Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You can't win if you don't play

An acquaintance of mine, a professor at a top business school, is a big fan of state-run lotteries.  "It's a tax that poor people pay voluntarily!" he tells me with starry-eyed wonder.  This is the kind of thing that makes me sympathetic to Marxist accounts of false consciousness.  Clearly a considerable amount of weight is being put here on the concept of what counts as "voluntary."

Lotteries are interesting examples of the practical limits of providing people with transparent information.  It seems probable that even poorly educated and relatively innumerate people understand that purchasing a lottery ticket is on average a markedly losing proposition for the purchaser, since it's well known that the government makes a lot of money on lotteries. So why do people buy lottery tickets?  The most benign explanation is that playing the lottery is a form of consumption -- that people enjoy gambling for its own sake and therefore derive psychic income from it, even though gambling has a negative return on investment in simple pecuniary terms.  Less benign explanations include magical thinking and its near cousin desperation.

The less benign accounts take on particular force when one sees statistics on how much money poor people spend on lottery tickets relative to middle class and upper class people (Supposedly people with incomes of less than $13,000 per year spend something like 9% of their income on lotteries).

Increasingly, choosing to attend law school is coming to resemble purchasing an enormous number of lottery tickets.  Let us count the ways:

(1) Collective outcomes are markedly negative for law school graduates as a group. In other words, the winners in the law school game are now seriously outnumbered by the losers, in both simple numerical and aggregated utility terms.  This is certainly true for law graduates as a whole, and is also true at a very large majority of individual schools, indeed quite possibly all schools outside the top X (X here being a very small number whose precise identity I'm not interested in quibbling about at the moment). 

(2) The law school game, like the lottery, is based in large part on redistributing wealth from some students to other students. This is most obvious in the context of tuition cross-subsidization via "merit" scholarships, but is true in a deeper sense in that, under contemporary conditions, winning at the law school game requires that there be many losers whose losses are precisely what make one a winner (in other words the game has become strongly negative sum).  You can't finish in the top 10% of the class unless 90% of your classmates don't.

(3) Outcomes are largely random.  People do well in law school not because they work hard (everybody works hard, at least until they recognize outcomes are largely random) but because they have a knack for doing well on issue-spotting exams, that do a very good job of measuring how well people do on issue-spotting exams but measure nothing else of value.  In this sense law school grades are not much different than lottery numbers. Some come up, most don't, and this fact doesn't have much to do with the inherent virtue or vice of the players. Update: To clarify, I'm not saying law school grades are random in the literal sense that a lottery ticket's outcome is random.  Obviously some people are better at taking issue-spotting than others, and those people will on average get better grades in law school. What I'm saying is that the relationship between the ability to do well on issue-spotting exams is a poor proxy for intelligence in general, hard work, or the ability to practice law.  People with otherwise very similar intellectual abilities and capacities for diligence often experience very different outcomes in regard to law school grades (after all the large majority of students at any particular school are very similar to each other in these regards). In this more limited sense the grades are random, in that they're being achieved on the basis of factors that are irrelevant to anything anyone would actually care about measuring.

(4) In the case of both lotteries and law schools, the crucial ideological justification for the game is that the participants are entering into it voluntarily.  This is why the one thing on which even the most dedicated defenders of the legal academic status quo agree is that law schools should be transparent about outcomes.  Nobody is willing to defend a gamble in which those who run it lie about the odds.  But here is where the analogy between lotteries and law schools is most troubling.  After all, the state doesn't need to lie about the odds to get the poorest of its citizens to spend nearly one out of every ten dollars on lottery tickets.  "All you need is a dollar and a dream!" appears to work just as well, in at least some social contexts, as "98% of our graduates have jobs nine months after graduation."

In other words, what if you give people good information about the extent to which you're ripping them off, and they insist on getting ripped off anyway?  Of course in the world in which rational agents maximize their utility on the basis of adequate information regarding costs, benefits, and risk this can't happen by definition. But it turns out we don't live in that world.  We live in a world of markedly bounded rationality, where people are prone to optimism bias, have short time horizons and poor options within them, and are therefore more than willing to spend a dollar on a dream -- or $150,000 that they don't have as the case may be.


  1. Agree except on one point--law school grades are definitely not random. Cream rises to the top everywhere. The kid who is good at issue-spotting exams is probably the same kid that was good at SATs and high school tests back in high school, and LSATs and college tests back in college.

