The Purpose of Law School

Group study sessionNow that the academic year has ended, it’s time to catch up on what is happening in the world. Of particular interest is the news that Kim Kardashian plans on becoming a lawyer without attending law school. Or college. Bar exams are likely easier to pass with the help of a law school education, but is that the purpose of law school? Not all states allow law school to be optional, but does law school serve purposes other than just checking off a requirement?

Is the purpose of law school to educate us regarding the law? To teach us to “think like lawyers”? Or is law school a socialization process, as a lawyer explained to Ms. Kardashian/West on an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians? This attorney explained that law school doesn’t teach you the actual “stuff” and that Kardashian’s qualities put her way ahead of contemporaries in law school. I wonder if law school is meant instead to be a selection process.

With my previous experience with graduate school, I think selection occurred in the application process. There are very few veterinary schools in the country and the class sizes are much smaller than a typical law school, so there are few opportunities for students who want to pursue that career. I also think of the joke about what you call the person who graduates last in medical school: doctor. Once I was in veterinary school, I never felt pressure to prepare myself for getting a job. School was about school.

I admit that I was ignorant about the extracurricular activities of law school regarding future employment. I did not begin a search for a job as a veterinarian until after I graduated. The process here starts in October of first year. This seems to be the foundation for a feeling of desperation that lasts until employment is obtained. It also makes for a lot of uptight students. Do uptight students make good lawyers? I think the answer to the analogous joke in law school as to what you call the person who graduates last in a class is: unemployed.

I have used a lawyer a couple of times in my life. I chose an attorney who was from the area, had been a farmer, and who had provided services for a clinic I worked for. I did not choose him based on what school he attended, his class rank, nor his resume. I have heard people say that grades and class rank only matter for the first couple of years out of law school. Why do they matter for even that length of time? Do people want lawyers who can tout their high GPAs or do they want someone who has perspective, empathy, and is able to place the client’s needs first? How does a law school promote those qualities? Does Kim Kardashian have those qualities? She certainly fills the requirement of expensive clothing.

I question if supply and demand is the problem for the field of law. In veterinary school I had no fear that employment opportunities would be lacking. The supply meets the demand. Law schools seem to produce more lawyers than the demand satisfies. In the competition for employment, do law schools try to weed out the less worthy to improve their rankings? Does the emphasis on grades and honors to fill a resume accomplish this?

Maybe the purpose of law school is to prepare us for failure. We were told at orientation that we can’t all get good grades. Law school guarantees this by grading on a curve. Although this is not a novel way of grading, it is inconsistent with the goal of teaching us to work together. Class ranking promotes a hierarchy that encourages a selection process and fosters a sense of failure for those who cannot achieve by that superficial measure. One of the Marquette Volunteer Legal Clinics has a sign that reminds students not to judge, but maybe law school is teaching us to do just that.

Maybe Kim Kardashian has the right idea. She won’t be compared to fellow students. She can focus on preparing for the bar. It remains to be seen if she can do this without a formal education. If she succeeds, maybe that will be impetus to re-examine the purpose of law school and what criteria should be emphasized. Maybe law schools will adjust their selection processes and students who elect the route of school can focus on school and not the resume, and qualities that may not be reflected by grades will be appreciated and fostered.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. David Papke

    You underestimate the power of legal education as a socialization process. It’s one of the most effective ever devised. Law school has the potential to reshape how you see your world and also how you see yourself in that world.

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