Friday, December 16, 2011

What legal education could be; what law school is

What would the ideal legal educational experience include?  As DJM suggested in a long and thoughtful comment yesterday, "an excellent professional education isn't all one thing or another. It's a mixture of theory, doctrine, supervised practice, feedback, and 'skills' training that is far broader than many people realize."  The ideal legal educational experience, had we but world enough and time, would include offerings such as Stanley Fish's class on law, liberalism, and religion -- that is, academic experiences in the best sense, taught by brilliant scholars and talented teachers, who would place the rigorous study of legal doctrine (Fish emphasizes to me that, in conjunction with the class's eclectic reading list, his students are expected to become completely conversant with the constitutional doctrines regarding the religion clauses) in a broad and rich intellectual context.

It would also include experiences like this one:


In [the] criminal prosecution clinic [taught at our school], students learn a variety of skills (from mundane ones like how to respond to a discovery request to more complicated ones like how to interview an alleged victim and how to interact with the police).

But they also read pieces on the theory of punishment and discuss those views--in the context of making their own prosecutorial decision. To me, this is the best of professional education: combining theory, doctrine, and a variety of practical skills. Last year, I saw a Facebook post from a student in that clinic saying 'best two hours in law school ever--discussing the theory of retribution in the prosecution clinic.' Excusing for a moment the fact that she was posting during class, I thought that was a wonderful tribute to the way legal education can and should be.
Legal education (note I do not say "law school") ought, as DJM argues, combine theory and practice in serious and sophisticated ways.  Unfortunately, far too often it teaches neither theory nor practice.  Instead it wastes students' time and money in the fashion described by this commenter, who took an excellent clinical class as a 2L:

Now as a 3L, I'm taking your typical slate of classes (Corporations, Professional Responsibility, etc), which I don't attend. I take about 2-3 days before the exam to get an outline and study on that. I am killing time until I graduate. And that's kind of sad.
It's more than sad -- it's a scandal that so many law school classes are, without exaggeration, completely useless in both intellectual and practical terms.  Many law school classes are so badly designed and taught that students get literally nothing out of attending them.  A professor who does little more than regurgitate gobbets of legal doctrine (now often with the aid of helpful Power Point slides), interlarded with the occasional war story from his brief sojourn in legal practice, and then evaluates students on the basis of a single end of the semester issue-spotting exam, is wasting everybody's time.  Students soon learn that they are learning nothing from class they can't get from the assigned reading.

Indeed, issue-spotting exams are such an inherently ridiculous way of testing anything that many students, by the time they are third years, neither attend class nor do any of the assigned reading, since they find that a few days of studying an outline produces evaluative results that aren't distinguishable from those they got when they attended class religiously and read every case three times.  (This is especially likely to be true when professors recycle exams that are available on the internet).

Again, this is nowise an exaggeration -- it's a quite literal description of many a law student's experience.  Here's an email I received from a recent graduate of a top tier school:

I did well as a 1L, but I also discovered that there wasn't any meaningful relation between how hard I worked and how well I did in a class.  I worked extremely hard in my first semester. By my second semester I had pretty much figured out that law school was a joke, and I slacked off quite a bit, but I read and outlined more strategically, instead of trying to learn anything.  And I got better grades: I had a B+ average my first semester and nearly a straight A average in my second.

My second year I spent most of my time in class fooling around on the internet (when I bothered to go at all). My evidence professor was a blowhard who rarely even bothered to talk about the cases, but spent most of his time telling war stories from the 18 months he had spent as a defense lawyer.  I paid no attention in class -- attendance was mandatory -- and did literally none of the reading.  I spent three days memorizing the federal rules for a closed book mostly multiple choice exam, and got an A.   For my patent law I again didn't do any of the reading and barely went to class.  The professor had every class reduced to bullet point powerpoint slides, which you could get off the net. I printed those off and memorized them for a closed book issue spotter, and got an A-. 

Think about what it says about a method of "education" in which people who do none of the assigned work for a class and either don't show up at all or are completely checked out while physically present can excel at what they're asked to do for evaluative purposes.  And any law professor who thinks stories like this are rare or exceptional ought to try to have a candid conversation with a few ex-students sometime.

The fact is that classes like this are far more common than those resembling either Fish's theoretically sophisticated explorations or the clinic praised by DJM.  And that dire truth has serious implications for the structure of legal education.  It would be wonderful if law schools were full of Stanley Fishes and intellectually challenging as well as practically-oriented clinics.  They're not.  For every class like those there are X number of pointless exercises in brain-dead doctrinal wheel spinning, from which students learn nothing beyond a very deep cynicism about the extent to which they are wasting their time and money.  You can decide for yourself what X is or was at your school, or in legal academia in general.

But if it's anywhere as large as we have every reason to suspect it is, then we really ought to ask why "law school" in its present form ought to continue to exist at all.

111 comments:

  1. If LawProf played baseball, he would be batting .1000

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  2. My legal education, while interesting, was basically completely pointless to what I do now on a day-to-day basis. I'm a corporate transactional lawyer and even though I tried to take classes like biz org, etc., we never learned anything about the nuts and bolts of most purchase agreements/merger agreements, etc. I didn't know what a rep, warranty or covenant was until I started practicing.

    That all being said, I don’t regret law school, as I found it intellectually stimulating. My 3L year I essentially took graduate classes that I found interesting as my law school allowed us to take graduate level classes outside of the law school. I took a philosophy class, a British history class and a class on anthropology. Again, all basically impractical but it did make me a more well-rounded person. I also had the opportunity to research and write on some topics of interest (the English Civil War and the trial of Charles I in my case, so there were some links to the law I guess). It’s hard to value my experience in a monetary sense but it has helped in terms of random intellectual facts at cocktail parties.

    Anyway, this was all after I had accepted an offer from my summer associate experience. So, take my story with a grain of salt. For kids coming out of law school these days, I would suspect that my experience was essentially superfluous and a waste of money.

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  3. I didn't do as well as the student who wrote in, but my experience was largely the same. I could tell no difference between the classes I worked really hard in, and the ones where I just walked into the exam with a copy of the professor's model answer outline and just plugged in facts from the exam.

