing, however, will have a lawyer. Certainly you can hire a lawyer to advise you and outline your argument, but again that will cost an awful lot relative to the size of your claim.

    14. "That's a $1,000 memo right there. Also makes me wonder why, if you can actually understand that level of legal detail, you need an attorney in the first place."

      I am not the commenter above, and I'm not trying to be unnecessarily argumentative, but the quoted comment by Charles Cooper does not make much sense to me.

      I expect business people to be able to understand in detail the legal advice that I give them, and then make their business decisions taking into account my advice. I don't expect them to figure out the legal landscape themselves, no matter how sophisticated they are. They've got much more pressing things they must do with their time.

    15. "Having taught those courses, I know what a difference they can make. My students typically went up 15 points or so—on a test that is only 60 points wide."

      LOL the myth of the Kaplan 15 points, based on a "pre-test" score when most people know bupkiss about the exam. People are so bad at self-discipline and being self-starters. They'd rather have daddy shell out $8K for an intensive "LSAT Bootcamp" than knuckle down and diligently self-study with a $30 guide book and the inexpensive materials available from LSAC.

    16. Unless you'd like to prove that self-study would have worked just as well, 11:24, you haven't addressed my argument.

    17. @10:49-- In my jurisdiction you can have a lawyer in small claims court. Next objection.

      @Charles Cooper --

      I didn't say it had to be a memo, just a conversation. But I can't pay someone to learn health care billing from scratch. I'm offering to pay $250 per hour. For that rate, am I not entitled to a high level of expertise that is relevant to my situation?

      I must say, I've been following the scamblogs for years and am very sympathetic to their message-- but this kind of thing makes me wonder. I'm not sensing a customer service ethic here. Amid all the griping about lack of jobs, a job presents itself, however modest, and the responses are just oh, you don't need that, or it's not worth it, forget it. Small engagements can lead to bigger ones, but you need to build bridges to prospective clients, not just tell them to take a hike.

      Mr. Client 6:11

    18. Fine, you can have a lawyer in small-claims court in your jurisdiction. How much do you think that representation will cost you at $250 per hour? Probably as much or more as the amount that you are claiming.

    19. "Unless you'd like to prove that self-study would have worked just as well, 11:24, you haven't addressed my argument."

      I've convinced at least 8 people who were going to shell out thousands to Kaplan to simply self-study. They all improved 15 or more from cold.

      This is not a fair comparison, though, because most of the people I've talked to about LS admissions were engineers (and the rest were chemists). For whatever reason, the LSAT seems to really click with these types once they've had a bit of practice with it. I have no data (but still a strong suspicion) that others would have similar improvements.

      Still, I will continue to advise any I speak with to give it an honest, diligent shot on their own before shelling out bucks.

      Also, I apologize to you for having gotten this whole thing placed under the wrong sub-thread. I was not trying to hide the comment; I just screwed up.

    20. I posted above at 11:11 AM and think the persons continuing to argue with mr. client (whoever s/he may be) are faintly clueless.

      So what if a lawyer costs $250/hr. Maybe he's in TN where the limit is 25K, or GA or ND or DE where it's 15K. There are like 17 states where it's 10K or greater.

    21. Are you talking about the limit for small-claims court? What matters is the size of the claim. If it's for only a few thousand dollars, a higher limit in small-claims court won't do any good.

      2:05, I certainly don't say that people cannot improve their scores dramatically on their own, only that those costly courses do provide a big advantage.

  2. The traditional Socratic Method hasn't been common in law schools since Nixon was President. It was subject to very harsh criticism in the 1960s and 1970s, and as a result most professors today use a wide range of teaching techniques. Given that, I'm not sure what an anonymous comment about the Socratic Method from someone claiming to have once been a law professor really adds to the debate over legal education.

    1. Ehhh, I don't know about that fully, professor. Maybe you yourself use a variety of methods, but I know that my class and I were subjected to the Socratic rigamarole, and we didn't graduate that long ago. Others here and on other fora have stated similar things.

      I think tradition is a hard thing to overcome. Perhaps tradition has and continues to morph, but to say that Socrates is more-or-less gone is likely an overstatement.

    2. Many profe$$ors pretentiously claim to use the Socratic method. The very term lends them an aura of sophistication.

    3. Carthage must be footnotedJune 25, 2014 at 11:36 AM

      Sit in on most doctrinal law school classes, and you’re going to be watching something that gets called the “modified Socratic method.” Yeah, we’re not Kingsfields any longer. We also don't use corporeal punishment, either. Yay us. We're really moving along.

      How have we moved along? Some professors now add sum-ups or look-aheads. They put in reviews. They set aside a few days of class to do a negotiation exercise of dubious merit. Etc. I’m sure that there are one or two rare exceptions here and there who don’t use the Socratic method at all.

      But by and large, most doctrinal law school classes proceed on the same general lines: mostly case method to teach the law, exploring the case presented through the Socratic method, the occasional diversion into non-Socratic forms of teaching, with a single end-of-semester exam for the grade. That's 80% of doctrinal classes, and you can sweep in another 15% of them by adding in a midterm.

      Pretty much everyone here understood that "Socratic method" was shorthand for the above description. If I'd been talking to law professors, I would have been more specific. But I wasn't.

      I also wasn't trying to add to the debate over legal education. I was trying to explain to an audience of former students my experience deciding the entire system was an unsalvageable mess.

      My whole point was that people like you have made yourselves unconvinceable by virtue of your ego. Telling people who actually went to law school in the last decade that they did not experience what they thought they experienced? Totally not helping you prove that you're giving an unbiased account of the law school experience untouched by ego.

      P.S. It’s a pseudonymous comment, not an anonymous comment. I've been commenting as "Carthage must be footnoted" on Inside/Outside for years, although not nearly as extensively as you.

      I don’t sign my name because my identity doesn’t matter. I could be a self-organized collective of bees endowed with the emergent property of intelligence. If what I’m saying is right, why does my identity matter? For that matter, why would my identity matter if I was wrong?

      I don't sign my name because the insistence on signing names privileges the status quo: people with names that signify power get more attention. Even just mentioning that I'm a former law prof got this comment elevated, which makes me uneasy. Believe it or not, I don't WANT my words to be elevated--scambloggers have voices, and as someone who formerly profited off them, albeit not for very long, I don't want to talk over them.

      I also don't sign my name because doing so would end up as an irrelevant derail into nowhere land.

    4. Learning law by reading cases is the most inefficient, ineffective way I can think that the basics of law could be taught. Contracts being taught via cases is insane. How about we look at a contract and dissect it? Same for property - how about we look at some documents relating to property rather than spending a month reading cases about about foxes and pieces of jewelry?

      The entire system should be inverted: teach the law in the quickest, most effective way possible, and then maybe have a single three-credit class which teaches "case method" law for those who simply can't let go. Anything else really is law professors prolonging an antiquated system which benefits them alone.

