At the other end of the spectrum was the president of the American Bar Association, William Robinson III, who defended American legal education as the finest in the world. “So many who never went to law school want to talk about law school as a trade school,” Robinson said. “It is not. It is a school of higher learning” -- a statement that drew spontaneous applause.Robinson is making time during his year-long tenure as ABA president to make sure law students all across America know what a smart choice they've made to spend a couple of hundred thousand bucks getting a law degree at this particular moment in the ongoing (d)evolution of the market for the providers of legal services:
Robinson said he always visits with law students when he makes trips around the country and never fails to be impressed with their skills and knowledge.That this windbag's hallucinations were greeted with "spontaneous applause" doesn't surprise me, given that his audience was made up of legal academics. After all, Robinson is flattering the grandiose visions of legal education and the legal profession to which a certain segment of the profession -- that made up of high-status people with law degrees who have little or no contact with the actual practice of law -- is particularly prone.
"They are, in my opinion, making very wise decisions about their future," he said. "These are very bright people."
The decision to attend law school is not necessarily about job security, Robinson said, but rather about opportunity. A law degree offers the "widest potential variety of career opportunity" compared to other advanced degree programs, he said.
The ABA is committed to defending law schools from attacks on its ability to produce good lawyers, he said
"Our law schools can stand up and measure up against any other graduate program in this country," he said.
Consider the reaction of one law professor to a complaint about the present publication system for legal scholarship:
[This is] another smug, anti-intellectual attack on scholarship which seems to be part of a greater effort to transform legal education, and perhaps higher education in general, into a trade school . . . the demand for intense, imaginative intellectual engagement has been integral to the high quality of legal education. We are not producing plumbers and bookkeepers, we are producing the leaders of our Society whose primary ability is the strength of their intellects.BL1Y responds:
Professor Bayer has perhaps been away from the legal industry for too long. The typical lawyer does not spend his day leading Society. He makes routine appearances before a judge which last only a fraction of the time spent waiting to be called. He makes small modifications to a model will. He sifts through piles of contracts and catalogs their contents for a client engaged in a merger, and then through another pile of SEC no action letters. The great mass of lawyers spend their time as fungible cogs doing the grunt work of giant corporate machines, or else navigating the petty squabbles of their neighbors.Precisely. How do so many legal academics manage to maintain the bizarre delusion that the purpose of law school is to "produce the leaders of our Society?" Easy:
Academics tend to miss the sheer drudgery and asswork involved in being a lawyer; the only reason people do it is because they believed at one point they’d be millionaires. If you are reasonably likely to make as much money being a nurse, no one will go to law school. I don’t know why so many reformers think there’s a bunch of potential lawyers in Los Angeles waiting in the wings to get yelled at by judges for $60k a year – their entire career.
One deeply dysfunctional aspect of contemporary American legal education that doesn't get enough attention is the almost complete disconnect between the vision of law presented in law school, and the social reality of what practicing -- or, increasingly, failing to practice -- law actually entails. The phony employment and salary statistics are the most obvious, but not necessarily the most invidious, aspect of that disconnect.
Even the academics that practiced for [any length of] time tended to have surprisingly, uh, delicate careers; I don’t think many of them were hired to handle appearances day after day. Being an attorney is pure ass, and the only reason people do it is the idea of riches. A lot of attorneys don’t get to riches, but if you’re 45, w/ 20 years in on your job, you don’t have a lot of choice.
That disconnect is captured perfectly, though unintentionally, by the title of the best-known work of arguably the most professionally successful law professor of the last generation. Let's just say Law's Empire sounds a whole lot more inspiring than Law's Document Review, or Law's Status Conference, or Law's Boilerplate, or Law's Barista.
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, there are two tragedies for a very large percentage of law school graduates. The first is not getting what they want. The second is getting it.