Memo to Future Lawyers

Don’t go to Marquette Law School.

According to David Papke, law professor at Marquette Law School,

We don’t want law school to be lawyer-training school. When we cave in to demands of that sort from the ABA and assorted study commissions, we actually invite alienation among law students and lawyers. Legal education should appreciate the depth of the legal discourse and explore its rich complexities. It should operate on a graduate-school level and graduate people truly learned in the law.

If you want to be “truly learned in the law”, Marquette will try to graduate you. Being truly learned in the law is nice. Just nice. Not once have I had a potential client ask me if I was truly learned in the law; my “truly-learned-in-the-law in Houston” webpage never had a hit.

Being truly learned in the law qualifies one to teach other people to be truly learned in the law, just as a PhD in philosophy qualifies one to teach philosophy, but it doesn’t pay the bills.

Let’s face it: there are a thousand other areas of human knowledge to choose from if one wants PhD-level erudition. Many are more convivial than the law, and I suspect that most graduate programs are less antagonistic (and less expensive) than law school. If you want to be a scholar, there are better choices than law school.

But most people — even the lawgeekiest amongst us — don’t go to law school to be scholars. They go to law school to be lawyers. And, clearly, Marquette Law School is not the place for that.

I don’t have any problem with Marquette deciding not to train lawyers. Let Marquette Law School be yet another liberal-arts graduate program, but tell prospective students what they’ll be getting.

In fact, I propose a new motto for Marquette: If you want to practice law, go somewhere else.

Maybe someone could even translate it into Latin.

[Update: Scott Greenfield beat me to it: “Imagine, the dirtiness of a law school teaching law students how to practice law.  Disgusting.  Revolting.  How beneath the dignity of such a distinguished scholar.  Instead, they should be taught . . . what?”]

[Update 2: Gideon S. Trumpet himself, who started this discussion with his “10 Things I Didn’t Learn in Law School“, wonders, “Will I get a pass when I won’t know how to pick appropriate jurors
because I will enthrall them with anecdotes from the Federalist Papers?” in his “One Thing Law School Isn’t Meant to Teach You“; Miami criminal-defense lawyer Brian Tannebaum, at his My Law License blog, comments:

In medical school we teach students about the body, its organs, how it
works, how it reacts to certain factors, and what causes disease and
sickness. Then the “doctors” do a “residency” where they focus on the
practicalities of “doctoring.”

In law, we give “lawyers” a degree, that they can immediately frame, hang up in an office and greet unknowing clients.

]

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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10 Responses to Memo to Future Lawyers

  1. Ken says:

    I encountered this sort of practice-snobbery in law school from certain professors, who disdained teaching much about the actual rule of law and how to apply it. When pressed, they tended to argue that I could learn the rules of evidence by myself, and it was far more important to use my time at Snobby Law School to learn what great minds thought about the law and how it got that way and how we think about the law and so on.

    In fact, I have learned a tremendous amount about black-letter rules of law from gifted teachers whose lessons went far beyond the mere words on the page — they imparted insights about how different rules of law interact, how to employ them effectively, and how to determine the best way to apply them to new situations. That teaching required genuine talent and insight — talent and insight that I’m not sure was within the grasp of professors who favored talking about how law made them feel.

    Ultimately, the professors (the best of whom was a small-town practitioner) who taught me about the rules of law far better equipped me to serve my clients, which I rather thought was the point.

  2. Clay S. Conrad says:

    The real weakness to Papke’s argument is that a Juris Doctor is not a terminal degree. There are LLM degrees, and even the rare SJD degree, for those who want to think big thoughts in the law. The JD is the entry-level law degree, and is not truly a graduate-level degree in the law.

  3. If law schools actually trained people to be lawyers, they’d have fewer students (but the world would be a somewhat happier place).

    At least some of us who went to law school have come out the other end quite disappointed when struck with the reality of American life: knowledge of LAW is irrelevant. For those who actually care about law, this can be jarring.

    What we have is an oligarchy with its own sometimes interesting and usually varying rules, tenuously connected (in some parts of the country and/or with individual judges) to LAW. Analytically-minded technicians capable of making sense of these systems can sometimes help people caught up in them.

    There isn’t much of a need for people who are interested in legal theory in such systems. The exercise of being interested in legal theory (and history) can sometimes be useful to such a technician and may sometimes provide a foundation, or at least inspiration, for arguments that might actually work at times. But it is not necessary and seldom provides a good return on the investment. (And it CAN lead to more frustration for those who don’t recognize the aforementioned tenuousness of any connection between such studies and reality.)

