The Juris Doctor is 'Versatile' Thanks Mainly to Numerous Logical Fallacies
August 16, 2012 4:37 PM   Subscribe

Many people say that a law degree enables the holder to do virtually anything. Am Law Daily explores the logical fallacies behind this statement.
posted by reenum (55 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
The process of obtaining a law degree certainly trains a person to do a great many things outside of the legal field. It's basically a degree in critical thinking, reading, and analysis, with presentation skills and personnel management. That should be of broad applicability.

That's a hard sell to people who just see "lawyer" on the resume and tell you they don't have any legal openings, though.
posted by kafziel at 4:46 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


But of course a law degree allows you to do anything! To demonstrate, i shall now jump off this cliff and fly like aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.....
posted by mightygodking at 4:50 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's basically a degree in critical thinking, reading, and analysis, with presentation skills and personnel management.

I know, and work with, many lawyers with none of these skills.

They're all in state-level politics though, so maybe not the best bit of anecdata.
posted by mrgoat at 4:52 PM on August 16, 2012 [13 favorites]


It's basically a degree in critical thinking, reading, and analysis, with presentation skills and personnel management.

Isn't this supposed to be the outcome of a classic liberal arts degree (except perhaps the personnel management)?
posted by muddgirl at 4:53 PM on August 16, 2012 [32 favorites]


Shoulda got a BFA.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:53 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


A good lawyer knows how to go around the law. Technically, that is knowing how to do anything.
posted by Brian B. at 4:56 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]



It's basically a degree in critical thinking, reading, and analysis, with presentation skills and personnel management.


This is also how they sell impressionable young bleeps on English degrees (minus the personnel management as mentioned above). I tried to use the same line in interviews and employers don't really buy it.
posted by bleep at 5:00 PM on August 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


Three things that changed my perception of lawyers:

1) Meeting a fearful lawyer
2) Meeting someone who had fired a laywer
3) Meeting a powerful person who isn't a lawyer but just pays for good lawyers
posted by circular at 5:01 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


A law degree teaches you how to argue the slimmest of positions, like the claim a law degree can get you a job as a cartoonist.
posted by ckape at 5:07 PM on August 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Learning to "think like a lawyer" turns out to have low value to most people not in the market for a lawyer.
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:07 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


But of course a law degree allows you to do anything! To demonstrate, i shall now jump off this cliff and fly like aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.....
posted by mightygodking at 7:50 PM on August 16


And fly like a mightygodking? That sounds pretty okay, actually.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 5:09 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm a non-practicing JD. I'm in my current career because I had a long career before going to law school. The degree increased my chances in this field by maybe ... 10%. Of all the times I wish I had listened to my father, it was this one. He told me to get an MBA. At the time I entered law school, an MBA was hot. My friends who went that route are now very, very high six-figure professionals with a nice work/life balance. My friends making the same money at law firms are depressed and demoralized. Friends who like me are not practicing are happy to have dodged a bullet.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 5:13 PM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


You should not go to law school unless you want to practice law. END COMMUNICATION
posted by eugenen at 5:15 PM on August 16, 2012 [12 favorites]


What if you're, like, a trust fund millionaire with time on your hands and want to practice politics?
posted by muddgirl at 5:19 PM on August 16, 2012


In peripherally related news, the fact that I design embedded industrial control systems for a living, a skill which involves programming a wide variety of computers, does not mean I either know how to or want to try to fix your $random_computer_problem.
posted by localroger at 5:20 PM on August 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


My computer hasn't been working since you touched it six months ago localroger! What did you do?!
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:25 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have never heard anyone make the claim the author seeks to debunk. Do people actually treat this as some kind of truism and go to law school for reasons other than intending to practice law?
posted by asnider at 5:25 PM on August 16, 2012


I worked for Borders for 6 years. My GM had a law degree. My lawyer dogs on law schools all the time. I know which one makes more.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:26 PM on August 16, 2012


What if you're, like, a trust fund millionaire with time on your hands and want to practice politics?

