Monday, September 06, 2010

LSAT, Schmell-Sat

Law school really should be harder to get into. Much, much harder. And I'll tell you why I say this. I say this because I was randomly reading the blog today of some twentysomething lawyer who kept mixing up "astronomy" for "astrology."

I could also reiterate here some of the many clueless things uttered over the years by law school classmates of mine, such as "Without spell check I would never have made it out of undergrad!" or, always a classic, "I've never even heard of Liechtenstein." I would not want anyone who utters the above mentioned confusion representing me in a court of law, or anywhere.

A lot of people in the law association/forum/newsletters/blogosphere worlds float the idea that law school admission should be more competitive because soooo many graduating JDs are unemployed thanks to the (scapegoat) recession. It has been big news over the past few years that the Big Law Firms to which many a law student aspires to sell his/her soul have been laying off people left and right, deferring or outright canceling job offers they extended the previous summer to law students entering the final year of school, and finally just ceasing to hire as many people, period. With non-profits and many a government agency also struggling to come up with hiring and operating budgets, freshly graduated JDs are pretty screwed, and lots of people are pessimistic about the profession and how it has operated for so long. The answer, some say, is that law schools need to stop admitting endless numbers of students, which saturates the job market and creates way too much supply for too little demand.

Now, I do agree with this. Law school is a complete and total racket. Law schools charge an ungodly amount for tuition and they basically are the profit makers for their university. They don't cost anywhere near as much to run as, say, a medical school or even many other graduate programs. So, universities love it because they bring in millions from the law school tuition, and the law students pay it because they believe they are becoming educated and credentialed for a promising career. Really, even if they get a law job they are likely to be miserable, but they are also potentially going to be working at McDonald's while owing $100,000+ in student loans. So, many people agree that the situation sucks. Law schools really should cut in half the number of students they admit each year. But they will never do it, because they would be giving away like a billion dollars. It's hard for anyone to say no to a billion dollars, even people who don't consider arguing for things they don't believe in to be an admirable trait.

But why I really think law school should be more competitive is that as with anywhere else I have found myself in life, with the only possible exception being my job in public radio, there was so much mediocrity there! Now, granted, I took the route that many people don't take. I actually never doubted for a second that I would get into law school, and I ended up choosing the lower-ranked school that offered me a full tuition scholarship over the partial scholarship offered by a top 25 school. Many applicants go to the highest ranked law school they can get into, period. Law school applicants live and die by The Rankings. (Another part of the racket; US News plays along, too.) I didn't care that much about The Rankings because I was never interested in getting a job in a law firm, and I knew this way back when I took the LSAT (the law school admissions test). I just wanted to get a formal legal education because I was interested in it and I wanted to use it to strengthen my international humanitarian work and provide background for my potential run for Senate one day. So instead of applying to the five or ten or twenty or however many schools those who have to worry apply to, I applied to two, and then almost as an afterthought after being accosted by them at a law school forum I applied to Hofstra (who waived the application fee) and went there thinking it'd be cool to live in New York and blah blah blah.

So anyway, the point is that yes, while I did foolishly end up spending more time on Long Island than anyone needs to in one lifetime, which accounts for some of the mediocrity I encountered (two words: Jersey Shore), I wasn't thinking about my classmates in particular when I started thinking about this today. I was definitely thinking about the lawyers out there who find spelling among the more difficult things they have to do with their day and who don't know the difference between astrology and astronomy.

Sometimes I wonder if medical school is like this, too, but I tell myself it's not. I tell myself that my doctors really and truly do know things. I'm not sure I want this illusion to be crushed if it isn't in fact truth.

The LSAT will continue to strike terror into the hearts of many, and people will continue to debate whether it should be as important as it is in the admissions process, and so on and so on. I personally enjoyed taking the LSAT (more than I enjoyed many things about law school, actually), but I also think it's the least of the problems with the law school admissions process. If I were a law school admissions committee, I would require a good GPA, letters of rec, and some sort of LSAT score, but I would also put people who had work, volunteer, and travel experience in the yes pile, and 22-year-olds with none of the above who have lived in the same 30-mile radius their entire lives in the no pile. As for the maybe pile? I think I would give them IQ and spelling tests. And maybe for a tie breaker they could point out Liechtenstein on a map and define astrology.

I would rather have a Scalia representing me, no matter how violently I disagree with his politics and his general attitude, than someone who lacks native intelligence. That, it seems, is the essential conundrum of law school and the legal profession: much of the time, you're forced to choose between the idiots and the assholes.

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