  2. The shills and defenders love to rely on the "voluntary" argument. It is embarrassing. This does not take into account that most 21 year olds trust "institutions of higher education." (They have been told that "higher education is THE KEY to their future," since infancy.) Furthermore, most 21 year old men and women in the U.S. are rather immature, in comparison to most 21 year olds in the rest of the world.

  3. 21 year olds need some tough love. Frankly, the Cooley model of flunking out 25% of the class makes sense here. You're doing them a favor.

    If all law school churned and burned 25% of all students in the first year, and the remaining debt for an uncompleted program were dischargeable, people would be a lot happier.

    Maybe that's the best bankruptcy reform. If you don't complete a degree, permit the student to be allowed immediately to discharge the educational debt.

  4. Why do people go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City?

    Law school grades are not totally random. A transcript that has all A's on it, from different professors over three years, is not achieved through sheer randomness. The same holds true for a transcript filled with C+s and B-s. That does not necessarily tell you who is going to be a success over the long run. But grades are not about the long run. They are about the short term, what kind of first shot does the person get.

  5. I think what Lawprof is getting at is that hard doesn't do much for your chances of getting a good grade. The outcome is random in the sense that you have little control over it as it's based mainly on how smart you are relative to others in your class.

  6. *hard work
    Proofreading helps too ;)

  7. Unlike lotteries, arent LS's lying about the odds though?

  8. "Cream rises to the top everywhere."

    If that were true, that kid would have been able to get into the sure thing field of Medicine, rather than risking it on Law.

  9. Your analogy is incomplete in one crucial way. The government does not offer $150,000 loans for anyone to play the lottery. Whatever your views on the lottery, its pretty clear that if those poor people spending 9% of their income on the lottery had access to six figure financing, they would gamble even more. It would be negative sum, and only the special interests administering the scam would benefit.

    a 3L

  10. Welcome to my world! I am the pre-law teacher at a large public university. I definitely have a group of "lottery" students; mediocre to poor UGPA and LSAT's, poor job prospects, little direction or motivation, and an inherent belief in their own specialness. They know the numbers, they know the facts, and they still choose to go to law school. They do it because everything else looks equally grim. They do it because their parents want them to do it (and their parents sincerely believe that their specialness will finally shine through in law school, although it hadn't by the time they graduated college). I sincerely believe these students could have all the accurate information in the world, as a long as law is a status profession, they will continue to be lemmings.

    I am NOT saying law school shouldn't be forced to produce accurate job stats; I also have the anti-lemmings--students with decent job prospects, good grades and mid-160's LSAT's, who are running from law schools. That would not be the case without the information they have received from the NYT's, Above the Law, Prof. Campos, Brian Tamanaha, Bernie Burke, Bill Henderson, and others fighting the good fight.

    As much as it kills me inside, we cannot save them all.

  11. @8:13-- There is no question that some people get this stuff intuitively. But working hard (working smart) is important for others. I knew both kinds of people in law school. Studies repeatedly show that Americans prefer to attribute success to natural smarts, while people in other cultures believe that hard work matters. That is, in part, why other countries manage to do better teaching large groups of their citizens basic math skills, while here the message is you are either a math person or you are not. People who could do better give up because the message is that hard work means nothing, you either have the talent or you don't. Sure, those who function at the highest levels of mathematics must have that ineffable thing that allows them to excel. But there are many more people who could improve their skills with extra work and perseverance. Again, not everyone, of course.
    And lots of times, people who are thought to get all this stuff intuitively are secretly studying. They just pretend they never cracked the book, and yet they got the A+ in Civ Pro. That's the American preferred story.

  12. "Studies repeatedly show that Americans prefer to attribute success to natural smarts, while people in other cultures believe that hard work matters."


  13. Stop lending for law school. Period.

    Why should the American taxpayer subsidize this terrible profession?

    Oh, then only the rich or those willing to save up and defer can go to law school? Well, so what? And yes I'm being serious. There is an absolute glut out there. And it's not like student loans actually help the poor. I guess they help that rare special snowflake who scored a 179 on his LSAT and came from poverty, but now can crack into Sullivan & Cromwell, but he'd be a success regardless of law school or not.

  14. "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail."

  15. 8:39,
    Hard work is necessary but not sufficient.