      Does anyone have a real, legitimate argument why the Socratic method and the case method are still used? Other than "learning to think like a lawyer" (and I will fight to the death to argue that next to no lawyers think like they're taught in law school)?

    5. Two main reasons: 1) inertia; and 2) the veneer of sophistication. Strip away the mystique of pseudo-Socratic instruction, and suddenly the brighter heads in the room begin to wonder why law school couldn't be supplanted by a series of yellow volumes with titles such as Secured Transactions for Dummies.

      That said, I do think that there is merit in reading cases. One learns to apply jurisprudence by reading the stuff and applying it.

    6. Imagining The Open ToadJune 25, 2014 at 3:58 PM

      "I've been commenting as "Carthage must be footnoted" on Inside/Outside for years"

      Yeah. But seem to have lost your exclamation point somewhere along the way, as I recall...

    7. Kerr: "When I teach, I generally lay out the black letter law in the first five minutes, just as you say. Laying out the blackletter law is easy, and any student can get that from an outline or a treatise (or a comprehensive case). I then spend the rest of class time exploring the nuances. In your example, I might then spend the first 15 minutes of class on nuanced exception 1; the next 15 minutes on nuanced exception 2; and the last 20 minutes on where the law is unsettled (and we'll have a debate on it). "

      What is the price to explore the nuanced, complicated, "real" law for 50 minutes multiplied by a 12-week semester?

      How many of those 50 minutes are spent with students giving voice to their wonderment?

      The current law school model is not economically efficient.

      The current law school model is not pedagogically essential.

      The very same "real" law that *may* be available in a classroom for 50k/ year tuition sticker price (exclusive of living expenses, interest, opportunity cost, and the occasional suicide) can also be obtained on SSRN for free...or maybe JSTOR, if someone don't prosecute you first.

      Why would anyone pay tuition to listen or speak when he could read? Barriers to entry?

      The "new normal" cannot sustain the law school business model. That's it. Debate the ideal all you want. Discuss merits and demerits. The economic reality rolls on no matter what is said in favor or disfavor of the current regime.

      The federal lending system and the mythology of wealthy lawyers has done all it can do to prop up the legal educational industry. The only reason anyone proposes an urgent "debate" about the value of law school is law school has been exposed as making no economic sense. The urgency of the inefficiency has been revealed by the tide of wealth going out.

      P.S. Law professors, the survival of your present careers and the survival of the current legal educational model is directly dependent upon the solvency and whim of the federal government. Betting that the status quo continues favorably for you in the near and medium-term future is like lettin' her ride on the sovereign debt of Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain.

    8. Orin: Do you give tests every three weeks, followed by a final exam worth at most 40% of the grade? All real academic subjects, from basket weaving to quantum field theory, follow this format. If you give one final exam, worth the majority of the grade, then I suggest that you do not "use a wide range of teaching techniques".

    9. Why can't an experienced high school teacher take an excellent treatise, such as Chisum on Patents or Hazen on Securities, and turn it into a series of multiple choice exams to be given every three weeks? What is the value of a bunch of guys who have never handled anything so large as a DUI staring up year after year and regurgitating law school woo?

    10. Every 1L course at CLS, with the exception of one, used Socratic method/cold-calling/putting students on the spot, as did most of my upper-level lectures. Sure, the professor wasn't going to put you in the corner with a dunce cap, but it was still nerve-wracking and, more importantly, contributed to inefficient studying methods, emphasis on minutiae in the cases over the most important facts and reasoning in the case, and a complete checking out by the other 99 students in the room.

      I will always remember the very notable Fed Courts prof who essentially told us on the first day of class (I'm paraphrasing) "I don't cold call. You don't know anything about the cases. I know the cases. You're here to listen to me talk, not the other way around."

  3. Until the 1970s, the law was riddled with latin (absurdities like in toto, ab initio, lis pendens and others still faintly linger) and worthless verbose (the usual garbage that if you actually spoke it there would be laughter...to wit, aforesaid, whereas and many other top forty hits found on typewritten, brown paper in courthouse basements. A plain English movement was devised to prevent confusion from such nonsense and legalese.

    The Socratic Method is just as ridiculous. Can you imagine if you had a potential client seeking legal help and gave him/her a case to read to find the law? You would be viewed as deranged, lazy or incompetent.

  4. So do you learn anything in Law School? Or it is just a more intensive, boot camp form of undergrad hoop jumping?

    My best friends is a 2L doing a summer internship with a judge, at a T10 school, and he complains to me how he already isn't looking forward to his future job (no turning back now). He gets paid well at the internship but does nothing evidently; it's BS resume-building ... says law school is more incredibly tedious than it is hard.

    It's funny because my friend is from a blue collar family, and he though he 'made it' when accepted to LS ... now he dreads his coming Big Law stint.

    And he's the lucky one who will making that 150k salary ...

    1. Imagining The Open ToadJune 25, 2014 at 4:02 PM

      If he's doing his 2L summer with a judge who is essentially permitting him to twiddle his thumbs, this sounds much more likely to be a local/state-court internship than federal.

      Which makes one wonder (combined with the blue-collar comment) whether the biglaw stint is quite as in the bag as he and you think?

    2. 1st Circuit of Appeals judge. I think he's in about the top 40 percent of his class at a T8 school. Doesn't seem worried about landing a job and he has no connections whatsoever. I won't say he's exceptionally bright, but well above average LS material.

      I have to disagree with many of you who think Big Law is all about political connections ... I would say that knowing so many people I went to school with without connections who are aiming or in Big Law. What I hear is that if you get into UVA, Stanford, or Mich, you are going to have a ticket to BigLaw if you don't f*ck up your grades, meaning you are middle of the pack.

      I could be wrong, but I though connections play a bigger role in finding spots at family firms or in public spots? I also have friends going to TTT and TTTT, with jobs lined up by family, but they aren't big law jobs.

      I never went to LS, but it doesn't seem to me that Big Law 'tickets' can just be handed out to people left and right with connections, I would assume the more connected positions are, as I said at family mid-sized firms and public positions.

      I could be wrong.

    3. Imagining The Open ToadJune 25, 2014 at 9:36 PM

      Hi Jon, thanks for the reply. The schools you mentioned (and indeed, pretty much all the T10 except Yale) do put ~ half their grads in large firms.

      But far fewer into fewer into federal clerkships (more on the order of 10% except Stanford's closer to 30%).

      Since the federal judges I've seen work their interns and clerks like dogs, I kind of choked on the idea of doing a 2L summer with a federal judge and just sitting on your hands and made a wrong assumption.

    4. Well, I'm a fortyish hayseed from the top of the class at one of the most prestigious law schools, and I rarely got so much as an interview for a job in Big Law or even Medium Law.

      "T8" means Penn or Virginia, not Yale, just as "top 40 percent" means a hair over the 60th percentile. That's not going to be enough for Big Law in the absence of connections. You are quite wrong to suppose that being in the middle of the pack at a Virginia, or even a Stanford, gives one a ticket to Big Law.