    Few professors took roll, and my professional responsibility professor told us we were only required to be in class the one day we were on call. The ABA's accreditation standards actually require attendance, and this is on a class that standards also require you to take.

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  4. Re: the comment at 8:43 am, I think you mean "batting 1.000," not .1000, unless you're suggesting that LawProf should be bench warming for the Toledo Mud Hens.

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  5. I don't know Paul, you kind of imploded on that last post -- are you sure you want to wade into the ocean of substantive educational reform again so soon? I worry about your nerves . . .

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  6. I agree LawProf is batting in the .1000 to .2000 range. He has rightly identified some problems with the status quo -- ironically, this would best be termed issue spotting -- but substantive educational reform is something he needs to give more thought to before proposing the abolition of law schools and introduction of a "law" major in undergrad. The glibness with which he makes these suggestions and lack of evidence he adduces to support them suggests he hasn't done the work required. I think transparency and loan reform are a good start, and much needs to be done there still.

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  7. LawProf,
    How would you characterize your own classes? Along the Fish model, or something else?

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  8. "I didn't do as well as the student who wrote in, but my experience was largely the same. I could tell no difference between the classes I worked really hard in, and the ones where I just walked into the exam with a copy of the professor's model answer outline and just plugged in facts from the exam."

    I heard that the average amount of time spent grading an exam is 5 minutes - five minutes - and so grades are based more on impulsive impressions than they are some rigorous process.

    Compare this to exams in the sciences, or even the LSAT, which were very objective.

    To be fair, not all professors are like this. I've had plenty of objective professors and exams, but many like to view exams as the students "rolling the dice." (direct quote from one of my law professors. he literally compared exam grades to gambling.)

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  9. "That all being said, I don’t regret law school, as I found it intellectually stimulating. My 3L year I essentially took graduate classes that I found interesting as my law school allowed us to take graduate level classes outside of the law school. I took a philosophy class, a British history class and a class on anthropology. Again, all basically impractical but it did make me a more well-rounded person."

    That's all fair, but you could have achieved that goal by reading books.

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  10. Part of the problem that law school's have is grading and grade inflation. At my Tier 2 school the first year curve was set so that the top 18% received A or A- grades, the next 60% received B+/B/B- grades, and then the remaining 22% received some combination of C's and D's, with a few F's. So long as the mean GPA was 3.05 or something.

    After the first year, class grade distributions became more generous, and the mean GPA was set at 3.14, unless the class was fewer than 22 people, in which case the mean GPA was set at 3.4. Since nobody in legal education thinks outside the box, I'm assumming this grading scale is simlar to most other tier 2 schools and that grade inflation is higher with higher ranked schools.

    What did this accomplish? It pretty much meant that you could do absolutely nothing for the entire semester and still pull down a B. And even if you did poorly your first year, you could just take paper classes (which are beyond useless and consist almost entirely of "Law and..." classes: law and sexuality, law and European Thought from 1849-1910, etc.) and raise your GPA because paper classes were curved to 3.4 (e.g. you're guaranteed a B+).

    Anyway, maybe Campos can opine on the grading distribution?

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  11. LawProf,

    Technology has played a decisive role in the change you write about. In the old days, people had to read cases and make their own outlines because outlines were hard to find. Today, with word documents, the internet, and so on . . . it's pretty easy for someone to get a dozen outlines for the course - all prepared by top students from prior years - and often improved slightly from year to year. It quickly becomes clear which one or two outlines are best. For me, one such outline was so accurate that it actually tracked the professor's jokes, predicting exactly when in the lecture he would tell the joke. It was really embarassing to watch.

    So today, all you need to do is memorize such an outline for a few days and do a few practice tests and you will ace, or at worst B+, the exam. Further, there is no valuable law in these outlines. What I mean is that you will never get a real world legal question that can be solved by the superficial and facile law taught in law school. Law schools cover torts, con law, and such at such a high level that even something like Wikipedia has more substance! To be fair, this is partly due to a time crunch but the bottom line is that you learn nothing in these courses that you won't learn with a very quick google course. They are a complete waste of time, and it's not surprising that Barbri can cover more material in 1/14 of the time.

    I'm not sure how to fix this problem, because professors can't be expected to completely redo their lectures each year. They also can't be expected to teach the nuances of each subject, because they don't have the time (and often don't have the knowledge or experience either). I actually did have one professor who solved these two problems. He was a famous international trade professor and none of the prior outlines matched his current year's course. That's because he would focus on different areas of the topic each year. His exams were also radically different from year to year. Perhaps that's the solution. Regardless, professors needs to redo the way they teach to keep up with this technological change because it's maginified the ridiculousness of law school.

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  12. @9:04:

    Yes, that is what I meant. In conclusion, LawProf = good.

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  13. re 9:51, There was a Securities Law Professor at NYU who did that too. Every year students would cry and moan because his exam looked nothing like the exams he gave in prior years. One student even complained to the Dean, I kid you not!, whining that the professor's prior exams were misleading!!!

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  14. All very interesting, but not really of much use until other, more fundamental problems are addressed.

    Hows about we get back to loan reform and even transparency...

    LawProf, have you and your colleagues drafted anything for your local/state reps yet or at least spoken to them about your concern? Not like politicians ever get much done anyway, but that's the only way loan reform is going to happen.

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  15. 10:10,

    have you done anything other than try to get lawprof to have your pre-2009 (non-IBR)student loans dismissed?

    The law school scam movement isn't your personal debt relief agency.

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  16. I have no debt...just trying to get you dreamers back on target.

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  17. The situation is farcical. In the old days, the case law and treatises were esoteric in nature b/c they were so difficult to access. Searching in musty reporters piled high on tables in the law library. There was a mages college/alchemical feel to the research process.

    In the early days of Lexis/Westlaw, (when I attended law school) the law library housed monstrously large terminals that printed out searches on giant teletype style sheets of paper. It resembled Colossus in the "Forbin Project.”

