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Monday, December 08, 2008

Law school as intellectual exercise

At a Christmas party this past weekend, I got into a conversation with someone thinking about going to law school. This woman has a master's and is ABD in social work. She knows she does not want to practice law. Really, she said, she is not sure what she wants to do, but thinks she would like being back in the classroom and back in an academic environment.

So the question: Is law school the place to go to obtain "education for education's sake." Is it the place to go for a purely intellectual exercise? Mind you, this woman would not be thinking of heading up to Yale or The University of Chicago, but probably would wind up at FIU or a school at that level.


Posted by Howard Wasserman on December 8, 2008 at 10:15 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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Going to law school would be great for the intellectual challenge at a place with liberal grading policies. But to go someplace that is just basically a meat grinder for lawyers, for the purpose of intellectual stimulation, is probably a waste of money.

Posted by: Joe Miller | Dec 9, 2008 5:09:39 PM

mainfloorguy, your argument works only if we have a shortage of lawyers and this person's attendance would deprive society of a lawyer. This seems highly unlikely to be true. I don't think this woman has any moral imperative to not do this.

Posted by: Jason W. | Dec 9, 2008 12:58:13 AM

It is highly competitive to gain admission into law school. If she is simply wants academic stimulation, she should not occupy a space of an applicant who is actually serious and wants to pursue a career.

Posted by: mainfloorguy | Dec 8, 2008 11:06:31 PM


Good god.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Dec 8, 2008 2:25:07 PM

Howard: Depending on her budget and inclination to travel, your friend may want to consider an LLM overseas. I did this several years back after many years of practice and found it to be a vigorous intellectual experience. Many of these programs don't require a JD. The program I participated in was one year long, and included a lot of critical theory and cross-disciplinary study. I think it'd be perfect for someone who was interested in law's place in society but not interested in practice. Also, the one year committment was right-timed from my perspective as a mid-life student.


Posted by: Charlie Martel | Dec 8, 2008 12:35:32 PM

Going to law school for fun was exactly what I did. In 1979, tuition at UT in Austin was close to zero and I felt the fool for working and paying taxes to support the free education of others. So I applied to the Econ Grad School and the Law School. The Econ School was far too socialist for my taste, what with Ray Marshall as its recent star, but Law School was great.

A physics grad of U of Chicago, I have always felt a liberal education is the only kind, and the courses of the first year of law school should be part of everybody's liberal education. If I'd had to pay high tuition, however, I would probably have dropped out before graduation to avoid paying for classes like Oil & Gas, Texas Rules and the like. The opportunity later to take seminars in Econ & Law, First Amendment, and Latin American Law made it all worthwhile, however.

Lacking the desire to practice law made the whole experience easier, since I was able to work in my profession some 30 hours a week after the first year by entirely skipping any classes I considered useless and boring. While the profs were first-rate, I considered my classmates, drawn largely from schools around Texas, sub-par, particularly since, except for 5 out of 140, they were liberal-arts and humanities types who were way under-educated in math and the hard sciences (as are all but Breyer on SCOTUS).

In third year, I greatly enjoyed being free of all the walking around and bending over in 3-piece suits!

Posted by: Jimbino | Dec 8, 2008 11:53:37 AM

Bobo, FIU is a state school with a very modest tuition. Full-ride or not, one isn't going to break the bank attending a Florida state school.

Second, do you think a woman with a master's degree didn't consider that she would be out of the labor market for a few years? Seriously?

Posted by: Chris H. | Dec 8, 2008 11:25:12 AM

Unless this person can get a free ride on law-school tuition and doesn't mind being out of the labor market for a few years, going to law school as an intellectual exercise may be one of the dumbest possible plans. Personally, I found law school to be fun, but most people do not, and it's a damn expensive way to have fun for three years. Law school sounds like a terrible idea for your friend.

Posted by: Bobo Linq | Dec 8, 2008 11:22:03 AM

If a person has a realistic of view of what law school entails, I don't see why someone who wants to pursue it purely for educational purposes shouldn't.

On the other hand, schools on the level of FIU tend to teach the practical side of law for those who intend to practice, while the Yales of the world would probably be a better fit due to the theoretical emphasis.

Posted by: Chris H. | Dec 8, 2008 11:08:48 AM

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