    5. I hear stories of premature aging, balding, and nervous breakdowns at law school and shortly after entering Big Law. And there's no 'exit door' if you don't like your job. Not in this economy.

      I worked in a small law office during college, the elder lawyer was 41, he had white hair. The younger lawyer, around 28 had no hair.

    6. @ 9:45

      Penn places 55-60 percent of graduates in Big Law.

      When you consider that probably 10 percent of grads are going to work in family firms or public positions, and perhaps another 5 percent are just getting their JD for other reasons, that placement rate, of 55-60 percent, is impressive.

      You would have to be in the bottom 25-35 percent and have no personality at a a school like Penn not to have a good chance to land Big Law.

    7. Agreed, Jon, except that the only problem here is that there is 25-35 percent of the class, then, who is consigned to the "loser's bracket". It's becomes mathematical certainty that some people are going to "lose", just like a certian percentage of pachinko balls are going to fall into the gutter, statistically. Are we all supposed to be OK with that?

      Yes, we can blame poor dress, aspie behavior, age and a host of other "personal failings" for some of this, but I'm not sure that I can blame a 25-35 percent fail rate on not being Mr./Mrs. Congeniality and/or not being a legal Einstein. It's even more infuriating that some people seriously say, "well, just don't be THAT guy, then," as if that is a real answer to the issue.

      Certainly, Penn's statistics are noteworthy and they do a much better job for their graduates than, say, Cooley, which is basically an educational abattior. But $200k is a lot of money to pay for a gamble, for most people, in any event.

    8. You said above that you never went to law school. I did, and I have experience with applying for jobs, and I've seen well-connected dipshits from the bottom of the class get jobs in the most exalted places while people (such as myself) at the top of the class were disregarded.

      Penn does not "place" anyone anywhere (except maybe at Penn itself). You're also quite wrong to suppose that everyone outside the bottom 35% can get a job in Big Law.

    9. Law isn't an exception to human nature; in hiring, politics trumps talent often. I think the people who land the best jobs are probably the best salesman, more than anything.

      But, if you want me to believe that Big Law firms can get away with hiring a significant number of their junior labor force that are a bunch of crony idiots, I would disagree. It doesn't make sense economically. This isn't like the police force. Big Law is a business ... I don't see how they could hire a bunch of law graduate who are 'dipshits' and survive.

      Daddy can't arrange for his incompetent child get the right LSAT scores, then get into the right law school, followed by getting into the right Big Law firm just because he is 'connected', followed by being paid a handsome salary for the rest of his life.

      I think that happens less than 5 percent of the time if I had to guess.

    10. Lose the hair test, Jon. My mother's family was highly prone to premature greying, my father's family highly prone to premature balding. Got my first grey hair at 21. Bought a bottle of scotch and got drunk to celebrate.

    11. Paul Campos last year discussed the nexus of socioeconomic status and finding well-paying positions:


    12. Jon, you don't know what you're talking about. You might listen to the people here, such as myself, who do know about law school and big law firms.

      Four years ago, as I was going into law school, I thought just the same as you: the law firms that charge hundreds per hour won't want dipshits who will fuck their legal work up. I was wrong. What they want are people with connections to the sorts of people who might become clients paying hundreds of dollars per hour. Those employees need not be capable jurists; they'll be assigned to document review and the like. And they're not going to stay around for the rest of their lives: the job will last maybe three or four years, and then they'll be gone.

      As for your comment about Daddy, did you not recently see my own note about the person with a 128 on the LSAT (at the 1.3 percentile—just three points better than random guessing) who got into the U of Texas? You don't think that that person was the child of Daddy Warbucks?

      Sorry, but you just don't know the facts.

    13. Jon still believes in the myth of meritocracy, that bootstrappy canard of American Culture. We probably all did at one time or another, until Reality came trapsing along and tore away the veil in our individual lives. Give him time, folks.

    14. Imagining The Open ToadJune 27, 2014 at 7:54 AM

      @ Jon, "Daddy can't arrange for his incompetent child get the right LSAT scores, then get into the right law school, followed by getting into the right Big Law firm just because he is 'connected'..."

      Agreed Daddy can't punk the LSAT, but Daddy can indeed punk admissions processes.

      I'm sure it is a minority, but it does happen often enough that when it comes to light it raises a stink. If you google together these words:

      "UT Law" "state senator" son [and] admisssion

      You should hit numerous stories on how "dozens" of poorly qualified but well connected kids got into the flagship LS in Texas. But "dozens" is certainly not a majority. So there is still admissions meritocracy, at least for those kids who were not on the bubble, i.e., did not get bumped off the admit rolls by the "dozens" of clearly unqualifieds who were unfairly given seats.

      As for firms, and for the poor economics of hiring a certain number of "crony idiots", yes and no. The connected idiot himself may never make a good attorney, but the very idea of hiring the well connected kid is that Daddy can bring his business to the firm. So it can still be economically viable to hire those connected idiots.

      Now, do these kids stay there and make partner? Probably not. Also, is a significant portion of an entering cohort at any given large firm made up of the truly unqualified who only got offers by virtue of their connection? Probably not. But there are generally some, and they take jobs of those on the bubble.

      @5:20 who writes, "Jon still believes in the myth of meritocracy, that bootstrappy canard of American Culture".
      - Well, frankly, I do still believe in this, too. But I also know that there are certainly circumstances where a qualified, but ~ on the bubble type of qualified person will get bumped by politics or other considerations.

    15. For your information, I went to a top 25 undergrad program with a STEM degree, and I was denied 3 or 4 jobs that I explicitly wanted because of politics. I'm well aware that it's who you know, not what you know for most mid-level corporate and state/federal jobs. Today, if you merely want to get hired in a good district as a teacher, cop, or firefighter (by modern standards these are actually awesome jobs), you better have someone pulling for you. There are 500 applicants for every opening.

      However, there are plenty of fields, like engineering, CS, programming, IT, accounting, medicine, and trade jobs where ability by far trumps politics. I would suggest to any young person who is hard working to look into fields where incompetence would result in disaster, because that's a field where politics cannot explicitly interfere with your career.

      I'm actually a tradesman, 24 y/o, pulling in near six figures every year. It's not glamorous work, but I make more than almost all of my friends. I developed this skill while I was in college to pay the bills, and when I figured out that my degree (Chem - Pre-Med) wasn't going to get me far without debt for grad school, I went explicitly for blue collar work.

      Meritocracy does still exist, in parts of the economy where SKILL, not personality (charisma and connections), is needed. Not to bruise your ego, but being a lawyer isn't really a skill, it's more of a PR/sales job for highly intelligent people (I'm not ragging on field, I know some good lawyers as friends).