    Fast forward a couple of decades and we now have Google Advanced Scholar, and it's free! In what manner have law schools adapted to these amazing innovations--the answer is self-evident.

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  18. I don't believe you. Can we at least know your name so we can confirm that you're not some indebted pre-IBR graduate trying to hijack a worthy cause for your own personal and fultile aims?

    And have no doubt loan reform is futile. Moveon.org made a huge push for student loan jubilee. They put together a petition and received a million signatures. There have been 5,000 arrests at OWS over the issue of student loans. Student loan reform is a much bigger issue than law schools. Despite all the signatures, all the protests and all the support, they achieved nothing. The government wouldn't take away the education subsidy.

    Ultimately your opportunistic posts just distract us from attainable goals like tuition control, curriculum reform and transparency. Your posts are also really annoying. Please go away.

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  19. I saw Wikipedia was mentioned above at 9:51. Just a few years ago, a classmate told me a prof was lecturing off Wiki. I thought it was impossible, but hey, I'll pull up a Wiki page for whatever case we're discussing and see for myself. It was amazing. Line for line, I was just reading down the page, right in step with the day's lecture. I honestly think it is because whomever sourced the page's content basically typed it straight off a case book or Emanuel text or a horn book. Either way, Wiki was on-point and essentially 100% correct. At least in that instance. It floored me. I bought a $120 text book why? I guess it's a good thing that someone took the time to populate Wiki with data, right? Take a look at Hadley v. Baxendale to see what I'm talking about (the first case that came to mind, there are many more): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadley_v_Baxendale.

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  20. Oh dear Lord Crux you must be kidding. Line for line? What school, or school range, was this?

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  21. Wikipedia uses a phenomenon known as "crowd sourcing" (where essentially thousands of people collaborate on a project) and so it produces much higher quality work than could be produced by one or two people.

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  22. @10:35: Did you consider that perhaps the professor, having an interest in and some knowledge about the case, wrote most of the wikipedia entry? Or that the professor's lecture and the wikipedia entry had some common source, such as a widely used casebook?

    @10:31: Have you heard about the law schools in Hammerfell? They have curved grades.

    Curved. Grades.

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  23. "Searching in musty reporters piled high on tables in the law library. There was a mages college/alchemical feel to the research process."

    I agree. In the old days it was very hard to find the law, to find the authorities that have weight in court. An average citizen had no chance of finding the cases they needed. I remember the scene in Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon's character was thought to be a genius because he cited case law to an arresting officer.

    Today any moron with google can find cases on whatever area of law you can name.

    Damn computers ruined the profession.

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  24. BL1Y, I googled to learn that you were making a Skyrim joke. Is that game good? I played WOW eight years ago and really liked it. Would I like Skyrim?

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  25. I figured the reference to the Mage's College and alchemistry was a in regards to Skyrim.

    I'd pass on it. Highly addictive, but lots of bugs, terrible game play mechanics. Mostly just some pretty scenery, but you'd be better off on a road trip.

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  26. Some facts to consider:

    1) No student who doesn't pay attention in class graduates in the top 1-2%.
    2) All students in the top 1-2% get legal jobs.
    3) The higher your class rank, the more likely it is that you will get a legal job.
    4) A very large proportion of any upper division class does not pay attention in class.

    Either "thinking like a lawyer" is useless, or most law students did not learn how to think like a lawyer given the facts above.

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  27. 11:01 has come up with a great idea, which I think works something like this:

    (1) All students should pay attention in class

    (2) If they do, all students students will then finish in the top 1-2% of the class

    (3) All students will then get legal jobs

    Problem solved.

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  28. @11:01 only said that studying was a necessary condition for finishing at the top of the class, not that is was sufficient.

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  29. BL1Y, he/she said that paying attention in class was a prerequisite for doing very well in law school which as I'm sure you know is a serious over-generalization. (As is the claim that everybody at the top of the class gets a legal job, which isn't true at a lot of bottom 100 schools).

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  30. The response to 11:01 is that it's rational for most students to believe the top 1 or 2% is a hopeless goal, so why bother.

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  31. LawProf -- would you adivse your students to not pay attention in your class provided that they had previously received a B or better in one other class based on commercial study aids/internet research alone? That it takes attention to do well in every class may be an overgeneralization, but that students should pay attention in every class for which they've paid money is surely true.

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  32. Getting into the top half certainly doesn't require paying attention in class, and plenty of slackers will pick up the occasional A. But the top 1-2%? That almost certainly does, unless you're some sort of Will Hunting super genius.

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  33. ahem, my Skyrim question?

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  34. never mind I see you answered it.

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  35. Coder2000: the reason to bother paying attention in class is fact # 3: The higher your class rank, the more likely it is that you will get a legal job. It takes an inference from the other facts to get there: if all of the students in the top 1-2% pay attention in class, then you can infer that everything else being equal, the more you pay attention in class the better your grades will be. The better your grades, the higher your rank. The higher your rank, the more likely it is that you will get a legal job.

    LawProf: Everything else being equal, a person who pays attention in class will do better than if they don't pay attention in class. That is not the same thing as saying a person can't do "very well" in law school if they don't pay attention in class. The are many people that do "very well" (though not the top 1-2%) without paying attention in class. However, those people would do better if they did pay attention in class. I'd be shocked if you seriously disputed this.

    Also, I just lost a great deal of respect for you.

    BL1Y: I am very impressed by your comments. Based on prior comments you've made here and elsewhere I would guess that you fit into the category of upper division law students who didn't pay as much attention in class as they could have (sorry if my guess is inaccurate). It takes guts to defend a line of reasoning that implies that you made a mistake.

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  36. 12:02, For all intents and purposes (more or less), grades don't matter after 1L.

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  37. @10:44 BL1Y "I used to be an adventurer like you, then I took an arrow in the knee."

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  38. @12:02: I can't quite agree with the phrasing you use. I don't think it's true that all else being equal, studying more results in higher grades. What I do think is that it gives you a better chance at higher grades. It's still entirely possible to study more and get the same grade.