  16. Can't stop laughing at that 9% statistic...

  17. I would like to comment on the notion being suggested equating intelligence and hard work to good grades in law school suggested by some of the commentators. I have done about two years of research in this area, and have found that this is not necessarily true. My researh, which has focused largely on academic theory relating to lawyering soft skills, crafting legal arguments, and lawyering teaching methodology has suggested that this hypothesis needs to be questioned. Although I have not been able to bring my research to the next level and conduct a large empirical study, I am finding that a larger portion of the discrepency in Law School Grades between top students and bottom students, is in the directions provided to students and how they are interpreted by the student. The directions many teachers provide assume that only one outcome can be generated. However, the directions, when taken literally provide for multiple outcomes. They are inherently vague and ambiguous.

    Despite this fact, most students begin to recognize what a high quality product looks like that is often required in Law School for good grades. In addition, most students can deliver the quality expected.

    The problem is in the process. When a student achieves the quality, there is an assumption that the directions provided to them with respect to form and their substantive knowledge of the material discussed led them to that product. However, this assumption is incorrect. I am finding that some students with poor grades have a stronger grasp of the substantive material than higher grades, but due to soft-skill deficits have trouble expressing this knowledge in the form required.

    I am finding where most law school curriculums fail their students is not in substantive law instruction, but in "form" or "presentation" instruction. Many of the directions, regardless of where you attend school, contain vague and ambiguous terms with respect to the "form" an answer must be presented in. Many professors obtained their positions based on part their prior success in law school. They teach and explain in the same or similar manner they were taught. This is common in all teaching situations. But with respect to form instruction, they assume the directions they were told must have been good, because they have succeeded. However, I am finding that this is not the case.

  18. Having conducted this research and assisted students who were struggling, by taking the directions one step further and adding clarity to the vague and ambiguous terms provided to them, I have found overnight improvements in the quality of the students work. Most students, regardless of their grades, I have found, understand the substantive issues of the law for an assignment or class. What I am finding that creates the discrepeny in grades is in the form that the student presents their answer. In writing a legal argument, there are hidden directions,or unspoken rules of the legal paradigm. A students grasp of these rules, whether cognicent of them or not, appears to be a leading make it or break it factor in students grades. These rules are rarely expressly taught, and are left to the student to infer. As a result, I hypothesize based on my research that many students do not obtain grades that accurately reflect their knowledge of the substantive law in class because they are not expressing the answer in the form that professor wants to see it. Until this aspect of the curriculum gets addressed, the "random" factor of grades will continue.

    While there are correlations with students with high LSAT scores scoring well on exams, research studies into the nature of intelligence and DNA suggest otherwise. The grade discrepency for students in class more often I believes relates more to lack of prerequisite soft skill development and different pre-law school life experienes then actual intelligence.

    Needless to say, the effectto a student struggling with grasping the unspoken rules is that grades develop a certain random feel. Unless the student who is struggling gets an outside intervention to help them clarify the directions, it is very difficult situation to overcome. As a result, commentators who suggest a students success in class has to do solely with innate intelligence or hardwork, in my opinion is only fooling themselves.

  19. I'll join the chorus on outcomes not being random. Hard work may or may not be necessary -- some people are natural at issue spotting, and paid close enough attention to be able to explain coherently the issues they have spotted. Others work hard on the wrong thing. And, of course, most people are somewhere in between. But it's pretty usual to see transcripts that are internally consistent -- anyone can have a fluke up or down, but most students are pretty consistent.

    As others have said, this doesn't necessarily tell who is going to succeed in the law business.

    But none of the critical elements to success in the law business are random either. At least, they are not randomly assigned/arrived at after enrollment. What kind of connections to you have to get (a) a job and (b) clients? Have you learned the law well enough to be a good lawyer? Do you have the proper temperament for (a) annoying clients; (b) difficult problems; and (c) unreasonable partners? Do you really care enough about other people's problems to spend your life trying to solve them (because your legal career is never going to be about you, it's always going to be about someone else)?

    At least with the lottery, anyone buying a ticket can win. But if you don't bring with you both the personal attributes and the connections, you are not going to win the law lottery.


  20. 9:36, um, isn't the *form* IRAC, CREAC, or whatever? That is to say, yeah students who don't perform well may know the law, but they didn't present the rule, explain it and then apply it to the fact pattern on the ex in a coherent fashion. I'm not saying that's why some people get better or worse grades, I'm just saying your study is pretty basic and already known stuff.

  21. 9:36 -- If the 90% of the class who didn't get a D figured out what the prof was looking for in terms of format, and the 10% who did get Ds didn't figure it out, is this really a failure on the part of the prof?