      So just to clarify my point, I totally agree that being a lawyer is dependent on connections ... but I do not accept that the vast majority of junior lawyers in Big Law firms got there by connections ... this is an echelon largely dependent on largely on talent, I feel like most bitter lawyers who hate Big Law associates and partners are just frustrated because they aren't sharp enough to crack it. Big Law isn't some fancy country club where you go to play around, it's a demanding job where associates have to sacrifice everything for the firm.

    16. @ 6:28

      I generally observe that workers in low stress positions look much younger.

      I have a friend who is a carpenter at age 40ish, and he loves his job, and looks 30 because he has no stress and genuinely enjoys himself.

      Look at women who are homemakers versus women who are in the work force (and don't want to be there).

    17. By the way, Daddy can indeed manipulate LSAT scores. Have you seen the price tags of LSAT prep courses? private tutors? Having taught those courses, I know what a difference they can make. My students typically went up 15 points or so—on a test that is only 60 points wide.

  5. I think the point of the OP is to highlight the fact that while jobs are indeed a supremely important issue, the former LawProf is saying that three years of law school doesn't help in being competitive for jobs at all. This is not what one would rationally expect, and it's a dirty little secret that is coming to light.

    Law School is packaged and sold as "learn these skills, learn this knowledge, become an officer of the court." Except there are no skills, and there is no knowledge, apparently, just an economic sorting/hazing ritual that allows you to sit for the bar exam, which itself is not all that indicative, either. In the 60s and 70s, people allegedly got jobs on the other end that were worth the investment, or at least some claim it to be so, so the fundamental problems could be ignored. Less so, now.

    Lemmings, take heed.

    1. Amen. Very well and succinctly put.

  6. There are two parts to the traditional law school teaching model - the Socratic method (aka professors bullying students) and the casebook method (don't read laws or constitutions, read cases about laws and constitutions - aka 'hide the ball')


    The Socratic method may be used less these days (I don't know) but the casebook method is almost universally used in the US (in contrast to other countries where - shock - they read the actual law).

    The Socratic/casebook methods of teaching law makes almost no sense if what you want to do is actually teach people law, and makes absolutely no sense if what you want to do is to teach people to earn their living as lawyers.

    But what it does do is produce a legal caste that is full of elitism, credentialism, ego, bloat, hubris, conceit and greed, and way way short on humility and integrity.

    But the legal education industry acts like a fly embedded in amber - it not only will not, but seemingly it cannot, change. And yet it could and it should - even a country as rich as ours can misallocate and waste resources only so long before it stops being prosperous.

  7. Since we have two law professors participating in this thread, I'd like to ask a few questions about one aspect of law school that always puzzled me.

    Why is it that law school students are never told "First Do No Harm"? Why do you never hear the word "Honesty" in law school? Why are law school students never told "Don't ever trick your clients into signing their property over to you" and "if someone comes to you complaining that another lawyer has done that to them, always take the client's side and make sure the injustice is undone"? Why are law school students never told "Remember, you are part of the community and your role is to serve that community, not to steal from it"?

    Or to summarize, why is there a moral vacuum about integrity at the very heart of law school?

    1. Carthage must be footnotedJune 25, 2014 at 5:59 PM

      Obviously not the biggest fan of legal education here, but this was definitely not true in my class or in my experience. If people didn't hear the word "honesty" in law school, it's because they weren't listening.

      We can talk about whether the code of legal ethics adequately protects client interests, or if it's taught well in law schools. But this particular accusation strikes me as both bizarrely untrue and also weirdly specific. I'm not sure it's possible to have a discussion about this over the background noise of that axe you're grinding.

      But I can answer your first question: We don't teach lawyers to "First Do No Harm" because (a) we're not training doctors and it makes no sense in the legal context, and (b) they don't even teach doctors that any longer, either. So.

    2. The reason, 12:46, is that most profe$$ors don't give one damn about practice. They even disparage it as a topic too base for such noble intellects as theirs.

    3. Imagining The Open ToadJune 25, 2014 at 9:02 PM

      Calling shenanigans on 12:46. Pure bunk.

    4. If your kindergarten teacher could not teach you not to steal; there is little that your law professor can add. By age 22, you have already decided if you want to be moral or not.

    5. 12:46 here.

      Carthage must be footnoted - it is still taught in medical school:


      "Non-maleficence, which is derived from the maxim, is one of the principal precepts of bioethics that all healthcare students are taught in school and is a fundamental principle throughout the world."

      And why does it make no sense to teach lawyers to first do no harm? Every lawyer and every policeman should be told that on the 1st day of class.

      Imagining The Open Toad - not bunk at all. The number of prosecutorial abuses that are uncovered every year is staggering. See this for example:


      8:03 - Since when is it the responsibility only of kindergarten teachers to teach us not to steal? And what is the harm in reminding people of this in law school? People decide whether to be moral or not at least in part based on the training they have received.

      Lawyers occupy positions of trust - they are fiduciaries to their clients and officers of the court who need to be told in law school and thereafter - don't steal and don't ever trick your client into signing their property over to you.

    6. "Why do you never hear the word 'Honesty' in law school? Why are law school students never told 'Don't ever trick your clients into signing their property over to you' and 'if someone comes to you complaining that another lawyer has done that to them, always take the client's side and make sure the injustice is undone?' Why are law school students never told 'Remember, you are part of the community and your role is to serve that community, not to steal from it'?"

      If you believe that law students are "never" told to not lie, steal, or misappropriate client property, you are mistaken. All of these issues are addressed in detail in Ethics & Professional Responsibility class, which is a required component of the law school curriculum. Further, the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) is required for admission to the bars of all but three U.S. jurisdictions. Then, after a lawyer joins the bar, there are annual CLE requirements that include ethics.

    7. Imagining The Open ToadJune 26, 2014 at 9:08 AM

      12:46/4:09, it is bunk. When you start with a fallacious premise, what follows is also false.

      These are all false assumptions:
      - Why do you never hear the word "Honesty" in law school?
      - Why are law school students never told "Don't ever trick your clients into signing their property over to you"
      - Why are law school students never told "Remember, you are part of the community and your role is to serve that community, not to steal from it"?

      Obligations of professionalism and ethics are stressed throughout law school, and indeed are continuing education requirements throughout one's career in most states.

      So, as far as I can tell, "Why do you never", "Why are students never told" etc. is just poor trolling, and perhaps I'm just a fish you've hooked.

      The fact that you can find a number of prosecutors who abuse their office is a meaninglessly stupid thing to cite in a vacuum.

      Go get the actual number of abuses and put it in the context of the number of prosecutions, then we can at least engage in an intelligent dialogue on the topic and attempt to come to some conclusions about the scope of the problem.

      Similarly silly:

      OMG, Wow, wowie-wow-wow-wow!, the number of teachers having sex with their students every year is staggering, see this news report for example: (http://whatever, dude). Why are teachers never told in teacher college not to have sex with their students???