    Did I make mistakes in law school? Plenty. My grades were decent, 3.15 GPA. I could have done a little better with more work, but I never would have made my way into the top 20%, never would have made law review. I don't think my amount of studying was the mistake. What I should have done was worked more outside of class, developing some credentials, a bit of niche expertise, and some decent relationships with professors I could use later for references.

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  39. 12:06: Here's a hypothetical for you: there are two unemployed graduates of School X that recently passed the bar. They both apply for the same job. The employer looks at the first resume and it is substantially the same as the second resume, except for the fact that the first graduate's percentile rank is 15% and the second graduate's rank is 55%. You are going to seriously make that claim that "grades don't matter after 1L" and that the employer is equally likely to choose either of them?

    Here's a real life example for you: I have personally comforted a person who was no offered because her 2L grades did not meet the firm's cut-off.

    Maybe I'm just not understanding what "all intents and purposes" or "(more or less)" actually means.

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  40. @12:13: That joke has been done to death, you have to get more creative now.

    The ABA hears a noise, "What was that?" It gets up, walks the halls, and sees the dead career of an unemployed law student.

    "I'll make whoever did this pay!" the ABA declares, standing over the lifeless corpse.

    [30 seconds later] "Hm... must just be hearing things." The ABA goes back to its normal business.

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  41. 12:02: Students should pay attention in class for one of two reasons:

    (1) They might learn something worth learning

    (2) It might improve their grade

    In a lot of law school classes they're not going to learn anything worth learning they couldn't learn from reading the assigned material.

    As for improving their grade, it's true that paying attention will lead to higher grades all other things being equal, but the question is whether the marginal increase in grades is worth the marginal cost in effort. For most students, it won't be.

    There is essentially no pragmatic difference in hiring outcomes at most law schools based on grades for students outside the top X percent of the class, with X becoming progressively smaller quite rapidly as one moves outside the top schools. Of course at the *very* top schools grade differences have been largely eliminated, so the range of schools in which grades make any practical difference outside the top of the class -- which is of course unobtainable for the vast majority of students no matter how hard they work -- is very small.

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  42. I must have been an odd law student...I almost always went to class, read all my assignments, and spoke in class at least once or twice a week (honestly, I need to interact with the prof to stay awake) I read all my casebooks (and I still read cases for fun a year after law school). I remember one class (of 20 students) where I and only one other person did any reading...the top grade went to a classmate who spent each weeknight at a different bar...all this and I still ended up in the bottom half of my graduating class.

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  43. A friend told me today that a nationally-renowned professor at our school offered his upper-level students a deal. In return for not showing up to the exam, he would give them a B-. At my school, the upper level classes are curved so that about 5% of the class gets a B- (and because this is a top law school, almost nobody gets Cs). And in classes with 40-60 students, that means even with the professor liberally interpreting the curve, at least one person will get a B-.

    This professor is well-known for his eccentricities, cynical sense of humor, and disdain for law classes as they are now taught (he once told a student who asked if there would be a review session "this isn't kindergarden"), so perhaps this was intended as a joke.

    But it actually makes sense from his point of view. I always hear professors complain about how hard it is to tell the difference between the B-/B exam or the B/B+ exams. A bargain like this will ensure that the professor will be giving black marks to the people who "deserve" them, while the students who prepared for the exam and make atleast a half-hearted effort get a B.

    Although I doubt many of my classmates took him up on the offer (why would anyone attend class all semester and then not show up to at least attempt to write the exam?), I could see how someone might. The impetus to keep going to class, doing the reading, and studying stems from external factors. Most 1Ls study so they won't be in the bottom 20% who might not get firm jobs. Most 2Ls study out of fear that their firms will no-offer them based on a grade drop (although some people got firm jobs with a B or B+ average and so don't really have to worry about a big drop.) Others study because they want to keep their GPAs up for a clerkship. But if you have a post-grad offer already, and you aren't working for a firm that's likely to fold like Howrey, and you don't care about clerkships, what's the point?

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  44. Things were the same back when I went 20 or so years ago. There were people who did not pay attention in class and who did ok. And yet most of us managed to get legal jobs.

    I myself was one of the "gunners" who paid attention, engaged with the professors, and generally got a lot out of law school (while of course being hated by my classmates.)

    Perhaps this path isn't for everyone, but at the moment I'm pretty happy with my situation.

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  45. LawProf re 12:00 or so:

    I usually agree with you, but you dodged that question as neatly as as a law school recruiter dodges a question about job placement. You were asked whether students would find it worthwhile to pay attention in YOUR class. Your candid answer might be "no," in which case you're committing theft from your students and the taxpayers of Colorado. It might be "yes," in which case we need to have more profs teach like you. But right now the answer is a dodge worthy of a Wall Street financier.

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  46. With so many professors talking about how the law schools shouldn't kowtow to the demands of Big Law, why are schools still offering grades at all? Their primary purpose is to give law firms a sorting mechanism for hiring.

    Schools should only report Pass, High Pass, and Fail. 90-95% gets Pass, 5-10% get High Pass, and ideally no one fails.

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  47. BL1Y: "Studying" and "Paying attention in class" are not the same thing. Paying attention in class is the first priority for a law student who wants to do their absolute best in a class. Studying is a secondary priority.

    Take two hypothetical law students in LawProf's class. Student A went to every class, paid 100% attention, took great notes, reviewed those those notes for 15 hours before the final, and did absolutely no other work. Assume the class is 3 credit hours for 15 weeks. Therefore, Student A spent about 60 total hours on the class.

    Student B went to every class, paid attention about half of the time and the other half of the time was messing around on the internet, spent 6 hours per week reading before class, spent 1 hour per week outlining, and then studied for 20 hours before the final. Therefore student B spent a total of 170 hours on the class (I'm including the time B spent in class even when he wasn't paying attention).

    Assuming Student A and Student B had roughly the same intellectual ability, I'd put my money on Student A over Student B in a heartbeat even though Student A studied less than Student B.

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  48. 12:39: I can't answer your question directly without making judgments about the intellectual and practical value of my classes, which I'm hardly the right person to do. Suffice it to say that to the extent my classes have such value it will benefit students to pay attention in class. (It will also help them in regard to their grades although that's a secondary consideration. I don't give issue spotting exams by the way, and I rarely give in class exams at all).

