Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Debunking Lawyer Logic

One of my favorite examples of idiocy on the practice LSAT exams I took was the following question (which I am paraphrasing, since I didn't keep the original--any one out there have the originial?): Because of the advent of electronic amplification of musical instruments in the 1950s, it became normal for musical ensembles to consist of four musicians. Before that time, musical ensembles normally consisted of 20 musicians. What does this tell you about musical ensembles after the 1950s?

There was a multiple choice selection of answers, but the correct answer was: there will be more musical ensembles after the 1950s.

Very logical, right? Read it again. You have this big pool of musicians out there. Draw hundreds of little "m"s on a piece of paper, and circle them into groups of 20. That represents the world of musical ensembles before the advent of electronic amplification. Now take the same piece of paper and start circling the groups of "m"s into groups of 4. That represents the world of musical ensembles after the advent of electronic amplification. There are obviously more groups of 4 than there are groups of 20, so the correct answer is very logical, right?

Come on folks. Am I the only one in the world that wadded that practice exam into a ball and threw it against the wall and started cursing? And yes, after my first year of law school, this is the type of lawyer logic that absolutely frustrated me. It really does remind me of throwing witches into the river to see if they'll float.

If I must debunk this obviously idiotic question, here goes: musical ensembles before the 1950s that consisted of 20 players were big band jazz ensembles. There were trumpets, saxophones, trombones, and a rhythm section. Musical ensembles after the 1950s were rock ensembles, yes, consisting of the same instruments in a big band rhythm ensemble (guitar, bass, drums, possibly keyboards), but that is all. If you are a living, breathing musician happily playing a trumpet in a big band ensemble, there is no way you are going to switch gear mid-career, grow your hair long, and start wailing on an electric guitar. Is there? Big band musicians could read music. They were notoriously purist. Once their trend dried up, they went down with the ship. Young rock musicians of the 1950s and beyond typically couldn't read music and picked up and learned their electric guitars by themselves.

I could go on and on until I'm blue in the face, but must say that this is the type of thinking that lawyers expect you to "master" in law school. It is also the type of logic that lawyers and judges use to send people to the lethal injection.

How about doing me a favor? Let's start throwing lawyers in the river to see if they float.


  1. That was a big problem I had with the LSAT. You have to be literal to a point that is unnatural, unnecessary, and counterproductive in reality.

    You can only work with the explicit material and conditions they give you while ignoring all the thousands of variables that would likely effect any given phenomenon in reality. You have to suspend the most basic of assumptions, even if such assumptions have successfully helped you get through life. You can't even assume that gravity exists. You have to think like someone with Asperger syndrome.

    The LSAT measures processing speed and is designed to isolate that one aspect of cognition. There is nothing you can really do to improve your score. Even if you are globally 'intelligent' or have strengths in other areas, it is impossible to augment one's basic processing speed or compensate for it.

    The LSAT measures processing speed through many techniques. Regardless of the section, all questions require scanning and sorting data. There is little thinking of any substance, depth, or breadth. In particular, they love to have controversial and open ended topics in which they throw you off by giving you 'common sense' answers that could be true but that distract you from the most literally correct answer supported by some minutia in the question.

  2. Very well put.
    And since when are lawyers in the business of measuring "processing speed" or anything having to do with the brain? I wonder if the LSAT designers even get psychologists to help design these questions.

  3. This article is very insightful. The LSAT exam is all about logic and now in 2012 we have come full circle and we find bands that have 20 or more people.

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