Law School Math Problem

Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best, he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear his shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house —Robert A. Heinlein

If you ever want some entertainment, walk into a law school and ask a group of students what 17 times 50 is. Chances are you’ll get a bunch of blank stares. One or two might be attentive enough to pull out a smartphone and open up the calculator. What you probably won’t see are students trying to figure out the answer in their heads.

Looking at the numbers for my own entering class (straight from a sheet my school gave to all entering 1Ls listing the names and degrees of every incoming student), only 4.3% of students have a background in Finance, Accounting, or Mathematics. This should seem like a low number, even to law students. Even lumping in Economics majors (even with its focus on theory, Economics still has at least a basis in real numbers) brings us to only about 9.1% of students. By contrast, students with a Humanities background (Philosophy, English, Literature, Communications, etc.) make up 74.9% of my class. This means there is a good chance that close to three-quarters of my class instinctively skipped over the last two sentences because they had numbers in them.

While this does have some positive aspects (for example, if you ever need to confuse a lawyer, just start throwing out statistics, the odds are good that he won’t know enough math to contradict you) it does suggest a few problems in practical application. Law school is graduate school (well, it’s supposed to be, but by the time you’ve reached your second year, you’ll know better), yet courses like “Law and Economics” and “Quantitative Methods and the Law” have caveats of, “Requires only high-school mathematics.” If anyone has ever wondered why corporate lawyers suck so badly, that person need look no farther. Most law students don’t even bother with a single tax class and even those who take a basic Business Organizations class tend to spend the time worried about theory rather than practical application (it’s sad how few Business Organizations courses actually spend time on anything other than Delaware law).

And, of course, there are also the students who can’t be bothered to look up terms they read but are unfamiliar with, like the student in my class who, rather than taking the 14 seconds (yes, I actually timed it) to look up “current portion of long-term debt” on Google, berated the professor for not giving us the definition in class before a memo was due. Financial terms are, apparently, too frightening even to look up.

It’s no wonder small local businesses are struggling. It’s difficult to thrive when the only legal advisers within your price range are too frightened of numbers to give competent business planning advice.

Post image from

The Northwest 3L spent 6 years in the "real world" cultivating cynicism and a dim view of humanity in the telecom and software consulting industries before deciding that the best way to deal with having zero debt in a down economy was to load up on student loans and truck on off to law school. Asked for a description, his friends replied, "says inappropriate things." Grainy, out-of-focus film footage suggests that he attends law school somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

1 Comment

  1. Andy

    October 31, 2014 at 9:57 am

    Well , that’s what economists and financial analysts are for! Advising gov and corporations

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