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  49. 12:25 Where in your class do you think you would have ended up had you not paid attention in class and gone to a different bar every night?

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  50. @12:39(3): I meant "studying" just as short hand for "putting in work/effort/whatevs." Obviously different things will have different bang for their buck.

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  51. LawProf: That was a truly pathetic comment. If you have any choice in the material you teach and you don't think it has intellectual or practical value then you are doing it wrong.

    The correct answer to a question like that is: "Of course I think students should pay attention in my class! I wouldn't teach something unless I thought it had intellectual or practical value. Of course I'm biased, may be wrong, and am obviously not the best person to evaluate my own work."

    You're welcome.

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  52. I love how law students, lawyers, and some law professors think that paying attention for between 12-16 hours per week in classes that students are most likely paying tens of thousands of dollars to attend is "putting in work/effort." Doesn't inspire a lot of confidence.

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  53. 1:06: When you are paying, and the classes have no relevance to practice, and you already have an offer for permanent employment for after graduation, exactly what point is there to putting in more than the minimum amount of effort required to pass, or maintain a B average, or whatever?

    If someone wants to pay me to do work, I'll bust ass to do the best job I can. If I'm paying someone, it's my prerogative whether I pay attention or just come back in nine months to collect my degree.

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  54. LawProf: Kudos to you for using good textbooks. When I went to law school, I can assure you that you could not learn what the professor wanted you to know from merely reading the textbook.

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  55. 1:08: Two points:

    1) I know many people who thought they had jobs lined up who lost them before they started.

    2) You don't know if something is relevant to practice unless A) you know what the something is to begin with B) you already know what practice is like. If you don't show up/pay attention you can't know A) with any degree of certainty. And if you are still a law student then it is very unlikely that you know B) with any degree of certainty either.

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  56. 1:08 -- that's a great attitude to have. With that attitude, you could actually pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend law school, fail all your classes, and then blame your professors for your not becoming a lawyer. "I paid my money! Why the hell should I have to actually consume what I bought in the manner that makes it worth what I paid! I can piss my money down the drain if I want to, dammit!" You're part of the problem.

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  57. 1:15:

    1) Having a full-time offer rescinded or being Lathamed is always a possibility. Right now, you know whether you are going to work at a firm like Howrey or one like Cravath

    Still, the fear of your firm rescinding your offer or laying you off right after graduation seems an odd justification for going to class and paying attention. It doesn't seem like something that most professors admit is the main reason students should continue to go to class. Plus, if almost everyone in your class has a firm job by 3L, and as a result they try half as hard as 1L year, you will only need to put in half the effort to maintain your 1L GPA.

    2) You know by talking to practicing lawyers, and older students who freely admit law school has almost no relevance to practice (except for perhaps defining terms like "merger" or telling you what a 10b-5 action is). I've had a number of partners tell me they didn't care what classes I took in my second and third years of law school, as long as I graduated.

    3) I have a friend who received a post-graduation offer at a boutique specialty firm. During the year they were so overworked that they offered him a position at his pro-rated summer salary at $1,500/week. Ostensibly, he would be working 20/hrs a week as per ABA rules. In reality he worked about 35 hours per week. As a result, he almost never went to class or did the readings. He grossed about 60K that year, including his summer salary.

    Would it have been a good idea for my friend to keep to his 1L/2L study and class schedule, knowing that he was saving himself almost 30K in loans? He's an older guy, married, thinking of starting a family soon.

    What about someone who does not have a post-graduate position, who works 2 internships at local firms and blows off class? He will probably have a better shot at getting a job through impressing his employers with good work than impressing them with slightly higher grades.

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  58. 1:17: I go to a law school where I won't fail any of my classes, since just by showing up to the exam and using an outline from the outline bank to write a half-coherent answer I can get a B. And if I take classes with 1/3 LLM students, I can probably get a B+ because we're all on the same curve.

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  59. LawProf: The reason why commenting anonymously is better than having a handle is because then people have to judge the content of your comment on its own merits, instead of using your reputation (either through previous comments or in real life) to either add credibility or take it away from the comment at issue.

    Where have I heard that argument before? Hmmm...

    My sense from reading the comments on this blog is that you take comments from handles which you know are law professors much more seriously and reply to them at a much higher rate. Not necessarily a bad thing, but just wanted to point out this bias in case you weren't consciously aware of it.

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  60. One of the more vexing aspects of these sorts of discussions is that the basic problem described in the OP -- that large numbers of law students perceive, with good reason, that large portions of their law school experience has little or no educational or vocational value -- gets obscured by side issues of various sorts. Whether my own classes, or those of some other individual law professor, are exemplary or terrible or something in between, has essentially no relevance to that structural and institutional issue.

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  61. 1:32 Good points. One problem is that you can't ask most lawyers if their 3L classes were relevant to practicing because most 3L don't pay attention. You have to know what something is to know if it is relevant. The only people who can give you good advice on the subject are lawyers who paid attention in their 3L classes, and we can all admit that these lawyers are relatively rare.

    Regarding the friend that worked during law school, I think it is close, but I'd agree that working, getting paid, and blowing off class is better than not working and finishing strong in class. To many future employers you will be able to explain any relative lack of success in grades by discussing the work you did instead. However, there is no question that getting lower grades will close doors. But I agree that risk is probably not work $60k.

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  62. This structural/institutional problem argument that law professors and Penn State employees are making is so irritating. At some point you've got to take responsibility for your actions, structural/institutional problems be damned. I suspect that inclination is what prompted you to start this blog in the first place.

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  63. People like 1:00 think they are so clever.  Lawprof is part of the problem insofar as he's a law professor and law professors are part of the problem.  That much is established,  Lawprof concedes it, your attempts to "prove" it are redundant and contribute nothing.  But you know that.  Fuck off already.

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  64. 2:00: The problem is that too many legal academics respond to structural criticisms with the claim that students are getting their money's worth from *their* classes, that they are hard-working, public-spirited, well intentioned people, etc.

