Archive for Justice Burger

Reason Not to Go to Law School #17

Posted in Why Not to Go to Law School with tags , , , , , , , on January 19, 2010 by bl1y

You’re too smart/stupid to be a lawyer.

Too Smart.

Students who get into the top law schools are generally quite intelligent (or the beneficiaries of outdated affirmative action programs).  A score in the 95th percentile on the LSAT will qualify you for Mensa; this is about a 165-166.

The Duke Law class of 2010 had a 75/25 LSAT of 170/167.  If you’re unfamiliar with 75/25 stats, that means the 75th percentile got a 170 and the 25th percentile got a 167.  Given that there are several alternative routes to Mensa membership, virtually everyone at Duke could, if so inclined, become a member.  Duke is only ranked #10.

I don’t think Mensa membership is the first and last word on what constitutes genius, but I think this gives a pretty decent taste of how smart lawyers at the top schools are.  Even freaking Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia thinks we’re wasting too many smart people on law:

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

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

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

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

Now, not many lawyers have the engineering or mathematical aptitude to become great inventors, but surely there is something more productive and meaningful all these intelligent people could be doing with their time, like working in microfinance or inventing Settlers of Catan.

Too Stupid.

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

She did nothing about it and let several days pass.  Then, she came to be, completely freaking out, thinking that she could potentially be prosecuted for hit and run.  I decided to screw with her and say that she could.  But, any reasonable person would have two ways of quickly finding out that a criminal prosecution was not in the cards.

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

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

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

Maybe there are some people who are just smart enough to handle the reading comprehension and logical reasoning law requires, but aren’t smart enough to do anything truly useful in society, but they probably account for less than 10% of current law students.