  22. Not-very-useful anecdote:

    I'm not sure whether grades are random or not, but my grades have been wildly inconsistent (quite a few great grades and awful grades). And I really don't know why. Might not be random, but it sure feels that way.

  23. @9:36 --

    I would be very interested to hear more details about your research. Is there a way you can be reached?

  24. @10:02: I feel you on that. I got one C and 2 low B's, but over half of my grades are As. I got the C first semester so any chance of getting a firm job was killed right there.

    If fucking up one grade can kill your career, there is something wrong.

  25. 9:57 You are correct in saying that IRAC and CREAC are the basic forms. Despite their Basic intiutive level, there are alot of expressed and unexpressed rules that go into a well written IRAC and CREAC paragraph that are either not expressed or overtly taught. Most, but not all, students infers these rules.

    If you have always obtained great grades, it may be difficult for you to relate or empathize. But if you didn't, and wondered why sometimes "the magic worked" and other times it didn't, you may have missed some unexpressed rules in your learning. Diagnosing the issue is difficult because most students don't even know to ask the question or even how to ask the question. And even if you can ask the necessary questions, most professors are not prepared for that type of question and assume it is another professors responsibility to teach.

    The net effect though for a student in this situation is that they being graded disproportionately on something that is not taught expressly in class and no help is being provided to overcome the short fall in their learning.

    To use an analogy. Think Snowboarding. The way you turn and stop a snowboard on a beginner hill is the same way you turn and stop a snowboard on an expert trail. The fundamentals are the same. It is the snowboarding equivalent of IRAC or CREAC. However, a beginner snowboarder with a strong grasp of the fundamentals may have difficulty on other trails of the mountain. There are experience factors that influence and provide weight to a boarders decision making in how they deciding how to progress down a trail. I am not saying a beginner with strong turning and stopping cannot make it down, they can given enough work. But the beginner, when compared to an expert, does not have the skill to read the mountain to incorporate all of the subtle cues such as condition of the snow, obstacles, and pitch in their decision making to make it down as efficiently. As a result, depending on whether the rider has other sports experience to draw upon, some of these obstacles may cause them to fall down and get bruised, despite knowing the fundamentals to turn and stop. Similar to snowboarding, a student despite their knowledge of the basics of IRAC and CREAC, may not infer some of the "trail changes" in a legal problem and adjust their approach to the basic structure correctly. Like in navigating a trail, their are other factors come into play in answer form that influence and adjust the basic IRAC and CREAC form - some of which you learn in law school, but alot of which relies on pre-requisite skill development from previous life-experiences. These are judgment skills on what factors to give weight to and how much weigh they should command. However, a student, like the snowboarder unfamiliar with these other factors, may give the wrong amount weight to these factors in their writing. The corrosive effect is that they plateau in skill to early, or worse, cause harm in the form of their response on exams, delivering an answer that does not even reflect their substantive knowledge, despite knowing the answer.

    So while your comment is accurate, I find it to be an oversimplification.

  26. Are you seriously comparing a $1 lottery ticket - that MUST BE PURCHASED WITH CASH, I.E. YOU CAN'T PUT LOTTERY TICKETS ON A CREDIT CARD - with a $200,000 DEBT FUNDED gamble based on lies?

    wtf LawProf.

  27. Getting good grades in law school is a function of three things: 1) memory (so you can cite the relevant case/rule even on a closed-book exam); 2) identifying relationships (e.g. this fact is similar to this other fact in this case we read a couple months ago); and 3) writing clearly and coherently, but not too well.

    Not totally random, requires a lot of work, and includes some of the same skills necessary for success in law. That said, the entire enterprise of law is a disaster and the sooner the legal educational complex implodes the better off we'll all be.

    And poor people purchase lottery tickets as a tangible embodiment of their dreams of escaping the hell that is their everyday lives. Orwell knew it.

  28. I never bought lottery tickets until I realized that finding a decent job with a JD was the same as gambling.

    After that, I figured, might as well.

    I happened to listen to the March 30th podcast of Out Front from CNN, anyway, apparently the number 36 comes up the most frequently. Especially as the mega number, so remember if you're going to play, play 36!

  29. The whole system is messed up, undergrad too. I’m tired of squabbling over minor details like grades. Screw grades.

  30. I think another reason why people play the lottery and go to law school is because it gives them motive to dream big . We've all thought about the things we could and would do if we won the lottery like purchasing a house, getting that fancy ride, etc.. The same mindset exists when going through law school. It might not be as grandiose as owning a mansion or driving an expensive import but the allurement of being financially secure is there.