    Leaving aside the problem of people evaluating themselves, the larger problem is, so what? Let's assume for the purposes of argument these particular people happen to be right about themselves. That's similar to a student who got a good job out of law school using that as evidence that there's no systemic employment problem among law grads.

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  65. Coder2000: I don't think you understood the point of 1:00's comment (it had nothing to do with whether LawProf was part of the problem or not). You may have been reading it through the lens of your own insecurities.

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  66. @1:40: A common occurrence when there's no handles is that A will post a comment. B will then respond, perhaps asking a question directly to A. Then C responds to B. B now thinks that C is A. When A responds, the communication gets confusing.

    If what you're really after is having comments judged solely on their merits, and not by commenter reputation, I'd suggest regularly changing out your handle. This would avoid confusion, without creating reputations.

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  67. BL1Y: Excellent point. Will do (I was 1:40).

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  68. I completely agree, LawProf, that a lot of law school classes fail to meet the goal I suggested yesterday (and thanks for the shout-out!). Far too many law school classes are a mind boggling waste of the students' time, money, and talent.

    There are some structural reforms that would help this, and I think it's important to discuss those. But I also see this as a failure of responsibility among individual professors. The exceptions, I think, help prove the principle. I know professors, at my institution and elsewhere, who have created excellent, innovative classes that significantly further their students' professional development--the students say this, not just me. Those classes span all types of coursework, from first-year subjects to UL bar courses, seminars, and clinics; there's room for significant innovation at every level.

    These professors have the same backgrounds and incentives as other faculty; I'm thinking right now of tenure-track professors who have modest practice experience and publish excellent scholarship. The clinic I described yesterday, for example, was designed (and is co-taught) by a tenured full professor with a publication list many would envy.

    I know that the number of these classes is still small, but that's part of my point: If some professors can do this, why don't others? What would happen if every law professor (or even, say, 65%?) stepped up to the plate and devoted him or herself seriously to redesigning their courses in a way that would produce excellent professionals? What if those professors were willing to read the literature on professional development and to talk to other experts in the field? What if they were willing to treat professional education as a subject itself worthy of serious study and discussion?

    And what if those professors were also willing to talk to one another about how their courses might fit into an integrated professional education? And if they also met with practitioners to discuss ways in which legal education could bridge into training during the early years of law practice? And thought of creative ways to integrate willing practitioners into legal education?

    As law faculties, we admit tremendously talented students, we have a huge pool of financial resources (from both tuition and alumni donations) to draw upon, and--despite our recognized faults--we're pretty talented people ourselves. Shouldn't we be able to figure out a way to make three years of legal education dynamite preparation for law practice?

    I think the people who end up having the biggest impact on the world--and even reaping great rewards--are often those who disregard the incentives and do what they know is right. What if we started a movement among law professors to do the right thing and dedicate ourselves to creating a truly exceptional legal education?

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  69. I want to take a moment to give credit where credit is due, so for training me in skills of persuasive argument construction, I'd like to thank the University of Alabama Philosophy Department.

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  70. I LOLed...lawprofs doing what they do best...mentally masturbating with no substantial changes. This can go on for decades. lawprofs are the last people Id listen to regarding these changes. Most haven't practiced and most are responsible for what we have today. Post fail.

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  71. I posted my last comment before seeing the more recent ones that specifically addressed this structural/individual issue. As a quick add-on: I don't see this as an either-or choice between institutional change and individual responsibility. Both are essential. There are also different ways to assert the individual side of the argument. I don't think law professors who see some good teaching should be complacent. On the contrary, I think we should nag other professors as frequently as possible to change their classes. And, especially if we're senior faculty, we should give effusive praise to colleagues who take teaching seriously.

    But I also think there's a link between individual responsibility and structural change: Doesn't structural change often start with people who take deep responsibility for what they know is right?

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  72. LawProf: A couple of days ago I asked you if you had brought up the fact that CU's website publishes salary data (median and maximum only), and does not state what percentage of the class that data represents. Specifically I asked if you had advocated providing more disclosure to CU's faculty or administration, and if so, what was the rationale for not providing more disclosure. You ignored me.

    This is relevant because I honestly cannot think of an argument that someone who was hard-working, public spirited, and well intentioned could make to advocate omitting the fact that the quoted $107,500/$160,000 median/maximum salary only represents the 30% of students who responded (or whatever actual percentage is). It seems like blatant and intentional misrepresentation and deception (unless of course they had a 100% response rate).

    The way I see it there are a few possibilities here:

    1) Maybe I'm just dumb and can't see the perfectly honest and respectable argument for limiting disclosure that "good" people would make. That's partially why I was asking the question to begin with. Maybe I'm so dumb and the answer is so obvious that it wasn't even worth your time to explicitly lay out for me.

    2) Maybe the choice to omit the information was made by only one or a very small number of people and no one has talked about it because they figure, "It's not my responsibility," or "That's someone else's job," or they literally don't know about the omission in the first place.

    3) Maybe the choice to omit the information has been discussed throughly and most professors/administrators approve of the decision.

    My guess is the second scenario is the most likely. However, you know about this now and you are a good person. Have you brought it to the attention of any of your colleagues and asked what they thought? If not, I think your structural problems argument is a bunch of hot air. If so, did the person (or people) have a good reason for limiting the disclosure? If so, please explain it. If not, and assuming that most of the faulty/administrators are "good people," then why would it be so hard to provide more disclosure?

    Obviously they are not on the same level of awfulness, but I can't understand why CU doesn't disclose what percentage of the class their median/maximum salaries represent the same way I can't understand why someone at Penn State didn't call the police.

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  73. BL1Y: The best way to build a good relationship with your professors is to pay attention in class, participate in class, and get one of the highest grades in the class (all while being polite). Obviously there are other ways, but that way is the most consistent.

    You have no idea where you would have ended up if you would have given it your all. But I understand that it makes it easier for you if you believe that it didn't matter how hard you tried, you would never be in the top 20% (or top whatever % for that matter).

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  74. I concur with 2:59. It would be nice to know who makes the decisions on what statistics to publish.

