Friday, July 14, 2017

Grady asks: Does the world need any public intellectuals who are lawyers?

In a post titled How To Insult AI And Recognize Its Strength, All In One Breath , Ken Grady disparages the idea that legal academics are intellectuals:

Many outside the legal profession believe that lawyers, particularly academics, still qualify as public intellectuals. They have not kept touch with the profession. In the past 50 years, give or take, specialization has overtaken the us.


Law school specializes in what cognitive scientists call chunking. Law is broken into discrete packets. Each class covers its required packets and each law school delivers the same packets as other law schools (see Gillian Hadfield’s nice summary in Rules for a Flat World). The process builds technically proficient pre-specialists, not thinkers.

One recent study showed that scores on the LSAT have plummeted. This immediately ties to the idea that law students are less qualified, and that law schools will produce poorer quality lawyers. Assume for the moment that LSAT scores predict lawyer quality (a link never shown), what does this suggest for law schools?

An interjection about the LSAT. At UChicago Law, I talked with then Dean Badger about the LSAT. He noted it was supposed to predict first year law school performance. At the time, it did no such thing, at least at Chicago.
Aside from that empirical fact, the distribution of LSAT scores of entering students was decidedly non-Gaussian, but there was enforced grade distribution of sorts. Identifying the very good students was a different task from the others, [I first heard of students being fungible at Chicago.]
Also. Our class had a peculiar event associated with Law Review, involving a highly unlikely statistical event (only one woman on law review).

Grady also wrote:

Many law schools have responded by “teaching down.” They focus more on how to pass the bar exam and re-chunk the teaching of law into smaller and smaller bites. Law students are disappointed to learn law is far behind society, law school classes are uninteresting, and the connection between law school and life is tenuous. A self-reinforcing feedback loop forms pulling down undergraduate interest in the profession.

My experience at Chicago was quite different. A few examples. Korematsu gave a great talk. Richard Lewontin talked on the then-evolving DNA profiling, of great interest to "life." Then Judge Clarence Thomas appeared. Chicago related law to the outside world.

Grady had the McLuhan quote: “When you give people too much information, they resort to pattern recognition to structure the experience.”

Although this prefaced his law school discussion, one might apply it to magistrates and trial judges. Maybe the problem is after law school.


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