After asking the question of one of the new (well, newish at this point) lawyers from the law school transparency movement, I learned that the scambloggers are pretty much done, having gotten tired of whining about how the law failed them and taken the assistant manager job at Dairy Queen.
It’s not that they haven’t made some headway. Fewer kids are applying to law school, and classes in some schools are smaller because of it. Deans are pretending they can produce “practice-ready” lawyers, even though no one wants them because, well, it’s nonsense. And even the ABA, always the last to know, is beginning to notice. Heck, they formed a committee, and plan to put on a play in a few years.
But then President Obama stuck his nose into the mess with what appeared to be a half-baked idea of reducing law school to two years. Oh boy. In a Washington Post op-ed, Yale Law School professor Bruce Ackerman undertook yeoman’s duty of explaining why that was a horrible idea.
U.S. law is in the midst of an intellectual revolution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes saw it coming more than a century ago: “For the rational study of the law the blackletter man [who focuses on existing legal rules] may be the man of the present, but the man of the future is the man of statistics and the master of economics.”
If students are to engage with these opinions, they can’t merely repeat the black-letter rules announced by judges. They must confront fundamental issues: When do free markets fail the test of economic efficiency? When should efficiency be trumped by justice? When do impressive-looking statistics amount to fancy ways of lying?
Great questions, but for one rather troubling problem: isn’t this what students were supposed to be doing in undergrad?
Yale, for example, offers courses on the use and abuse of statistics, the implications of behavioral and financial economics for regulation, the significance of social psychology in the criminal justice system, the potential of political science in designing better decision-making institutions and the ways different contemporary theories of justice constrain the use of cost-benefit analysis.
So what Ackerman is saying is that the students admitted to Yale Law School, with their bachelor’s degrees in art appreciation and women’s studies, can’t count?
This isn’t a new concept, that law is a tool that is applied to all manner of life, and consequently requires lawyers to have a working knowledge of a great many fields of endeavor. We need to know literature and philosophy. We need to know computer science and quantum physics. We need to know statistics and economics. We even need to know something about birthin’ babies. We need it all.
But the grand rounds of a liberal education isn’t why people pay lawprofs the big bucks. And frankly, you guys aren’t exactly qualified to teach it, if that was the sort of thing that law students ought to learn. As painful a pill as this may be to swallow, lawprofs aren’t necessarily economics experts, even though you likely think you’re just as good as, say, an economics professor.
It is frivolous to suppose that these lawyers would pick up the key skills on the job. Social science and statistics require systematic training, not a crash course in response to particular problems.
It’s frivolous to suppose that these lawyers would learn these skills, plus the hundred other courses of study, in law school. These are the things one expects law students to bring with them on day one, a working knowledge of the many and varied disciplines that a lawyer needs in his briefcase.
So the question is whether Ackerman is complaining that undergraduate education is so woefully inadequate as to allow students to graduate without a working knowledge of the subjects needed to survive in modern society, or whether Yale Law School admits a bunch of idiot savants, too smart for their own good and yet incapable of doing the basic work demanded of them as lawyers.
Then again, since so many Yale Law grads end up as lawprofs, maybe Ackerman overstates the problem?