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  75. I've met with the relevant people and argued for much fuller disclosure, including percentages of respondents who list their salaries and temporary versus permanent positions. I've been told that much more information than is available now will be available on the web site "soon." Exactly how much more has, I've been told, not yet been decided.

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  76. @3:13: I actually did try quite hard my first year, and participated in class. I got average grades, and I doubt any of my professors would have recognized me outside of the class room.

    If you weren't on law review, there on full scholarship, one of the super public interest babies, professors really didn't have any time for you. You have a class of 100 people, the prof will form a relationship with how many students? 3? 5? Trying harder gives you better odds, but in my case, increasing my efforts in those regards probably wouldn't have improved my outcomes.

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  77. Combining complaints with helpless inaction is very negative. It will depress you and drain your soul. Either DO SOMETHING about the problems you highlight, or shut the f*ck up about them.

    Here, watch this video and open your mind about the universe. http://www.youtube.com/user/athenewins?blend=1&ob=4#p/u/1/foc4baMmQEk

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  78. Physics academics are using complicated machinery and experiments to find the higgs boson and legal academics can't even find out whether their graduates have jobs. That's the big unsolved question in legal academia. Without hyperbole I declare legal academics to be the most inept and the dumbest of all academics. What a ridiculous field.

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  79. Not all "physics academics" are doing that. Most of them are regular people, doing a regular job the best they can. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. The same can be said of legal academics.

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  80. One of the highest ranked students in my section spent most of class playing solitaire.

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  81. Skyrim guerilla marketing firmDecember 16, 2011 at 7:49 PM

    Did he know about Skyrim?

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  82. Shark: I think you're right about the bulk of both physicists and legal academics. Most are just regular folk in their field.

    The difference is in the outliers. Really high end physics is doing things like figuring out whether tachyons (or is it nutrinos?) can travel faster than light, or whether it's possible for something to both be and not be, you know, really cool big idea stuff.

    What do the greatest legal academic minds work on?

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  83. It depends on what you think is cool. If you do not care about law as a subject, or think law is not as important as physics, then you will think the stuff physicists do will be cooler. I think the stuff that has been done in cyber law and intellectual property is cool. It will be of growing importance. There are folks who are teaching and writing about the development of the legal profession in the United States and abroad. There are other areas as well. Again, this is a matter of taste. If you are not interested in law, or don't think it really matters, you are not likely to think any of these things are cool.

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  84. BL1Y: First year almost everyone tries "very" hard. Some people have better natural abilities and some people figure out the game faster than others, so they do well. In contrast, very few people try hard 2L and 3L years.

    You're smart enough to realize that saying "I tried hard my 1L year and got average grades, therefore, if I had tried hard my 2L and 3L years I would have gotten average grades," is fundamentally flawed. The very reason you stopped trying hard is the reason why trying hard would have been a huge advantage 2L and 3L years. Most people think like you did and stop trying hard, thereby making trying hard a huge advantage.

    Aside from grades it also stands out a lot more to professors during your 2L and 3L years (thus making it easier to distinguish yourself to create a relationship with the prof). Have you ever given a lecture? Have you ever given a lecture when 3/4 of the class is not paying attention because they are reading something on their laptop. It sucks!

    The few kids that are actually paying attention make it so much more enjoyable for the professor. The professor makes eye contact with them and responds when they smile/frown/whatever. The situation is such that it is almost impossible for the professor not to like you/take notice of you if you are paying 100% attention and participating in class.

    Just like with the grades, this effect is much more dramatic 2L and 3L years.

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  85. Given that I write about law all the time, I find it incredibly interesting, but when was the last time a law professor had a Big Idea?

    Leo Katz's Why the Law is So Perverse may actually be in that territory (great read, especially if you're an "influential" blogger and get your copy for free). But, what percentage of law professors have read it? Maybe 1%? 5% tops?

    I have only a cursory knowledge of physics, but am aware of several Big Idea things that are being worked on. How many Big Idea law topics can a legal expert name?

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  86. Good point 8:30!

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  87. Not only that, but legal academics can't even discover their employment data. Imagine that. Physicists are discovering the subparticles of the universe, which are obfuscated and hidden behind layer after layer of incredibly complex and esoteric insight. That's the level of problem they're working on.

    Could you imagine going up to a physicist at CERN and asking him to solve the big problem in legal academia, "Where do our graduates work, and how much do they make?" He'd look at you like you were a retard.

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  88. 9:00 - I laughed out loud!

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  89. Big ideas are overrated. They can easily impress people who do not know what the person is actually talking. Physics, which is largely impenetrable to laypeople, is great for creating the gee whiz factor. If someone announces a thing as a "Big idea", people who have no way of making the judgment will just accept it. There was an article just recently about how hard it is to tell the difference between the cranks in physics and those who are doing real work.
    It's also not a good comparison. What big ideas are poets working on now? What big ideas are musicians working on. These are different fields, that work in different ways to different ends. This is just another way to get in a dig a law professors.

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  90. Big ideas are overrated. They can easily impress people who do not know what the person is actually talking. Physics, which is largely impenetrable to laypeople, is great for creating the gee whiz factor. If someone announces a thing as a "Big idea", people who have no way of making the judgment will just accept it. There was an article just recently about how hard it is to tell the difference between the cranks in physics and those who are doing real work.
    It's also not a good comparison. What big ideas are poets working on now? What big ideas are musicians working on. These are different fields, that work in different ways to different ends. This is just another way to get in a dig a law professors.

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  91. Sorry for the double posting. Computer problems...

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  92. I don't think a comparison with artists, musicians and physicists is justified.

    The big questions that artists seek to answer is, "how will I inspire my audience?" or "how will I get them to feel this or that?"

    The big questions that physicists seek to answer is, "what are the rules for our physical world?"

    These are evolved and high minded questions.

    The two big picture questions that the law seeks to answer are: "should we put this citizen in jail?" or "should we take this person's money and give it to that person?"

    These are very low and base questions.

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  93. I'd like to see the article calling physicists "cranks."

