On Going to Law School

Justice Scalia worries that “we are devoting too many of our very best minds” to lawyering. Scalia mentioned people who seem to be happily employed — a brilliant “defense or public defender from Podunk” — but there are also some pretty smart people who get unhappily stuck. Young people who aren’t quite sure what to do, and think they might benefit from further study or a professional degree, end up going to law school because they haven’t thought of anything else. By the time they’re out, they’re saddled with debt and ushered into the law, where they’re promptly put to work reviewing documents. As Monica Parker, author of The Unhappy Lawyer, put it:

A lot of us went to law school by default. We’re people who don’t quite know what we want to do, but think law school will create opportunities. So we get sucked into a funnel of going into a law firm, and then, there you are! You’re miserable. You’re miserable because you didn’t choose this career. It pretty much chose you. You were never taught how to select a career, think about the possibilities, how to experiment, how to learn about what’s important to you.

It’s not the most efficient way to exploit our best minds.

A separate phenomenon is that legal education is becoming more interdisciplinary. This is probably not of particular benefit to the legal profession or to those who depend on it. A client, I would imagine, doesn’t much care if his attorney is schooled in sociology or in law and literature. Most likely, better and more responsible lawyers come out of an educational system that treats law as an autonomous discipline. But maybe legal education ought to account for the reality that many smart people who shouldn’t be lawyers end up in law school too. As the liberal arts become less interdisciplinary maybe a general education rooted in law, which is after all the organization of social life, isn’t a bad option.