    8. Carthage must be footnotedJune 29, 2014 at 7:50 AM

      Anon @4:09: The "Do no harm" principle is referenced in medical school, but at this point, it's taught in the same way that law students are taught about the two ships Peerless: it's a historical point, and one they need to be familiar with, but it's not the actual ethical law they operate under.

      The historical principle literally did not allow doctors to cut people open (among other things). Surgeons were a separate (socially lower) class than doctors for a very, very long time. All surgical interventions involve doing harm to the patient in some form or another. Chemo is harmful. Most modern drugs have serious side-effects. X-rays cause harm. Spinal taps cause harm.

      "Do no harm" did NOT mean "do what's best for your patient." It meant "do not do anything that causes your patient harm, even if you think it's in their best interest." And that kinda made sense in olden times without antibiotics, a germ theory of disease, or statistical methods of determining success/failure of treatments, because people didn't really know what worked, and cutting people open for any reason was usually a shitty idea.

      Over the course of the nineteenth century, doctors got hit over the head with several painful clues that they sucked at doctoring. Gradually, the principle morphed from a literal "do no harm" to something more like "don't do harm unless the harm caused is proportionate to the gains, in which case, go for it."

      This history is obscured in the wikipedia article you link. Note that it says "Non-maleficence...is derived from the maxim...." The word "derived" in the article buries the history. Doctors today are no longer literally taught to "first, do no harm." Are they taught about the principle? Sure. But no doctor today could apply the 1700s version of the "do no harm" principle and avoid malpractice.

      Do no harm is mentioned for historical reasons, but it isn't the principle that is actually taught in med school any longer.

  8. Imagining The Open ToadJune 25, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    I guess I'm in the minority here. I think casebook/Socratic/combo methods can be very useful to get at the history and the rational underpinnings of the public policy of various areas of law, particularly as they (both the law and pubpol) have changed over time.

    Did I have a few very bad, hide-the-ball lazy profs? Yeah, a few. And a few more that were bad because, well, they were just pretty unskilled at teaching. Many more, though, were good at teaching us the actual law on a sub-topic and at the same time using the case law to flesh out the history and policy(**).

    [ (**) Certain courses like property and civpro, I almost feel like you're better off trudging through all the old case law first for backgrounding, then getting the black letter. ]

    If you're going to be arguing to get a judge or public agency to blur the black-letter line on the current law just a smidge, it's very helpful to be able to articulate the public policy behind the law and also helpful to know if your proposed blurring is going backward in time (i.e. returning to a position now-abandoned for public policy reasons).

    It also helps to have a firm foundation in background/policy/theory when you find yourself stuck in a gray zone between the lines of two or three black-letter positions and need to estimate which of the three you most nearly approximate and what your likely outcome will be.

    Simply reading or rotely memorizing the current law in each area, such as using bar guide materials, won't give you this sort of backgrounding. It may be capable of making you into a perfect, robotic technician of the current black letter law. I don't think this is enough - it wouldn't have been enough for me.

    Anyway, at least at my LS the teaching wasn't all that bad. Some of the teachers were bad, some were good, a few were excellent. No worse on average than, say, my UG education.

    My only gripe with LS is really all the unnecessary things that drive the expense. If I were King Toad, I'd kill the emphasis on pretty much anything that didn't drive a teaching mission. Get rid of all the felgercarb and for the most part tuition could be a third of what it is. Outside the T10, that is – I’d let them do what they want.

    (Disclaimers – am not nor have been nor have ever wanted to be a law prof, no I did not attend a T10, whatever)

    1. I (who lately at this site have defended in part the reading of cases) concur with Imagining the Open Toad here. Contrary to the disconcerting but unsurprising tenor of much of the recent discussion here, law is not just a mass of facts and rules to be memorized and applied mechanically.

    2. "...law is not just a mass of facts and rules to be memorized and applied mechanically."

      Okay, that is a reasonable assertion, but the issues here are somewhat more specific.

      The issues are whether the self-proclaimed "Socratic method" of law school is the most pedagogically effective method of introducing someone to the chaos that is law, and whether that "method" (if it really exists) it is economically efficient.

      To be perfectly frank, the "Socratic method" in my experience appears to be nothing other than someone asking what he or she believes to be a pointed question. Is it anything else in your experience? Whether or not the professor actually asked a pointed question, and whether or not pointed questions are effective methods of "teaching" remain unaddressed.

      Asking pointed questions isn't worth $150,000. Not at all. Not even close.

      You can say all you want that the law is complicated, but what are you talking about? Beyond the label of "complicated," beyond that gesture towards some observable thing that we're all supposed to affirm from our own experience, describe (if you can) what you are talking about when you say that law school offers some entre to the complications of law.

      I've had elderly lawyers scream at me (in an absolutely good-natured fashion) that "the law doesn't matter, and the law is whatever some judge says it is today!" That's true too, no? The law is whatever some judge says it is today. In what manner does law school prepare one for that? Rulings make the world go 'round.

      Again, almost no one here offers an analysis or how or why the practice of law is complicated. Simply noting that the practice of law is complicated in no way addresses the issues with law school.

      When you leave law school you are not competent to practice law on your own. Does anyone even dispute that? If you're lucky you can land a job where lawyers do the work that law school did not do. They train. Address that.

    3. Imagining The Open ToadJune 25, 2014 at 10:50 PM

      "When you leave law school you are not competent to practice law on your own. "
      - No argument. But consider, when I left engineering school, I also was not competent to be a practicing engineer on my own without training. In fact, the national exam at the time had been insultingly (but accurately) renamed to “Engineer In Training” from “Fundamentals of Engineering” (as I believe it is again today called). And you have to work under a practicing engineer for 5 years before you can take the PE exam and work on your own as a practicing engineer.
      - Of course, there is a distinction, engineering was undergrad and LS is a graduate program. But are doctors fit to practice medicine upon graduation from med school? Or is a residency training program pretty much a "must have" there, too? (Not sure what the correct answer is here.)

      "The law is whatever some judge says it is today. In what manner does law school prepare one for that? "
      - Probably it does not, except that reading lots of cases would at least inform you how often that's the way it goes. Whereas a person who had read nothing but black letter law would be shocked at such an unexpected outcome. But that's what appeals are for, as the judge will explain as he denies your motions (to quote: “Sorry, great arguments, but I’m a district court judge, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for DC judges to make law. But I will be rooting for you at the 4th Circuit.")

