This post follows Muddling Through College. It is intended as a truthful assessment of what life in law school is like and the relationship between legal education and the practice of law and society in general. As with my undergraduate article, I realize that my experience is dated by a good decade. Actually, it’s been a pretty bad decade – especially for the legal industry. Therefore, again, I have tried to incorporate “modern” materials herein as well.
I once heard attorney-turned radio talk show host, Neal Boortz state that when he began practice law in the early 1970s, the law was still a profession. He then said when he left the law in the early 1990s to pursue radio full-time, the law had degenerated into a trade. Several times I recall him saying the happiest day of his life was the day he put his status with the Georgia State Bar in the inactive category. I will update his cycle now – the law has further degenerated into a racket.
The average attorney is greeted by society with all the warmth and affection people normally reserve for a visiting termite. I hear lawyer jokes every week. Most are pretty damn funny. I am one of the few attorneys not offended by these jokes. Most attorneys do get offended even if they don’t show it. The reason is that most know the jokes have a great basis in truth and they don’t want to admit the facts.
Mr. Boortz once said, speaking of attorneys, “No other group has done more to help and to damage our society.” He’s right. Lawyers were behind the Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, the civil rights movement, and numerous other causes for freedom. You never hear lawyer jokes in a criminal court. In a jail holding area or cell block, we are greeted like rock stars. However, pick any oppressive, illegal, dishonest, or otherwise unsavory law, business, or relationship and you’ll find lawyer DNA all over it. As a judge I once clerked for said, “It’s amazing how bad most attorneys are.”
The bad begins in law school. There are about 200 law schools in America which have received the ABA’s seal of approval. There are more which operate by special rules within their respective states. U.S. News and World Report ranks and categorizes law schools every year based on a set of semi-relevant criteria. Schools fight hard to place high on the list. I don’t see the point. Judging by the performance of their graduates, all the schools seem equally bad.
(This cat never practiced law and won’t teach you anything. Google Images.)
Max “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell” Tucker wrote an awesome article, http://lewrockwell.com/orig14/max-t1.1.1.html, on reasons NOT to attend law school. Read it! I agree with every single thing he said. By the way, I fell under the Want To Change the World category. I learned its damn near impossible to change a neighborhood, let alone the world. And, most people don’t want any change – they enjoy their serfdom.
After four (or 6, 8, etc.) years in college one must score decently on the LSAT and submit a rigorous application in order to gain entry into even the lowest ranking law school. Once there, one is suddenly trust into an environment that eerily resembles high school. That’s the law school effect, everyone reverts to teenager-ish behavior and attitudes. Nothing is actually taught in law school except how to look up information and fill out forms. You can learn a thing or two in a specialized elective class but nothing therein will appear on the dreaded bar exam of any state. Given the sad state of the profession, dependant on the exam’s function as a brutal hazing to enter the fraternity, you would think law professors would concentrate on the subjects covered by the bar and the methodology employed for the tests (Byzantine). They do not. In fact, after graduating you MUST take a private prep course in order to have any chance of passing the test. I theorize that any well-educated person could take such a class and pass the bar. I was not supposed to tell you that.
The majority of instructional time is instead devoted to instilling reverence for the system. Courts, judges, and their opinions (case-law) are sold as the Gospel. Rebels like me are interested in core concepts behind the law and the betterment of humanity. The average student simply accepts the drivel and becomes a system cog. As I have stated elsewhere, the average lawyer does not know and does not care why we have law or where the law comes from. Natural Law may as well be officially forbidden by the ABA.
Once one passes the bar and gets that first legal job another enormous short-coming becomes alarmingly clear. Law schools do not prepare anyone to practice law. A friend of mine, a Federal Magistrate Judge once asked me, “Remember when you got out, and knew nothing?” New attorneys are thrown to the wolves. Half can’t hack it; I think 50% is the current percentage who leave the law sooner than later. The other 50% live in a nightmarish state, dreaming of getting out.
In the old days, and in a few foreign countries (Scotland comes to mind), students of the law would apprentice with an existing attorney or law firm for a number of years in order to prepare for actually practicing law. They would simultaneously “read the law” on their own to gain a full understanding of core concepts. After satisfying their mentors, the apprentices would be admitted as attorneys, with or without examination. That’s how Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Abradamn Lincoln and Cicero did it. Today, only California, Maine, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington still allow “reading” and I imagine it is discouraged. This process denies law schools reason to exist and deprives budding young lawyers of their $100,000+ school loan debts. Students might also emerge ready to practice if allowed to study under a competent attorney. I’m not supposed to tell you any of this.
I have applied for several positions, academic and administrative, at a variety of law schools of late. I am hoping my experience will give me an advantage. One would think it was. I make a particular point to explain that I want to help as many young people as possible actually prepare for the racket….er…profession. Oddly, many law professors have never practiced law a day in their lives, many aren’t even members of a bar. It makes sense, in a way, as law school has absolutely nothing to do with practicing. That evil bar exam (truly a horror worthy to justify the myths) has nothing to do with school or practice either. Like the schooling, it’s just there – an unavoidable obstacle to tackle.
Law students become attorneys disillusioned, in debt, unprepared, and in today’s market, with slim job prospects. Most new attorneys today, who can find a job, earn less than $60,000 per year. The big bucks go to the elite few who land jobs with major law firms. At those firms, newbies (with all the problems I mentioned) can start at $150,000 or better. For that pay, they have to “bill” 2500 hours a year. Billing 2500 means working 4000; that means working 80-100 hour weeks, every week, for about $30-$40 per hour. Tucker gives examples of jobs that pay that well, don’t require all the time and hassle, and don’t necessitate wasting 3 years in law school. Remember, those are the best of the best jobs. Most big firm associates wash out quickly or else end up in mental institutions or under bridges.
(Welcome aboard, young associate. Google Images.)
Ponder what I have written here if you think you want to join the lawyer club. Some people are meant to be attorneys and will do well at their chosen work. Most will drudge on miserably until the retire, die, or go nuts. Some, like me get out. Well, I’m trying to get out. Leaving the law can be like leaving a street gang. You have to walk a gauntlet to exit. Please pray I make it. As for you, avoid the whole racket if you can.
PS: I issue a challenge to all attorneys and law school faculties! Change the system! Concentrate on the theory and the practice of the law itself and dispense with the case worship, the obsolete mysteries, and the false illusions of nobility. For you, read Alan Watson’s The Shame of American Legal Education, 2d ed. (Vandeplas Publishing, 2006). Watson, of Scottish legal training, nails the problems of the American system. Let’s change it.