  31. A bit random, but check out this chart comparing overall college costs compared to earnings, for a bachelor degree, at private institutions.

  32. So in other words, you won't lose if you don't play. Is that the crux of your whole law school argument LawProf?

  33. 9:36/10:49, 9:57 here. I agree with you, I was just playing devils adv in a smart phone hence the simple take. But in fact it took me several semesters to understand what I was supposed to do on an exam. I guess one of your points is that a major component of a law school exam, how to formulate an answer to a question, is (ABSURDLY) not explained. It's left to the student to *discover* on his own how to answer an issue-spotting exam to the professor's liking. And that is a $150k discovery.

  34. I think another reason why people play the lottery and go to law school is because it gives them motive to dream big

    This is petty spat I have with the little lady all the time. You don't need to voluntarily pay extra state taxes to engage in fun and fanciful "what if" games about sudden unearned life-changing wealth. Buying lottery tickets is retarded.

    Hell, one of my favorite "mental screen saver" activities is imagining what I'd do with a sudden influx of money. Or how much money it would take to buy my own island, or how little of a windfall it would take for me to be able to say it's "changed my life". You can "dream big" and then put that dollar in a jar instead of paying it to the state. At the end of the year we'll both have big dreams, but I'll have a jar with $365 in it (and in bumper years, I'll even have $366!)

  35. In other words, what if you give people good information about the extent to which you're ripping them off, and they insist on getting ripped off anyway?

    I loved this line lawprof.

    The only thing to do is to set up a barrier to entry. Like not giving guaranteed loans to anyone who gets into school.

  36. @ Law Prof-- I had work to do and just saw your question at 8:51 in response to what I said. Try Psychology Concepts and Connections by Spencer Rathus at 349-351. The pages cite multiple studies that describe their findings on attitudes about work and talent. There is also Child and Adolescent Development by David Bjorklund and C. Hernandez at pages 425-427. This has been talked about a lot since the 1990s. There are other books and publications that address the issue. I don't have to time to pull them all out. Back to work.

  37. I think "random" is really the wrong word to describe law school grades. It implies things like chance far too much, and serves to push responsibility for the grade earned from the student who took the test.

    Looking back on my own law school experience (and that of a few of my peers), I like the word haphazard. As in, all over the map, arbitrary, or unexpected. And I believe it had a lot to do with the particular professor at the helm.

    I earned grades that put my in the top 15% of the class a few times. And, unfortunately, I also earned a grade that put me near the bottom 20% of the class on two occasions. Different subject matter and a slightly different populations of fellow students (not all classes involved the same students in my cohort, or some students were a class above me, or some below me, etc.). Was my intellect or level of preparation different between these courses? No. I worked just as hard for my crappy grades as my great ones.

    Bottom line, a student with the greatest mental abilities generally earned straight A's through school. The bottom tier got the corresponding lower grades. Those on the middle rung danced around a bit, with some wide swings in grade earned. The grades earned by 80% of the class seemed totally haphazard to me.

  38. Assuming that LSAT + UGRAD GPA is a reasonable approximation of intelligence and diligence, then LawProf is correct that most people in a given class at a given school should be roughly equal in ability. Yet some people do consistently better than others at law school exams.

  39. 12:59

    You assume incorrectly, especially since people with 4.0s from HYP undergrads are considered essentially equal to people with 4.0s from North Dakota State University

  40. I think it's key to remember that the lawprofs don't want students to get it, because if everyone understands the material and knows how to write good exams then the law profs have a harder time distinguishing between students. Thus they hide the ball, both with the substantive material and exam tips. Only the students who are clever enough to understand the material and teach themselves the game will win. The curve sets students up to fail.

  41. 1:09

    I see nothing wrong with this sink-or-swim approach. Like I said in the beginning, cream always rises to the top.

  42. People with incomes of $13,000 spend 9% on lottery tickets.

    They spend the other 385% on law school tuition.

