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Friday, March 14, 2008

Are Law Students Too Smart?

A huge number of America’s brightest people go to law school and, from there, on to a career in the law. Is that a waste?

For every extra bit of talent that matriculates into business school, real wealth will be created, our economy will grow stronger, and people will be better off. For every extra IQ point that heads to medical school, more lives will be saved, more pain will be soothed, and people will be healthier.

But, since justice in America is based on the adversarial system, isn’t every bright law student just cancelled out by another equally bright classmate? Is the legal profession just an arms race that squanders talent in the overall scheme of things?

These questions are not limited to the litigation context. Think of the tens of thousands of hours of brilliance that goes into outsmarting the tax code. I sure don’t blame folks for doing it. But does the effort leave us all better off?

Let’s suppose that smarter lawyers make truth more findable for juries and law more just as applied by courts. Even if that were true, is the gain large enough to offset the opportunities lost by not redirecting bright minds into science, business, engineering, medicine, and the arts?

Posted by Eric E. Johnson on March 14, 2008 at 02:17 PM in Life of Law Schools, Teaching Law | Permalink


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isn’t every bright law student just cancelled out by another equally bright classmate?

Judging by the comments above I might be in the minority on this, but I don't buy this premise. My most frustrating, inefficient experiences as a lawyer were against unrepresented or poorly represented opponents. To the extent such lopsidedness becomes efficient, that just means one side is getting railroaded and capitulating. So I don't view the prospect of having competent attorneys on both sides as "canceling out," at least not in a bad way.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Mar 16, 2008 9:02:59 PM

Given the amount of money and energy that corporate boards have to put into avoiding derivative lawsuits and other shareholder litigation, and the "defensive medicine" practiced by some physicians to avoid losing malpractice suits (I'd be interested in seeing whether there's a correlation between the high-spending, no-better-outcome areas of the country and those that tend to have a high rate of malpractice lawsuits), one could argue that some attorneys are not just canceling out other attorneys, but actually burdening business and medicine.

On the other hand, attorneys are fundamentally necessary to the American system as we've structured it, given how little regulation and oversight government entities give, relative to what we see in other industrialized nations. We need plaintiffs' attorneys as a check on bad actors in "science, business, engineering, medicine," and those actors in turn need defense attorneys.

Posted by: PG | Mar 16, 2008 2:46:53 PM

"For every extra bit of talent that matriculates into business school, real wealth will be created, our economy will grow stronger, and people will be better off."

No. Just no. I mean seriously, no. Respectfully, have you spent much time around a business school?

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Mar 15, 2008 10:59:16 AM

You're making the assumption that the type of intelligence it takes to succeed in law school would be transferable to other disciplines. Most law students I know aren't too good in science or math and probably wouldn't be too happy practicing in those fields either.

You also fail to consider the cumulative effects of trials and cases that gradually change the law and in doing so change society. Many people who go to law school end up becoming politicians. Whatever you think of their breed, one can hardly argue that that they lack the power to improve society.

Does one smart lawyer just end up canceling out the effect of another smart lawyer? I don't think the clients would feel that way. You talk about lives being saved and pain being soothed by doctors. I submit that lawyers help accomplish the same when they win cases on behalf of their clients and win them money, custody, peace of mind, justice, etc.

Posted by: Vincent | Mar 15, 2008 1:11:58 AM

Their high IQ's has been canceled by the indoctrination of 1L. They emerge believing minds can be read, the future forecast, and in the central word of the law, reasonable. That means, in accordance with the New Testament, violating the First Amendment. None has noticed that, not even people with IQ's of 300 who wrote a big book on the First Amendment. Then they believe, 12 strangers off the street may use their gut feeling as a truth detector. By the end of 1L? Useless idiots. This brain damage explains why every goal of every law subject is in utter failure.

Unfit to teach high school social studies, they are better off staying where they are.

Posted by: S | Mar 14, 2008 10:44:35 PM

I think you give too much credit to med and business school grads. And think of the personalities of a lot of lawyers- would you really want those people working as doctors? For many doctors, above a certain level I'd think the empathy and listening skills are as or more important than raw smarts. This isn't to say that the world might not be better if fewer people went to law school, but just that the gains, if there were any, would probably be somewhat different than that suggested here.

Posted by: Matt | Mar 14, 2008 4:53:26 PM

"A huge number of America’s brightest people go to law school"


Posted by: Scott Greenfield | Mar 14, 2008 2:54:23 PM

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