      "…what you are talking about when you say that law school offers some entre to the complications of law."
      - An example, hopefully not too far off the mark. I helped someone who'd had a terrible auto accident due to a reckless driver. About a half million in medical fees and 9 months out of work, P&S modestly estimated at well over a million. The reckless driver's insurance maxed at 500K.
      - Based on the medical insurance contract and the black letter law, my guy was toast and would have to turn over the entire $500K recovery to the insurance company, and be left with nothing. He doesn't get to keep anything for his lost work time, for his pain and suffering, nothing. Pisser, huh? Too bad, that’s the law, right? We roll over?
      - But we started digging in peripheral areas of the law and found arguments that there were strong public policy reasons for our state's court to extend rulings from other areas (work comp insurance) into our area. Once the insurance company figured out we had a fair chance of winning on one of the questions in particular, they settled for significantly less than half. To close the loop on this long story, I’m pretty sure all the repetitions of reading cases that were each one a hair different than the last (i.e. if all I’d had was barbri type law summaries), I wouldn't have known enough to go digging in the peripheries for case law to argue should be extended into our particular area.

      Anyway, I think I got a lot of use of my LS education. Wasn't all great, as mentioned above, but worthwhile.

      However, it would not have been worth today's $150K. Maybe $50K in adjusted dollars, which may have been what I had in mind when I wrote above about reducing tuition to a third of current.

    4. I agree that the much-vaunted "Socratic method" is not Socratic and that in practice at law schools it is generally inefficient; a few days ago, I even said that legal pedagogy today is for the most part shite.

      In my message above, I (5:51) was responding to the many recent suggestions that law school could and should be reduced to summaries of black-letter law. There has been open hostility here to the very idea of looking at a case. Such sentiments are both foolish and ignorant, and they should not pass without comment.

      I fully agree that people right out of law school are not competent to practice law on their own. Law school scarcely acknowledges the existence of practice. Most professors are unable to practice, so why should fresh graduates be better? The incompetence of newly licensed lawyers is a damning indictment of the legal academy and the bar as well.

    5. Open Toad/9:50, good point on the FE exam. It's interesting that engineering makes no bones about the fact that as a graduate you are "ready to learn", that you need mentoring/training, and that you can't "sit for the bar" in engineering without it. Medicine appears to follow something similar.

      Contrast law, where they kick you out on your ass and say "you now have everything you need, so good luck." It would be funny if it weren't so patently false as to be absurd on its face.

    6. @ 5:51 PM and Mr. Imagining the Open Toad,

      You're both arguing that *reading* case law is valuable. How could anyone deny that?

      I was not arguing against reading case law (which a student must and does do on his own; which every lawyer does as little has he can get away with!), but instead I am pointing out what passes for "teaching" vis a vis case law is just a mishmash of garbage.

      If we all agree that would-be lawyers need to read and use case law, that does not answer the question of when students should read case law.

      It does not answer the question, how might a class enhance the work the student has already done in reading assigned cases?

      If I had it to do all over again, I would do exactly what MA suggested in his predecessor post. I would get BarBri materials and study them, because BarBri does one hell of a better of job of orienting a person in a large landscape than the law professors I had ever did. Case law has a context once you've run through something like BarBri.

      I find Imaging the Open Toad's experience interesting: case law is a tool for an organic and real problem. What case law one seeks out, how one describes it or allows it to speak in a filing, is driven by the goal of solving a particular and fact-bound problem. No such thing is done in law school.

      Too little case law without a foundation would leave a student with an incorrect notion of what the law is. Some "fake" law, as Professor Kerr called it, is essential and every law school is "teaching" said "fake" law. "Fake" apparently means simplified so as to be broadly applicable, a general rule or approach, not specific to a particular jurisdiction.

      If law school is meant to simulate the intellectual work of legal practice, who needs it? We need apprenticeships and independent study, not law school. Anyone in the country can read case law at any time; it's called Google Scholar.

      If law school is meant to be so utterly remedial that it does not even attempt, intend or succeed in rendering a student able to practice law on his or her own immediately after graduation, then what *is* it offering that law schools have some sort of monopoly on providing? Anything you can learn in law school you can learn elsewhere, in another way, from other persons, without paying tuition. We largely teach ourselves. We largely experiment with arguments and see what works. There are no "right answers" in the law, although there are in certain contexts clearly "wrong" answers.

      Now I will share with you some of my experiences in law school.

      I had a tenured professor for 1L criminal law regularly lecture to our class from the supplement "Understanding the Criminal Law."

      I had an adjunct criminal procedure professor regularly lecture to our class from "Understanding Criminal Procedure."

      I had an adjunct professor for federal income tax "teach" her entire course out of Examples and Explanations. She did not announce this; the class merely noticed and bought the supplement.

      I had a tenured professor who is renowned (apparently true) for federal civil procedure lecture from a supplement he authored, keyed to a case book he authored.

      I had a tenured professor who is renowned (apparently true) for constitutional law lecture from a supplement he authored and a case book he authored.

      I could go on. The question to me is why did these professors who to a one described themselves as employing and believing in the Socratic method teach me out of supplements? We read case law too, of course, but it was largely an exercise they themselves seemed to regard as inadequate, not worthwhile, etc.

      Do you all consider the foregoing a scam? I did and do.

    7. Duped@6:34. You are very right but there are two factors at work:

      1. When doctors screw up people die. When engineers screw up things collapse, blow up, burn down, crash, etc. and sometimes people die. The roof of the Hartford Civic Center arena collapsed in 1978 hours after a basketball game before a packed house had ended.

      2. It's about oversupply. As late as the 1950s every law grad could get a job at a firm or hang out a shingle, assured of assistance from other local members of what was then still a very collegial profession. There was plenty of work in a growing economy so the new guy posed no threat to the old timers.

      Those M.D.s and P.E.s in training are getting paid. Who is going to pay J.D.s to get that required on-the-job, supervised experience when at present there isn't enough work out there to keep half of them busy?

  9. OTLSC has been linked:


    It's somehow satisfying to note that the comments at the ATL link are pathetic compared to the ones here.what gets posted here.

  10. "Those who did question the system were generally JD graduates in the loser's bracket of the law school sorting mechanism, and shame was allowed to do its dirty work and silence the critics instead of fostering real debate."

    That is some fine writing.

    1. Are you being sarcastic? I completely understood what was meant. You didn't?

  11. The primary issue with the Socratic method is pretty obvious, and it has nothing to do with professors' egos, the academia-practice gulf, or Nixon. It's simply an piss-poor way to communicate precise and nuanced substance, which it drowns out with a flood of needless noise. (Even Socrates didn't rely on his "method" as a vehicle to convey substantive content.) And contrary to Mr. Kerr's assertion, Barbri, however "fake" its content may be, brings more legal substance to the table than I've seen anywhere within a five-mile radius of the law classes at his alma mater. Finally, generally speaking, the more precise the professor, the more mitigated is this fundamental deficiency in the Socratic method - frankly, at any law school, everyone from the students to your peers knows the exact handful of professors who can capably pull it off, so try it at your own risk of playing the fool.

  12. The casebook method can actually add some value for students who are bright, flexible, and already well-educated. They still need to learn some law for the bar exam and (hypothetical) legal practice, but many of them enjoy learning whatever they learn in law school.