  43. 1:14 PM. I do have issues with the sink or swim approach as it is applied to education, and not real life. In education, I am paying an institution to teach me the skills so that I may succeed. The advantage in investing in education related to a profession, is so that upon graduation, I can trim off years of experience that would be required of me had I joined an apprentice ship program and gained from years of on-the-job experience approach. My issue with the sink or swim approach in law school, is that it abrocates the efficiency teaching. In addition to incurring significant debt, and loss of income in completing the degree,if I graduate in no better, and in fact worse position skill wise, than I would have had I just gotten an apprentice ship position, there is a disconnect in the education. Now some may argue, that you cannot sit the bar without a lawschool education, but several states do offer an apprenticeship program as an alternate route. New York and Vermont to name two. The question thus becomes, what is the value of the $150,000 education if it doesn't guarantee you at the very the least, the ability to efficiently craft a legal argument. Sink or Swim has very limited curriculum use. If a student makes it past the pre-requisite qualifications to enter a lawschool program, the lawschool should have a duty to ensure that the student graduating the program can efficiently and effectively communciate a legal argument. Under the current system, it is possible for a person to graduate without obtaining that bare minimum skill, despite doing what is asked. When a student is paying for an education, they are expecting that the education is geared for the middle 80% and not the top 20% of learners.

  44. One big difference is that the people who buy lottery tickets get the benefit of dreaming big for atleast a few days. They talk about what they would do if they won, etc. It at least gives them hope and if they lose- hey they just go out and buy another.

    Whereas the law school student may still have hope, but he is probably equally likely to develop depression, anxiety, or substance abuse issues because of his "lottery ticket."

  45. I disagree that doing well on an issue-spotting exam is unrelated to legal practice. It is a measure of whether you can quickly process, analyze, and apply information to a concrete written task. That is actually quite similar to what I'm often called upon to do as a law firm associate. I'm thrown a research project with an extremely tight deadline and asked to produce some kind of memo or email within the next several hours. I'm good at that. Issue spotting exams accurately predicted that I would be good at that. Legal practice is often constrained by tight, arbitrary deadlines and absurd pointless rules about how thus and such must be written. Can you think of a better preparation for that than the tight, arbitrary deadline and instructions for an issue spotting exam?

  46. @1:14 "the cream always rises to the top"

    Maybe. I seem to recall there are other things that float, too, though.


    "I disagree that doing well on an issue-spotting exam is unrelated to legal practice."

    I'm not objecting to the notion that doing well on the issue-spotting exam is unrelated to legal practice. My concern is that doing *poorly* on the exam may be unrelated to legal practice.

    That's the same problem I have with the LSAT, actually: it's a crap test if you can do poorly on it while still possessing in spades the attributes it purports to measure. That seems to be what 9:36 (I'll call that person "Soft Skills Scholar") is saying -- doing well on the test is good, but you can have all the legal knowledge and do poorly on the test because nobody ever told you how to do the format right.

  47. Just read the most hilarious post on TLS. This is by an 0L girl who doesn't understand the lottery concept of law school at all. But she believes in herself and her skills so she will be fine.

    So I have been on this site[she means TLS] for about 6 months now and of course have read all the various advice given to people based on their scores, acceptances, etc about what they should do regarding attending and applying to law school. While I realized that almost all people are just trying to be helpful, I keep coming back to one question for everyone on here that is applying/seeking advice.

    If you aren't at least 90% convinced that you are going to pretty much kick butt at law school or a legal career, what is the point?

    I am not saying that every single law student or lawyer has to be phenomenal, but I think we can all agree that going to law school is a huge investment of your time, money, and sanity, and it is essentially a bet you are making on yourself. Yes what school you go to and how much debt you take on are important factors, but at the end of the day isn't the biggest factor of all your ability to succeed? And if you don't believe that you at least have a reasonable chance of doing so it doesn't matter how great of a school you go to, especially in this job market. It just seems like everyone on here is trying to hedge their bets and already terrified of failure before even stepping foot in their first class.

    I guess my point is, if you don't know yourself and your skills well enough to have confidence that you can make a legal career work you are just throwing away money and time in the hopes that just coming out the other end with a JD from a not awful school will some how magically be better than where you are now.


  48. Gambling and the lottery seems to attract many senior citizens.

    Maybe, as the economy and the economic way of life we once knew crumbles, gambling is all that all of us will have, someday, in the twilight of our time here on American terra firma.

    Maybe gambling is a last adrenaline thrill; a last reminder of how exciting it was to be young and viable, and wanted, before the room grows misty, and the faces leaning over the bed can no longer be recognized and, as the lottery player ultimately gives up those last mortal exhalations and finally, the ghost, the last, vulgar thoughts to go through the mind will be: the Jackpot.

