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The Insular U.S. Legal Profession January 27, 2007

Posted by federalist in Education, Judiciary.

Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered. – Luke 11:52

The U.S. legal profession is a snooty club, where the price of admission is three unproductive years in law school and $120k. You cannot practice law in this country without undergoing this initiation. There are pretenses of this bar protecting consumers and the legal system. But the legal bar associations — like most lawyers (and, it seems, better business bureaus generally) — are more concerned with protecting their own reputations than with ensuring the quality of legal services available to consumers or the integrity of justice. (As Jesus would tell them, “[ye] make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness” Ibid:39.)

Cameron Stracher turns toward this elephant in the court in his essay, “Meet the Clients.”

There appears to be an emerging consensus that although law schools may teach students how to “think like a lawyer,” they don’t really teach them how to be a lawyer. It is hard not to agree. One of the biggest problems with the current state of legal education is its emphasis on books rather than people. By reading about the law rather than engaging in it, students end up with the misperception that lawyers spend most of their time debating the niceties of the Rule Against Perpetuities rather than sorting out the messy, somewhat anarchic version of the truth that judges and courts care about. When they graduate, young lawyers rarely know how to interview clients, advocate for their positions, negotiate a settlement or perform any number of other tasks that lawyers do every day. In short, they are woefully unprepared to be lawyers, despite the outrageous hourly fees charged for their services.

In addition to misleading students, the current system harms clients who often assume that their lawyers have more experience than they do.

The state bars profess interest in protecting the public, but none seem to care whether new lawyers can actually do the tasks with which they will soon be confronted.

The legal profession is a trade, for which we need masters and apprenticeships — not degrees and bars. This is not to say we shouldn’t have legal academics. Let them roam the halls of private universities and think tanks along with ethicists, artists, and historians. Just don’t make them part of the initiation requirements for every legal craftsman.

Law is not brain surgery. It is a skill that can be acquired through practice and repetition.



1. federalist - October 9, 2009

Supreme Court Justice Scalia in an interview on C-SPAN, as quoted by the WSJ:

I mean lawyers, after all, don’t produce anything. They enable other people to produce and to go on with their lives efficiently and in an atmosphere of freedom. That’s important, but … I worry that we are devoting too many of our very best minds to this enterprise.

2. federalist - December 23, 2009

And maybe they’re getting their comeuppance: The links and comments associated with Herwig Schlunk’s paper, “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be…Lawyers” offer some schadenfreude.

3. federalist - December 31, 2009

More reports of “buyer’s remorse” from law school graduates — apparently in part thanks to optimistic misinformation disseminated by the law schools themselves. As the blogger “Esq. Never” describes it:

If you think that charging obscene prices that force students to endure a lifetime of crippling debt in return for meager job opportunities and only the most minimal practical training is A-okay, that’s your business (probably literally). I, however, believe that most reasonable people would recognize this to be an absurd and corrupt business practice.

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