    The problem is the vast majority of students, who are neither very bright, flexible, nor well-prepared for law school. The casebook method confuses and discourages them. Since George Washington is overrun with such students, Professor Kerr is forced to use a variety of teaching methods to reach them.

    1. Indeed, most law students are dumbbutts who simply do not belong in law school. Intellectuals among law students are few and far between. They're not common among law professors either.

    2. Intellectuals are few and far between in America, period. We're a country of greedy simpletons with no real insight, except "bigger is better".

      We value the symbol, not the real thing. I'm sure most lawyers think they are intellectuals because they read books at a pretty campus with other people reading books at a pretty campus. Plato, Aristotle, me!

      The Law School scam seems like a farce for that reason ... it tantalizes young people with the myth that being a lawyer is like being on Boston Legal or Law and Order. All of the lawyers I know, outside of a few making good money or with the right job, are miserable.

    3. It's more than the TV shows. The other day I overheard a mortgage broker on the phone with a young woman who was engaged and said they wanted to buy a house right away. They were hopelessly unqualified for a loan, and one factor was that her fiance was in default on some student loans. I asked if she was seeing student loans affecting mortgage applications more these days. She said it's not the loans, it's what they do to the loans (i.e. make late payments and default). She then told me of a licensed psychologist (Ph.D.) she knows who has $150,000 in debt but is working at a non-profit for ten years to get his loans wiped out. I then mentioned how many JDs are coming out with $140,000.00 or more in student loan debt and she replied, in a totally nonchalant manner: Oh, yea, but they can get jobs to pay that back. She had just said that the psychologist guy "could be making $200,000", so apparently she thinks most lawyers make more than that. When I told her that half of all law grads nowadays will never work as lawyers and that few will ever make enough money to retire their student loans it clearly did not register with her weltanschauung.

      We all need to pitch in to change the public perception that all lawyers are getting rich.

    4. I'm surprised more JDs aren't committing suicide or going rogue.

      It has to be a pretty brutal-let down from doing 7 years of education, thinking you have 'made it', to the real world, where you essentially jump off a cliff into an inferno of unemployment, white collar slavery, and social condemnation.

      Getting a JD is socially perceived as something distinguished, when the reality is that its like a millstone around your neck.

      I feel for you guys and gals. (Except those of you who are just greedy and went to LS to screw other people over to 'get yours' just like your professors).

    5. I also doubt very much whether that psychologist could be getting $200k.

    6. @ 2:17, 7:04 here. I agree with you 100%, but the point is the mortgage broker believed he could and was using that as a benchmark for what lawyers make.

    7. Jon, you must be the life of any party you go to. Did it ever occur to you that you have not been able to find a job because your negative personality shows through? You would bring a dark cloud to any organization you worked at. You are downer my friend. People like you cause other people to be down. That's probably why you don't have a job. You would cost an organization far more than you would give it. Personality and disposition really is important if you want to work for somebody else.

    8. I will keep that in mind next time mommy calls me up from the basement to ask why I need to borrow more money.

  13. I like this website but I believe it total nonsense to argue you don't learn to think like a lawyer in law school. Reading cases, the distinctions and nuances of the law is everything. I learned a huge amount in law school, but probably didn't realize how much I learned until practicing in midlaw. As far as success as a solo, which I have been for years, a lot of it depends on your intelligence, personality, tenacity and perseverance. I have turned lemons into lemonade through creative and dogged determinis and lawyering. I'm older now..and realize there are more lawyers than ever, but there are a lot of mediocre lawyers out there. There will always be room for good lawyers.

    1. I think the argument isn't that you don't learn how to think like a lawyer in law school; it is that you learn to do so almost entirely on your own. The "Socratic Method" is just a way for law professors to bully students and take credit for what the students learn largely through their own studies.

  14. The only reason anyone is talking about the Socratic method's shortcomings is because THERE ARE NO JOBS. Rather than admit that there are too many law schools (pumping out too many graduates), greedy Deans & Professors (desperate to hold on to their jobs, income and positions of respect) are trying to rationalize the problem by saying we should teach differently.

    If there were sufficient jobs for lawyers, nobody would care what they taught in law school. And to be fair, practically ALL graduate programs are full of meaningless, impractical study. In that respect, law school is no different.

    So, finding alternatives to the Socratic Method is an interesting side discussion. BUT the main focus should always be on CLOSING LAW SCHOOLS and REDUCING THE SUPPLY OF LAW SCHOOL GRADUATES.

    1. What you say is true. To some extent the issue of the quality or effectiveness of legal education is a red herring. However, the fact that law schools do not prepare graduates to be able or competent to practice law independently exacerbates the "jobs" issue.

      You don't need to "find a job" or "find an employer" if you can competently employ yourself. Whether or not there are clients with needs and money to sustain your practice is another question.

      The lack of hard, marketable skills leaves law graduates at the mercy of availability of employers; it leaves new law graduates at the mercy of municipalities who literally pay nothing; it drags down wages to nothing as law graduates compete for the training they did not receive in law school via the unpaid internship.

    2. In all fairness, higher education, outside of a few STEM areas, provides very little in the form of marketable skills. It really is a farce.

      I don't want to hear people say that education prepares you as a thinker, writer, or presenter ... that's BS, if you go to a quality private HS, you will learn those things at the age of 16.

      Back in the day, you could become a CPA or Professional Engineer without ever going to college! What does that tell you about the 'necessity' of a college education?

    3. Go farther back and you'll see that Abe Lincoln became a very successful lawyer without a full year of formal education in his entire life.

      But I am going to disagree with you on one point. I went to a quality private high school, and in college I quickly grasped the fact that I was far better prepared for college than 95% of my classmates who came out of unionized public schools. But in college my horizons were broadened considerably and I value the fact that I became a well educated person (although many of my classmates were just marking time and getting by with the minimum possible effort because you needed a B.A. to get a non-blue collar job). That being said, I went to college when the most expensive schools ran about $5K a year for tuition, room and board. In the world of 2014 I don't think what I got is worth the price.

    4. Yea, well that's the thing, I'm big supporter of the liberal arts ... but today they teach fluff, crap, and pc garbage. A BA is a joke today ... it has had diminished value over the last 60 years as leftists have marched through the institutions.

  15. Every level of education in this country has lost touch with reality. I did AmeriCorps, where one of the sites I served at was in a second grade classroom. The teacher would spend 20 minutes on a math lesson, and then the students would do crafts for two hours. This country is in serious trouble...

    1. Because teachers are overpriced babysitters. The educational system is a meal ticket for parasites. Usually of a leftist bent.

    2. Yes, based on that anecdotal observation, the country is in serious trouble. Such critical thinking skills you developed in law school.

    3. The teachers unions have killed education, because they turned it into a destination for lazy people to collect a pension, get summers off, and not work a real job. I'm not saying there aren't quality teachers, but they are few and far between.

      Professors operate in a similar manner, they just have a higher IQ.

      ... and I never considering going to Law School.