    One day, when I was on a bicycle ride very early on a Sunday morning on the Eastern tip of Long Island's North Fork, I recall seeing a large group of white headed seniors all waiting to walk onto the Orient Point Ferry.

    Little old ladies and men with expectant faces in a colorful, sneakered array of rumpled squall jacket's, zippered windbreakers and polyester pants--all looking towards the waterfront.

    I wondered why, and later learned that they were there to catch the express ferry to the Foxwoods (American Indian owned)Casino in Connecticut.

    The lottery must somehow indicate a huge sociological shift in American thinking, and from my street guy's perspective, I would almost say that gambling is now a psychological cornerstone of American thinking and culture that must have somehow been a natural evolution of democratic thought.

    Something Alexis DeTocqueville might have warned about maybe.

    The American Dream is now the Lottery dream, and, like all gambling, that sort of dreaming can get to be a mental disease and sickness.

    I sometimes ask myself: is that what our culture has become? A crapshoot mentality?

    Ask the judge in NY. He will probably say: yes.

  49. And here is her follow up comment:

    My personal confidence is based on several factors. Two of my closest friends are current 2Ls who I spent a lot of time with and I have actually learned a pretty solid amount about what law school is really like from them. I read some of their exams, talk them through issues in their papers, and more recently end up being quizzed by them and their other LS friends about whether or not I have what they think it takes to succeed in law school. I also know a handful of very successful lawyers, spread out among several states, practice areas, and different law schools, who all know me very well and also think I will do well. Pretty much what I have been told and what I believe is that the biggest factor for my success is going to be how hard I am willing to work. I'm not an asshole or a narcissist, I don't automatically assume that I will be good at anything, I just happen to believe that I have a specific set of skills and interests that make it very likely that I will succeed in law school. I don't expect this to just happen magically, I know I will have to work very hard, but I believe that it is possible.

    I just don't understand why someone would take on such a risk if they didn't have a reasonable expectation of success, and I don't see how someone could have that expectation if they are already viewing things like law review or top 10% as being nearly unattainable. I don't assume I will get them, but I at least believe I have a strong chance.


  50. The problem with law school grades is the same problem with law school in general: it is completely irrelevant to the practice of law.

    Most law school professors have never really engaged in the practice of law and really have no idea about how to prepare and present a case. This also means that they really don't know how to engage in business, estate or other planning, because in order to plan, you have to know how things work in the absence of an effective plan. Certainly, they know absolutely nothing about getting retained by clients.

    What determines someone's success in practicing law is their ability to get retained by paying clients. It does not matter where one works; a big law attorney who does not attract clients will find himself unemployed in a few short years. Partnerships are given to attorneys who attract business to the firm.

    It almost goes without saying, but the rain makers do not really need the law firm because they create their own action.

    The attorneys who become judges also tend to be excellent politicians who always say and do the right thing. Public attorneys also have to master the art of working with professional politicians in order to maintain their positions.

    Knowing contract or tort law may help do one do a yeoman's job in writing a brief. However, the successful attorneys hire other attorneys to do this brief writing for them. The very successful attorneys will have six or more associates working full time doing the legal writing and other scut work. At most, law students develop a proficiency in doing that scut work.

    In fact, the ONLY justification for law schools is that they are a barrier to entry which prevents the legal market from being flooded with attorneys. They have failed miserably at this task.

    It is foolish to think that law school and anything connected to law school, including law school exams, have any relationship to anything which happens after graduation.

  51. (a) I was a middle level, B-student, in law school, because I did not understand much of what was being described until much later (frankly not until I too the bar exam where I realized I couldn't possibly understand everything so I studied to pass the test and to be beat the curve).

    (b) While issue spotting is indeed crucial, its not the only aspect of practicing law that's crucial. The ability to come up with workable (and hopefully cheap) solutions for the client is a talent that theory alone does not teach.

    Bruh Rabbit

  52. By the way, once again, our entire system is now a lottery system. Not just law schools. I have friends who have done well, and others who have not. I honestly can not tell you why that's the case other than pure luck, or a willingness to be crocks. The reason why so many people can not accept the roll of luck is that it goes against what they want to believe about our "merit" based system. We live in a system of winners and losers. No one wants to belief that luck is a big determinant of which one we become.

    Discussions on the role of luck

    THere is a reason why the rest of world says we treat our economy likes its a casino.

