October 21, 2010

Reforms for Resetting the Legal Pendulum

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Society today increasingly relies on formulas or calculations to assess the value of its members. This includes academia, and law schools in particular. According to law school enrollment statistics, the most important admission factors are GPA and LSAT score, with the latter carrying the most weight. Both factors give law schools a seemingly finite methodology for assessing future lawyers. The LSAT, for example, has become the sole authority for assessing analytical and reasoning skills. Given the emerging parity in top law school talent, and meager employment statistics, a difference of an LSAT point or two can mean the difference between two different schools. In this sense, law school identities are becoming less defined by their faculty or their program, and more by the strength of students’ test scores. This lust for quantification has resulted in top-tier law schools being evaluated by the very test for which they condition admission. What this has done to the stereotypical lawyer is borderline genocidal.

Stereotypical lawyers were once thought of as slick-talking, smooth-dealing, settlement-inducing operators. These people likely had authority issues and other character ailments ill-suited for controlled environments. Given the static nature of the LSAT, the best performers are usually those who can sit still for the longest period of time. The stereotypical lawyer doesn’t sit. Moreover, don’t think for a second that it is just the LSAT that is problematic. Grades are becoming increasingly subjective, and liberal arts students clever enough to take advantage of the Humanities have a significant leg up.

Pervasive injustice requires drastic remedies. Because I’m concerned with the big picture here, let’s start small. First, law schools should hire independent consultants to conduct their admissions process — similar to how a large corporation must hire an independent auditor to analyze its books. Professors and law school administrators have an inherent conflict of interest — namely, self-preservation. In other words, their concern in maintaining the relevance of their profession raises serious questions of whether they are crafting entrance requirements to better suit curious and compassionate persons like themselves. The stereotypical lawyer, mind you, is neither curious nor compassionate.

Second, the LSAT should be reformatted to include an oral/verbal component. No skimping you pensive wanna-be lawyers.

Third, naive applicants should be sure that they actually want to be lawyers — real life exposure is very important. Considering this, all prospective applicants should be required to go on a police ride along. The most ambitious applicants will do this in urban areas where the police are severely under-funded in proportion to the amount of criminal activity in the community — atrophy will not be tolerated.

Finally, applicants should be interviewed. And this should not be your typical college admissions interview — it should be an interrogation. Hardball questioning is essential to being a lawyer. The inability to withstand prolonged interrogation signals an inability to ask the tough questions.

Given the severity of the threat to stereotypical lawyers, these reforms should be administrated immediately and without recourse to psychology or any other theory that created this mess. While the percentage of stereotypical lawyers will never reach where it was 100 years ago, these reforms can start the healing process and potentially reset the legal pendulum.

Stereotypical Lawyer is a student Cornell Law School who wishes to remain anonymous. Feedback may be sent to opinion@cornellsun.com. Barely Legal appears alternate Fridays this semester.

Original Author: Stereotypical Lawyer