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  94. The person claiming that those who pay attention in class get better grades has apparently never heard of the term, "hide the ball." Law professors do not lecture to tell you what you need to know for their exams. Rather, they do so to distract you from what you need to know.

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  95. http://chronicle.com/article/Hey-Physics-Get-Real-/126662/

    http://chronicle.com/article/In-Modern-Physics-Whos-an/129876/

    @9:33, you are right. The second article is about crank ideas by people who are physicists and physicist wannabes, not crank physicists. The first article is about physicists peddling dubious (crank) big ideas. I collapsed the two.

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  96. 9:43: I'm assuming you are one of the students who doesn't pay attention. Am I right?

    At the end of the day, 85% of lawyers and law students are going to rationalize not paying attention in class because they either didn't or don't pay attention in class as 2Ls and 3Ls. If current students don't see this as an opportunity, they are just not very good at the law school game.

    But you are right to a very small extent. There are some professors out there who are so bad, that you actually might learn very little helpful information (either for their exam or for real life) buy listening to what they have to say in class. I'd fire them all if I could. Luckily these profs are in the minority.

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  97. Again, "hide the ball."

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  98. 12:39 complains of law schools awarding grades as their only purpose is to give law firms a sorting mechanism for hiring. He sugests if grades are to be given at all, a system where 90-95% of students get the same grade(and hopefully no one fails). It comes as no surprise to any that law firms use law school grades as a sorting mechanism for hiring. But given the high ratio of applicants to jobs (10 to 1, 50 to 1, 100 to 1?)the law firms have to use some sort of sorting mechanism. If they don't have grades, what do they have? It quickly becomes social background, attractivness, slickness, interview skills, and our old friends nepotism and connections. With nothing substantive to go on, the personal prejudices of class, race, religion and politics work their way in. The absence of any individual marker for the ability to do competent legal work, will result in all of the graduates of top tier schools getting hired and none of the graduates of lower tier schools getting to be lawyers. The lowest slacker at HYS or Texas or UCLA gets a job and the hard working (and probably lower SES) student who would have been law review at Loyola or valedictorian at the University of Toledo never gets the chance at being a lawyer. Is this what we want? 12:39 is one of those odd people who is an elitist until he is admitted into an elite group (N.Y.U. I believe) and then campaigns for complete equality within the group. Odder still because of BL1Y's consistently high qualty of comments on this blog. William Ockham

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  99. "Combining complaints with helpless inaction is very negative. It will depress you and drain your soul. Either DO SOMETHING about the problems you highlight, or shut the f*ck up about them."

    Agreed. People are acting like this is the first time in history there was ever a weak job market for graduates. Imagine if people took about 20% of the time they spent whinging and used that time to make money.

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  100. He meant do something about the law school scam.

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  101. 1:26 if u can't make your point briefly don't make it at all. I stopped reading ur post after two sentences.

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  102. 9:52 you moron thanks for wasting 20 minutes of my time. Those articles are by John Horgan an ENGLISH MAJOR who works as a pop science journalist and who couldn't understand a real physics paper if his life depended on it.

    Congratulations. You contributed nothing but misinformation and time vampiring to this discussion.There are so many dumb people in this field.

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  103. Jesus I just wikipedia'd John Horgan. He is someone who couldn't even complete a bachelors in science, but he wrote a book (a pop culture book for the mindless masses like 9:52) declaring THE END OF ALL SCIENCE. Yes, this nobody who I guarantee you could not even translate a scientific paper (which is written in very arcane language) into layman's words is such an idiot troll that he wrote a book declaring the end of all of science. Can you imagine the combination of ignorance and gall that would inspire such preeminent trolling? Not only that but he wrote another book declaring the end of all mathematics!

    He should have taken his english major and became a legal academic, because outside of pop journalism that is the only place such idiocy would have been tolerated.

    So again - Physicists at CERN are solving puzzle after puzzle to discover the micro-particles of the universe, mathematicians at google are designing systems to process information (and mathematicians are probably doing other advanced stuff but I don't know anything about what they do), microbiologists are working on curing disease - and assholes like legal academics and John Horgan are trolling the world, funded by defrauded morons sold snake oil. John Horgan's snake oil is that he can make your average layman feel smarter than a top physicist or mathematician. Law schools' snake oil is the promise of non-existent jobs.

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  104. A cautionary story about non-scientists worship of "Big Ideas"


    http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2009/0921/opinions-peter-woit-physics-ideas-opinions.html?partner=email

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  105. 8:21, You don't understand the scientific method. It's premised on hypothesis->experimentation->prove or disprove the hypothesis, converting it either to a theory or false.

    Ignoring your citation to an article in Forbes magazine to disprove a field that you are ignorant of, and that you probably do not have the mental capacity to understand even if you tried, ignoring all that, you can't ever use the fact that a hypothesis was disproven to attack science. Disproving a hypothesis ***is*** science.

    Leave high order thought to your mental superiors and get back to trying to figure out if your graduates have jobs, and how much they earn. If you need help call the mathematicians who organized the US Census.

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  106. I promise you, you do not know what you are talking about

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  107. An appropriate comment on a blog for lawyers.

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  108. I'll stand up for issue spotting exams. Some guy decides he needs a lawyer, comes to my office, and tells me a story. Guess what: he has no interest at all in whether or how I think ultimate justice might be served. He wants to know whether on the facts he explained, and such as I glean from questioning him, he is going to prevail on his claim, be able to accomplish his objective, whatever. I might not have to know from memory how the courts in my state apply the partial performance exception to the statute of frauds -- to pick a random example -- but I damn well better know that I need to look into that.

    CC
    CC

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  109. 6:46 If two sentences exhausts the powers of your comprehension, are you sure that the law is the right carer choice?

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  110. For more anecdotal evidence:

    My first semester, I tried hard, payed some attention, did all the reading and studied hard for the finals -- 3.27. Second Semester-- about the same 3.33. Third semester, I decided I was going to drop out. I checked out of all of the classes. Skimmed readings. Never participated. When I was cold-called I made a fool out of myself. That semester I got a 3.37; the best gpa of the three. What a joke.

    CM

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