Q. So why do you want to be a lawyer?
A. I love to argue.
Ding. Go away. Next.
I’ve personally heard this a thousand times. It’s probably the most common response to the question. And it’s dead wrong.
Apparently, it doesn’t sell any better at Yale Law School than it does with me. According to Asha at (203) Admissions Blog, this raises a red flag in the personal statement of applicants.
In case you’re one of the fortunate applicants who isn’t familiar with this theme, the “I Love to Argue” personal statement goes something like this: first, the applicant starts off with some anecdote, usually from preschool, which amounts to having a temper tantrum over something really dumb. The adult in said anecdote (usually, but not always, the mother), instead of giving the applicant a good spank, is totally impressed by the temper tantrum and says, “You are going to be a great lawyer!” This forms the basis for the applicant’s desire to apply to law school sixteen years later.
The corollary rule is that you are not going to be a great lawyer just because Mommy said so. Mothers across America will be outraged.
First, any fool can argue. Arguing is easy. Just ask Monty Python.
Lawyers persuade. Lawyers reason. Lawyers convince. Only fools argue for the sake of arguing.
Experience of late, unfortunately, suggests that far too many law schools have admitted students because they love to argue. The basis for this statement is that so many argue up a storm, argue, argue, argue, and haven’t the slightest clue that mere disagreement is utterly meaningless.
Not only is this a matter of some concern in attempting to deal with the “I love to argue” crowd, but how are they to represent clients if their argument revolves around their personal pronouncements of disagreement.
Prosecutor: Your Honor, the evidence against the defendant, both physical and testimonial, is overwhelming.
Defense Lawyer: No it’s not. I don’t think so.
Well, okay then. I mean, as long as you disagree, then what are we wasting our time for? The source of this overestimation of the value of one’s personal opinion, according to Asha, is dear, old Mom.
Why is this theme so wrong? Let’s first start with your mom. I’m sure she is a very nice person, but when it comes to law school admissions, please note that she has zero credibility. Don’t mention any assessment she makes about your potential lawyerly ability in your P.S. Ever.
This means that your having been reared on the notion that you are wonderful, brilliant and capable of doing anything, according to Mommy (or Daddy, since Daddy’s do this too), may have made you feel warm and fuzzy, but doesn’t win any points outside of the kitchen.
Asha goes on to explain that self-serving argument over anything and everything is a character flaw rather than confidence builder. It “suggest[s] to the reader that you are reactionary, a poor listener, unable to relate to different perspectives, and that you are generally an unpleasant person to be around.”
More importantly, ILTA shows a shallow understanding of what being a lawyer is about. You see, arguing is not the hallmark of a good lawyer. It’s true that many lawyers are skilled orators, but that doesn’t mean that they argue. In fact, the best way to find yourself with a losing case streak and a dwindling client list is to constantly argue with other lawyers or worse, the judge hearing your case. . . And if you’ve ever watched an appellate case, you know that the only people who should be arguing (if you’re doing your job right) are the hearing judges, who are going to pick apart your case and ask you pointed and potentially snarky questions. You politely answer them.
The first step in accomplishing this is to be capable of distinguishing between a viable position, supported by reason and evidence, as opposed to “stick your head in gravy” or “well, that’s what I think.”
It’s not that lawyers aren’t full of personal zeal, knowing well who to blame for the evils of the system and which side their bread is buttered on. There is plenty of zeal to be had. What there isn’t is much thoughtfulness to back it up. Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the ever-growing preference to sing with the choir, where no one expects thought but only support when attacking the common enemy.
Zeal, however, does not a lawyer make any more than ILTA. If anything, they seem to go hand in hand, the former bolstering one’s belief that the latter is all it takes to be a lawyer. Challenge everything that doesn’t conform with your zealously held beliefs. Give nothing any real thought. If something doesn’t meet with your deeply held beliefs, reject it. Never, under any circumstances, give it any further thought. Never try harder to understand what you don’t, at first, grasp.
The corollary here is that such lawyers believe they are entitled to demand, when they don’t grasp something, that it be explained to them, and to their satisfaction. They love to argue. This does not make for a good lawyer.
It is fundamental to our efforts that we be capable of providing sound argument to the judge, and when the judge picks apart our case and asks pointed and potentially snarky questions, we answer them politely. There’s a reason for this. The judge is the decision-maker. If we fail to persuade the decision-maker, we fail to fulfill our function.
Lawyers who suffer from ILTA are not decision-makers, but narcissists. There’s no reason to persuade them; they get no vote. They have no place in law school, whether Yale or a good one. They have no place as lawyers either, because they can’t fulfill the function.