    4. @12:09, I can only conclude that you are a union teacher, a relative of a union teacher or a parent racked by guilt for having put your children in unionized public schools. No one without a jaundiced view of the situation would claim that American public education is not in trouble.

  16. I said this over 20 years ago, it was not received well by anyone. I was right...no one listened...

  17. Nobody talks about this, but the lack of true legal education privileges the status quo and BigLaw. I have a small business client who needs patent litigation. They cannot afford a large firm and it is almost impossible to find a competent small firm to do this. By not actually providing an education, the present system creates an apprentice system where lawyers can only learn to practice law by osmosis at law firms. There are entire practice areas that can only be learned at large firms, which small firms will not dare touch, for fear of malpractice. Even experienced lawyers cannot easily teach themselves a new practice area. Treatises and CLE are valuable, but they cannot substitute for a true education. Imagine if there was a place, outside of law firms, where they actually taught law.

  18. You all got me to thinking. Starting a school to teach lawyers how to practice law through a combination of apprenticeship and classroom instruction. A viable idea? Maybe a school for pro-am litigants? Represent themselves and leave out lawyers entirely.

    1. Any idea based on starting yet another goddamn law school will only make us roll our eyes.

    2. TTTs aplenty are already claiming to produce practice-ready lawyers and new kinds of lawyers. As has been posted elsewhere, the jobs will still go to graduates of the top schools regardless of what method any school uses. I really don't see any Wall Street firms saying "Oh, wow! Indiana Tech graduates have been taught how to practice! Cancel all OCIs at HYS!"

    3. But that pin that they get in first year REALLY sets them apart from the people at HYS!

  19. "Law Prof Who Specializes in Poverty Makes $205,400 – Teaching One Class Per Semester"


    1. “I’m a full time faculty member – doing all the varied things faculty members do,” he stated. “That’s the basis for the salary you quote. "

      Doing all the varied things faculty do, except teach much, it would appear.

    2. Yeah, all the varied things that law professors do: sitting on their ass, sitting on their ass, and sitting on their ass.

  20. Carthage must be footnotedJune 29, 2014 at 8:02 AM

    Just for the record, I want to make clear that my comment on law school pedagogy was made in the context of a very specific discussion on another post.

    It should by no means read that I think that the law school pedagogy problem is the worst one. The biggest problems law schools have are that we're producing too many lawyers and the tuition is too damned high, and no, I don't think solving #1 solves #2.

    I think y'all are doing a pretty decent job battering away at #1--law schools are going to have to retrench, reduce class size, and close in response.

    #2 is a separate problem, and one that is more fucked up than #1 for a number of reasons, the main one being that the only way to effectively reduce tuition more than nominally is to jettison the notion that all professors must be considered academic scholars.

    You could probably get a lot of law professors to agree that #1 is, in fact, the case. They may wish other law schools the joys of closing and/or reducing class size, but the market's pretty much forcing this on law schools now, and law profs can at least pretend that the brunt of that will be felt by other people.

    #2? Will be felt by everyone.

    1. Cut off the government loan dollars and you will solve problem #1 and #2 at the same time.

    2. On the matter of tuition @5:26 is right and Carthage is wrong. "Academic scholars" are not at all valuable - there is a glut of them. My sister has an A.B., an M.A. and a Ph.D. in English Literature, all from very prestigious schools, but in 25 years has only been able to find adjunct work at community colleges, even when she was living in Boston. She would take a full time gig with no tenure in a heartbeat and for a lot less than what tenured faculty get paid. In a free market the cost of higher education would be rising only at the rate of inflation because there is such a huge surplus of skilled labor available. Lawyers in my area are charging fees not much changed in twenty years because there is so much competition. But the education market is not free because the gubmint passes out massive student loans to otherwise unqualified borrowers. I the gubmint would make such loans to law clients the fees would have gone up. I wouldn't cut off the loan dollars, I'd just apply the same underwriting criteria that are used for any unsecured loan. That would end the party really quickly while not exposing politicians to charges of elitism.

    3. Very few law profe$$ors can properly be called scholars, or (as I said above) even intellectuals.

      Legal hackademia has pulled a hell of a ruse. It has elevated "scholarship"—useless scribbling that serves as cover for sitting on one's ass—even though nobody, but nobody, reads the stuff. Nincompoops who don't even know where the courthouse is get to pass themselves off as scholars by occasionally shitting out some dumb, semiliterate, utterly irrelevant tripe on Rawls and road trips or Hart and hip-hop. And of course they, and they alone, need tenure to protect them from political reprisals for the controversial and provocative ideas that they present in the dust-covered law reviews.

    4. Carthage must be footnotedJune 30, 2014 at 4:03 PM

      For the record:

      1. When I went to law school, which was not terribly long ago, federal dollars were capped and so almost everyone funding their education mostly through loans took out private loans on top of their federal loans. I think you may be optimistic about why the feds took on student loans--it was because they're valuable, not because they wanted to help people get an education. But before the feds stepped in, cheesy-ass banks were slavering at the prospect of loaning hundreds of thousands of dollars to young people that were not dischargeable in bankruptcy. The fact that they couldn't reasonably pay them off? A bonus, because then you could charge fees. Debt peonage 4eva.

      Kids used to be able to fund fucking Cooley with private student loans.

      So I do not share your optimism on this point, because I do not see that the government takeover of student loans has had any effect on tuition--the tuition trend started well before the feds completely took over student loans, and I suspect those private lenders would jump back in at any point if the feds walked away.

      Not to say that we couldn't come up with some solution, but it would have to be a lot more complicated than simply walking away from government-backed student loans.

      2. I never said academic scholars were valuable. I said that law professors believe they produce valuable scholarship. Those are two very different statements, both of which can be simultaneously true.


    5. "before the feds stepped in, cheesy-ass banks were slavering at the prospect of loaning hundreds of thousands of dollars to young people that were not dischargeable in bankruptcy" - Carthage at 3:03 pm

      As the above quote hints, the solution is not that complicated - the key is whether or not student loans are dischargeable bankruptcy.

      If they are (as they should be) then the loan spigot will dwindle to a trickle or perhaps even stop running altogether. And then tuition will plummet to a level that is affordable.

      The only ones who will suffer are the serf owners - debt collectors and their evil twin law school employees.

    6. … or tuition will remain unaffordably high and people of ordinary means will be kept out of law school.

    7. Very naive, @8:15. Loss of students means school closures and declining enrollments elsewhere and thus loss of "jobs" for parasites. You'd better believe the price will come down when it's that or the cold, cruel world.

    8. That's not inconsistent with what I said. If a pile of law schools closed down, the survivors could still charge tuition that was beyond the means of many people. Already the more highly regarded law schools are dominated by the scions of grandees.

    9. Law school tuition only began its skyward climb when student loans became non-dischargeable.

      And in any event law schools could use part of their endowments (and their fund raising) for need-based scholarships.