Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Let's Get Things Straight

I would like to introduce myself as someone who extended much time and effort to get through my first year of law school. Now I have been culled, that is, my grade point average is about 1.8, which is well under the 2.2 requirement of this law school to prevent "academic disqualification." The law school took my money, then told me "so sorry." I would like to speak to all the problems that law students go through, especially finding jobs after receiving the JD, but there are even more issues to those of us who have been "culled," thereby tainting our law school record forever.

I won't reveal which law school I atteneded, but will say that it is now in the top 100 rankings of law schools in America (although not in the top 25). I will also say that I have a PhD in a humanities field and, as a professional writer, have over 300 publications, mostly from major newspapers.

That the money you are expected to pay for law school is outrageous and, yes, brings to mind a new era of sharecropping, skirts around another major issue: what exactly is being taught in these schools? Must we assume that the content of these legal theories is sound? Must we assume that law teachers are competent if they have JDs from schools like Harvard or Stanford?

My answers to the last two questions at least is a resounding "no"! Not only are these law schools acting as confidence men in stroking our vanities and pumping us up with false claims of jobs and graduates' passage of the bar, but these teachers are incompetent to begin with.

My favorite story turns out to be in my legal writing class, where I used the word "charlatan," and the teacher not only didn't know what that meant, but scolded me for several minutes for using such an obscure word (which I found 20 minutes later in my Contracts assignment: Sullivan v. O'Connor, 363 Mass. 579, 296 N.E.2d 183 (Mass.1973)). The same writing teacher couldn't even do her own assignments teaching us the ALWD manual (which I understood better than anyone else in the class, thanks to my experience with my PhD and editing for newspapers, even though I also got the worst grade in the class).

I had fancy Criminal Law professor from Harvard who took after John Houseman on "the Paper Chase." On his final exam about the insanity defense, his reasoning was made all too clear on his model answer: if a paranoid schizophrenic commits a crime based on specific instructions from the voices in his or her head, they can use an insanity defense, but if the voices are not specific, the insanity defense won't work. As someone with a family member who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, and just as someone who still has some common sense left, I find this absurd. Anyone out there ready to take down transcripts of the voices inside a paranoid schizophrenic's head and submit them as evidence in a court of law?

In addition to my work as a journalist, I have also been in court probably more than many of these teachers who don't even know the procedures involved. My Civil Procedure professor didn't know that non-American citizens can sue and be sued in American courts (I even sued my landlady once in Germany). My Criminal Procedure teacher didn't know how to pronounced "petit jury" (and wondered aloud if there were any French scholars among us who might be able to pronounce it).

We must also take pot luck as to simply the character of some of these professors, although I think there are limits. I wouldn't be surprised if some of these professors suffered from some serious personality disorders that kept them from more lucrative positions in law firms or corporations. My Contracts professor had a serious snarling problem that manifested itself similar to some sort of sinister, dark possession. My Torts professor skirted with anorexia. The chairman of the legal writing department was so crazy that I almost called 911 after the first 10 mintutes of his first lecture to us.

I believe my finals were graded poorly, and the only problem was that my writing style was unusual to these professors. I did not lack legal knowledge. There are some serious issues here, and law schools are also embracing bizarre popular interpretations of history and what modern economics is. They try to be a Mensa society, but don't know the first thing about measuring IQs. They are not a meritocracy, but a dysfunctional utopian wannabee system motivated at its root by the corruption of getting your money every year for tuition. Being culled is their way of manipulating the "first pass of bar exam" statistic, although I would challenge if it even does that.

Please weigh in, even if you haven't been culled. Don't let incompetent professors taint your law career before it even begins!


  1. I agree with your overall assessment of our so-called "legal scholars." Many of these people ONLY have an abstract, academic understanding of the subject matter they are teaching. I won't address the caricatures presented here.

    However, I had several professors who graduated from T14 schools who simply did not know simple procedures. It is frankly embarrassing. I find this particularly troubling, because we are talking about "professional school."

    In comparison, having academics teach undergrad History or Economics is forgiveable. We do not expect business leaders and successful owners to teach these classes.

    For a great contrast, we need to look at medical and dental schools. They usually have active, or at least semi-retired, practitioners - on sabbatical - give lectures and teach some clinic courses. When med students ask how to do a procedure, I'll bet those professors don't say "It depends. If you want, I'll ask someone who works in that area, and get back to you."

  2. It seems law schools haven't made up their minds if they are professional or academic institutions. They could be both, but there should be limits to both as well. For example, the Rule of Federal Procedure ought to be just that, not some esoteric book of alchemy that my CivPro professor sleeps with every night.

    Medical procedures differ in that there usually are no shortcuts, and that's what doctors are primarily trained to do. Legal procedures are supposed to maximize user-friendliness, since the focus of law should be substantive.

    All the more reason to implement your solution...

  3. Someone also mentioned that no graduate school other than law school requires a thesis with 25 pages max and that tests are still administered in multiple choice format. Intellectually dishonest institutions.

  4. The legal writing program I had gave us a 25 page max and we had to use an obscure font that took up lots of room on the page. They think by putting you in a strait-jacket they are hazing you. Really stupid stuff.