Law School Smart


“Any idiot can get into law school” is something that any idiot already in law school knows all too well. Law school is full of them. Putting aside the argument that anyone in law school is a few cards shy of a full deck, we all have classmates that are morons.

And I’m not talking about doing the kind of dumb thing that could happen to any of us, like biting it on call one day or nearly failing a class. I’m talking about the kind of dumb thing that makes people stop and think, “Really? You got into law school? How do you even function in real life?” These are law students with seemingly no common sense. They come in essentially two varieties: law school smart, and not so smart at all.

The second variety doesn’t do the reading but voluntarily contributes in class, saying things like, “Well it was unclear to me whether X happened,” when “X happened” was the first sentence of the reading. They call in “sick” to work on Monday after a very public Sunday Funday. They go out the night before a final and wonder why it didn’t go well. After school, presuming they pass the bar, they will probably encounter the attorney discipline and review committee sooner than most.

The first variety is what I like to call Law School Smart. They’re like the Michael Scott’s of the world, except they’re real and not funny and you spend more time looking at them incredulously than finding them endearing.  These people are in the top percent of the class, and based on real life interactions with them, it’s unclear how that happened. They CALI a class and send you the outline and it appears as if an 8th grader wrote it. They drive H3’s, one of the few financial decisions worse than law school. They often have no awareness of (or at least concern for) appropriate social customs — they ask anyone anything about whether they got a call back, they blather on about getting a second interview when they know the other candidates who didn’t get second interviews, and often invite themselves into conversations that they were clearly not intended to be part of. In general, they’re seemingly oblivious. But in law school, they manage to excel. I suppose there are people like that in every field. Maybe there’s even something in the legal field that cultivates this kind of behavior.

The real problem for this comes for the kids who aren’t Law School Smart. There are law students who are intelligent, do well in clinic settings, have legal work experience, and in general understand the practical nature of legal work, but their GPA and transcript don’t necessarily reflect that. They are Real Life Smart. But I’ve yet to see an asterisk on a transcript for with that notation. Sure, theoretically their résumé and interview would protect those kids from rejection —- if they ever get that far. But if the qualifications for the position include a class rank they don’t have, employers will never know, and the Real Life Smart kids never have a shot.

How valuable is it really, to be the best law school exam taker? Do practicing attorneys often find themselves in a position where they have to sit in room with 70 other attorneys and write out everything they can think of that relates to the question? Then whoever has the best answer “wins” for their client? Does this kind of skill set ever come up again after the bar exam?

We’re essentially teaching law students how to succeed in law school. Then, we hire them based on their success in law school, all the while acknowledging that law school is not really an appropriate reflection of real life legal work. Just like the LSAT is arguably an indicator of law school success, isn’t law school success an arguable indicator of law practice success? Does it really matter if you’ve memorized the model rules of professional ethics if you aren’t actually competent?

Not all blonde lawyers or law students want to be the next Elle Woods. Though she has since graduated from law school, you can still find Not an Elle on Twitter @NotanElle or on her own site at thenotanelleblog.com

3 Comments

  1. C-Plus

    October 30, 2012 at 8:01 am

    Very interesting article.

    I read this site occasionally and as a law student currently I see some of the same issues in my peer group. I’m an older student who’s coming into this as a second career choice.

    My LSAT was actually pretty mediocre but here I am. I won the schools mooting championship this past year as a 1L. I’ll be attending an external competition this year against some of the other schools and hope to do well there too. My grades were better than average and in some subjects elite this past year.

    It’s funny to me that LSAT and Grades are thought to be the be all end all (including some of the other posters on this site.) Part of me is sure that this is simply due to a lack of a better way of ranking candidates.

  2. Milwaukee

    October 30, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    The first variety is what I like to call Law School Smart. They’re like the Michael Scott’s of the world. These people are in the top percent of the class, and based on real life interactions with them, it’s unclear how that happened. They often have no awareness of (or at least concern for) appropriate social customs — they ask anyone anything about whether they got a call back, they blather on about getting a second interview when they know the other candidates who didn’t get second interviews, and often invite themselves into conversations that they were clearly not intended to be part of. In general, they’re seemingly oblivious. But in law school, they manage to excel. I suppose there are people like that in every field. Maybe there’s even something in the legal field that cultivates this kind of behavior.

    You find this behavior non-optimal. But it’s perfectly optimal for a narcissist. And narcissist’s run the world. If you read about the failure of Enron, Lehman Brothers or Countrywide Mortgage, you find that people who run the company are bad at being effective problem solvers.
    So, we ask ourselves, “why are leaders bad at solving problems?”
    The answer is that leaders are good at solving problems that interest them. And the #1 problem that interests a narcissist is having power, wealth and status. So they learn how to act the part of “playing lawyer”. But that’s just a facade, like a salesperson feigns interest in your problem, when really they are gathering information about what you value, so they can craft the ‘benefits’ of their product in language you react to.

    If you care about other humans, if you care about justice, you won’t succeed. Success in law school indicates who can out-compete their peers in ludicrous situations, like “sitting in room with 70 other attorneys and write out everything they can think of that relates to the question.” Every employer hiring lawyers knows that is a ludicrous process, and doesn’t create competent legal skills. It only reveals who will focus solely on winning, and not question the activities that are tested. But the employer also knows that the business world is ludicrous too. So businesses need people who don’t care about what they are being asked to do, but only that they care about winning, always winning.

    If you don’t like the art of law, and you don’t like the competition of lawschool, you are going to be severely depressed practicing law day to day. Because your personal ethics will stop you from engaging in activity that will result in you ‘winning’. And if you don’t ‘win’, you won’t get the recognition within your lawfirm/company. And when you don’t ‘win’ at the nonsensical games your employer puts you in, you won’t make much money. And if you don’t make much money, you won’t gain the respect of people outside your profession who use money as a proxy for determining good, hard working, competent people.

  3. CSM

    October 31, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    “It’s funny to me that LSAT and Grades are thought to be the be all end all (including some of the other posters on this site.) Part of me is sure that this is simply due to a lack of a better way of ranking candidates.”

    All of you should be sure of this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>