    Bruh Rabbit

    Bruh Rabbit



    "Nine-ball is rotation pool, the balls are pocketed in numbered order. The only ball that means anything, that wins it, is the 9. Now, the player can shoot eight trick shots in a row, blow the 9, and lose. On the other hand, the player can get the 9 in on the break, if the balls spread right, and win. Which is to say, that luck plays a part in nine-ball. But for some players, luck itself is an art."

  55. Off-thread, but apparently Senator Durbin is collecting student loan debt horror stories for Congress and says he's HASN'T RECEIVED MANY STORIES FROM LAW GRADS (!?!). LawProf, could you help rectify this with some PR for his effort?


    It's very simple.

    Law grads who are not lazy are too busy working to write letters.

    Law grads who are lazy may have no jobs and student loan "horror," but they're too lazy to write about it.

    That's why the law school "scam" movement never gets anywhere. It's really a bunch of lazy bums scamming themselves into believing their problems are someone else's fault.

  57. you gotta love these "pull by the bootstraps" people... they're all like that until it happens to them.

    If you go by the logic of some of these posters- the world should be pure caveat emptor.

    Well, let me teach you fellas a little civility:

    The world should not and does not have to be a massive caveat emptor cauldron with people scamming and pushing bad deals on each other!!!

    That's why America is ruined now! Because everyone is like- you're fucked , it's YOUR FAULT.

    Well, what happens when everyone gets conned and fucked just like we saw with the mortgage thing ,huh???!! I'll tell ya what. The whole fucking house o' cards collapses! That's what happens!!!

    Look at these LS grads!!! Look at other debt strapped college grads!!! They won't be able to buy houses, get married, nor contribute to the economy and their communities in a meaningful way because they're indentured slaves!
    That will affect the economy! That will have negative consequences!
    In turn , that will affect you!

  58. Just for clarification, the LSAT and the SAT have nothing to do with issue spotting.

  59. This is very good method to move youth generation towards sports. I admire you for your work.

    1. I'd have to say this: not every law school exam is an essay exam that involves issue spotting. For that matter, it doesn't involve IRAC or CREAC. I'll give you an example: my Evidence exam was around 53 questions, and what I didn't know was that my Evidence professor plagiarized the Q&A supplement for 15 of those questions. However, other students had been tipped off by people who had taken the course beforehand as to his tendencies, and they had a built in advantage in terms of time per question because they had seen over 25% of the exam in advance. Does that mean that they were better than I was relative to the subject matter because they finished earlier than I did and had time left over to go back over the remaining 38 questions and really double-check their answers in the hour and a half we had for the exam? No. Obviously not. It meant that they had a substantial advantage by virtue of seeing the test beforehand. I'll give you another example: our legal writing class involved a rough draft and a writing conference with the prof, who wrote corrections on our draft and told us what our errors were in terms of formatting and Bluebooking and the like. When I turned in my corrected final draft of an appellate brief, she marked the corrections wrong that she had told me to make on the brief. I took the rough draft with corrections and laid it side by side with the final draft where the corrections had been implemented and marked wrong. I received no additional points. Grades in law school are not random, or fair, or even remotely credible. I spotted every issue on my Civ Pro exam, plus an issue the prof hadn't thought of, and wound up with a C. A good friend of mine spotted two out of the eight issues, made up an additional five issues that weren't even on the exam, and proceeded to get a B. That's what a lot of us come to realize over time: it doesn't make any sense whatsoever, at least until that moment when a professor of International Business Transactions stands up in front of the class and informs you how to make an A on his exam: sound like you had a good time in his class, and catch him in a good mood when he's grading your exam, because he might go back over it again in a less than good mood later and your A can turn into a B or a C+. I'm graduating in May, having made everything from multiple As to two Ds. I have a friend who had above a 3.0 and flunked Wills and Trusts out of the clear blue. Those of us who have compared essay exams upon receiving them back, or who have discussed our answers after receiving our grades, can't really discern any kind of methodology whatsoever in the grades we received. Law school grades are random, all right. They're random in the sense that there is no consistent methodology behind what you get. I've got one buddy who never read for class at all, who sat around the last three weeks of each semester reading the Gilbert's, and he routinely made As and B+s doing so. As for people telling you that your grades will really impact your ability to make money, I've found that to be bullshit too. I've known plenty of graduates of my law school who went solo with GPAs around 2.1 or 2.2 after graduation, and they passed the bar and make more money than a good many of their peers who went to work for firms after graduating with GPAs in the 3.2-3.4 range. They may have to pay for their own insurance, but they're doing fine in terms of making money.

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