Instapundit links to an interesting piece from a law student offering various pieces of advice about the law school process. There are also many good thoughts in the comments section.

For all the diversity of opinions about the law school experience expressed there, I didn't see some things I thought important. Perhaps my law school experience was different, but I enjoyed reading someone touching on a couple of basic aspects of what law school is, and thought I'd add my two cents.

The basic function of a law school is to produce a commodity: lawyers. The value of law schools to employers is that they produce said product. The value of law school to students is that the school turns them into marketable product. As you probably know, law is -- like other types of advanced higher education -- very hierarchical. Roughly speaking, the better (read: higher ranked, by such entities as US News) your law school, the better your chance of landing a job at a top firm, or a prestigious clerkship (read: federal clerkship). Once a student lands in law school, the jostling for hierarchical place continues: better grades = better class rank = better starting salary/clerkship. Or, if you don't want to become a practicing lawyer, but say a law professor, the equation is much the same. Law professors are typically hired at schools ranked equal to or below the ones they attended in the institutional food chain. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but it tends to be true . . . you won't find many San Fernando Valley College of Law grads teaching at, say, USC or UCLA law school.

Oh, another note about law professors. With all due respect to Instapundit and my professors at BU, the general function of law professors is -- in my experience -- to make more difficult the learning of material which, in fact, is not that conceptually difficult. There are very few concepts in law that are difficult to understand: it's not metaphysics! Rather than presenting material in a logical fashion, part of the American legal educational tradition is to make it more difficult that it really is . . . this is part of what people are referring to when they speak of the initatory nature of law school. I never figured out what the initatory nature of wading through thousands of pages of case law was supposed to do for me as a lawyer, but I digress. There are exceptions to this, and the trend lessens as one goes forward through the years: 1Ls get more of this initiatory treatment than 2Ls, and so on. By the time you hit third year, you either know how to study the stuff or you don't, and the profs gradually stop caring about it . . .

As one might imagine this makes for a most competitive atmosphere in law school. There is intense competition for grades in this zero-sum atmosphere . . . after all, there are only so many A's to go around. When you add the agonistic nature of the people attracted to law school to the intentional obfuscation of material, and the big stakes involved in finishing high, grade-wise, you get a situation in which Lord Acton's maxim applies. I met more corrupted people in law school than I expect I'd meet at a local jail. One of my favorites was a very political guy -- a Democrat, as it happened -- who insisted that he was going to law school to help other people . . . and that the way of helping others would be to get a federal clerkship, make his way through the ranks, and then eventually be a federal judge, where he would make law to further his (obviously correct, to him) agenda. Anyone who thinks that the best way to help others is by going to law school should have his head examined. I made this suggestion, only to have it rebuffed. Can't imagine why! This isn't to say that there aren't good and valid reasons for going to law school, or that you can't help people -- if this is your goal -- as a lawyer. My point is that in such an atmosphere people are more likely -- given the incentives, and given human nature -- to be corrupted, than say, medical, engineering, or accountancy . . . ah yes, the other professions.

One final note: Law school does not prepare you for the practice of law (you'll get that training from a firm, or another lawyer). Law school does not prepare you for the bar exam (the bar review courses do that). Law school teaches, more than anything else, a mode of thinking. It also, like other professional schools, puts one through an initiatory process designed to enhance exclusivity.

Part of the problem with US legal culture tends to be a problem of system abuse: certain types of class-action suits -- brought more for the enrichment of lawyers than members of the class -- come to mind. For an interesting take on this problem from a different perspective read "Socrates, Strepsiades, and the Abuses of Intellectualism," by classicist Peter Green in his Classical Bearings. The abuse of intellectualism and its tools is not a new phenomenon, and was well known to the ancient Greeks. There's also an excellent discussion of the iniatory nature of law school in my former ethics professor Susan Koniak's co-authored book, The Law and Ethics of Lawyering. Unfortunately the name of the essay escapes me, but it is well worth tracking down and reading.
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