    Law school is, when it comes down to it, a trade school for people who didn’t want to get their hands dirty by becoming mechanics. And I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that, in the long run. But law schools really should be more up front about this.

    I agree with the comment that if all you want is to be a legal technician, Marquette may not be the place for you. At least they’re honest about it.

  4. Mark Bennett says:

    Rick, how do you figure that “if law schools actually trained people to be lawyers, they’d have fewer students”? It seems to me that virtually everyone goes to law school expecting to be trained to be a lawyer.

    If law schools want fewer students, they can advertise that they are training legal scholars and not practicing lawyers. At 27 large a year, I don’t think they’ll get many takers.

  5. I agree with both your points. It’s true that “virtually everyone goes to law school expecting to be trained to be a lawyer.” And I agree that if law schools explicitly advertised that they were training legal scholars and not practicing lawyers, they would probably not get as many takers.

    On the other hand, I don’t know many law schools that actually train lawyers, do you? I’m sure there are some, but most law schools I know think they’re doing what Marquette says it’s doing. Most don’t succeed at doing what they think they’re doing, though. Most would be insulted by my (truthful) statement that they are essentially trade schools for people who didn’t want to get their hands dirty by becoming mechanics.

    On the other hand (as Tevya the Milkman would say, “how many hands do I have, anyway?”), although law schools don’t really train lawyers, people go to them for that anyway.

    The reason I think there would be fewer students if law schools were intellectually honest and AIMED at training people to become lawyers is that I think more people would drop out in the first year. I make the (perhaps erroneous) assumption that if they were aiming at training lawyers, they’d explain what it meant to BE a lawyer and expose people to that as 1Ls.

    I know quite a few lawyers who are disenchanted with being lawyers, but continue to do it because they invested so much money in becoming lawyers. I’ve heard stories of people who went to law school, but never practiced law afterward, or left the practice of law shortly after finding out what it was really like, although I don’t personally know any such people.

    If I had been taught in my first year of law school that being a lawyer did not really have much of a connection to Law with a capital-L and if I had been taught what my life would REALLY be like, I probably would not have gone on. I would have known earlier about the disconnect between Law and being a lawyer.

    While I believe that a good knowledge of Law does help, it’s more useful in the sense that I mentioned in my first comment: It provides some foundation and/or inspiration for argument. The more I learn Law, though, the more disgusted I become with courts and the more convinced I become that our system is irreparably broken. At least in my expected lifetime.

    I am not satisfied by the response of one long-experienced and high-ranking attorney to whom I said “I feel it doesn’t matter how much Law I know; when I go to court, I’m still just throwing the dice.” His reply was, “Yes, but you’ve got a better pair of dice than most people.” It’s still dice.

    Meanwhile, attorneys typically put in long hours. The “billable hour requirements” for attorneys in law firms are so high that most attorneys actually put in around 50 hours a week at a MINIMUM to meet them; many put in significantly more. For that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median income for attorneys after one year in private practice is $85,000 and $46,150 for government attorneys (i.e., prosecutors or public defenders). Starting salary in my town for new Public Defenders, by the way, is allegedly around $32,000.

    So, I reiterate, teach law students the truth about what it means to be a lawyer and there will be fewer students.

  6. Mark Bennett says:

    I think that’s right. If you wanted to train scholars, you would do away with the competitiveness and the pseudoSocratic method; if you wanted to train lawyers, you’d have lawyers doing the training.

    Most law schools, trying to teach students to be legal scholars when the students want to be taught to be lawyers, fail to do either well.

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  8. Jim Keech says:

    One advantage of doing law school as a part-time evening student was that most of the really professorial types couldn’t be bothered with anything so plebian, so we were taught in large part by “adjunct” professors; i.e., actual practicing attorneys who taught one class as a sideline. Due to this, I had the wonderfully good fortune to learn Administrative Law from the man who was the Chief Assistant Attorney General of the state for over 20 years. I learned Criminal Procedure from the deputy prosecutor in charge of the drug crimes unit for a major municipality (and had some damn good arguments/fights with him in the process.) Likewise for Admiralty and Torts and Tax and several other classes. The law clinic was run by people who had spent decades in Public Defense.

    I wouldn’t trade my “night school” law degree for one of the “prestigious” ones–I was lucky enough to actually be taught something useful.

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