Buy a seat in the House.
posted by T.D. Strange at 5:28 PM on August 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


Well, my law degree helped me get work as a law librarian. Which is an awesome job and tons of fun--but I still have those pesky loans to pay off.
posted by orrnyereg at 5:33 PM on August 16, 2012


Learning to "think like a lawyer" turns out to have low value to most people not in the market for a lawyer.
Turns out a lot of lawyers seem to forget how to think like a rational person, if they ever knew in the first place.
posted by delmoi at 5:35 PM on August 16, 2012


'Virtually' means only in WoW.
posted by srboisvert at 5:36 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


My sister has a law degree. I also work with lawyers.

Deep respect for them. Very bright people. And getting her law degree practically killed my sister in some ways.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:37 PM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Man I wish I knew how to parlay my MBA into a job on easy street. Though it was a good (albeit not top ten) program, I scrape along making databases and pivot tables while all these other mbas are in the jet set with a big mahogany desk.

I bet there was a class I didn't take that explained it all while I was taking forecasting and ethics and sustainability and stuff.
posted by winna at 5:38 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I studied Talmud. I'm not sure I can do anything at all, but if a discussion about tractace Derekh Eretz Zuta breaks out, I am ready to fuck up a motherfucker.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:39 PM on August 16, 2012 [30 favorites]


Paul Campos on the speech law students will never hear.

Learning to "think like a lawyer" turns out to have low value to most people not in the market for a lawyer.

Though, apparently, it's a skill highly desired by internet commenters.
posted by octobersurprise at 5:39 PM on August 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


To contribute something meaningful though, one of my clients (a lawyer) has a background in technology entrepreneurship, and his big struggle is to develop scalability, or at least spend time doing the *right* things that provide demonstrable value to clients. For example, spending a couple of hundred dollars in a lawyer's office just to find out how to fill out forms makes no sense to most people.

Apparently lawyers as service providers as increasingly being looked upon as a commodity (therefore should be cheaper), so he's trying to figure out ways to keep his hourly rate high.

He also mentions that lawyers are not trained to be entrepreneurial. They're trained to amass billable hours, but not how to do that. If you are providing what's perceived to be low value, you won't able to bill out.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:43 PM on August 16, 2012


They teach you how to be the first with your back to the wall when the revolution comes. That's all.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 5:45 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have never heard anyone make the claim the author seeks to debunk. Do people actually treat this as some kind of truism and go to law school for reasons other than intending to practice law?

A lot of people "think" they want to be lawyers ... until they actually start studying. After the first year (or your first mind-numbing summer internship) many people decide not to practice and go running into the Career Services Office looking for a way out.

There are also non-traditional students (I was one) who think they might boost career chances in other fields with a law degree. I specifically wanted to go into politics (until I actually met with and worked for politicians.)

At any rate, yeah, law school is for people who want to be lawyers. A master's in some sort of liberal arts field is for people who like to learn and perhaps want to advance in some nebulous career.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 5:49 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think that, if you're really smart, and driven, a law degree goes leaps and bounds to even further refining your critical thinking skills and knowledge of How the World Works (I'm a lawyer who has been extremely lucky). The problem is: it costs sooooo much money for a law degree, compared to its relative worth. You can gain critical thinking skills and what not by having a good job for three years, and that's free. Kids, don't just go to law school for shits and giggles (unless your parents are paying for it).
posted by gagglezoomer at 5:49 PM on August 16, 2012


I have never heard anyone make the claim the author seeks to debunk. Do people actually treat this as some kind of truism and go to law school for reasons other than intending to practice law?

I definitely heard that when I was graduating college and friends were talking about going to law school. Based on what I see in the alumni magazine, they seem to be doing fine, though that may have as much to do with their rich families and personal trust funds as it does their law degrees, I don't know.
posted by Forktine at 5:52 PM on August 16, 2012


NB: I'm wasn't trying to say that my parents paid for my education, I did. You can also have scholarships... Unless you are 80% funding your law school education you should not be attending a school outside the top 5 or 6 law schools. It just makes no sense.

I meet so many dull witted people on a daily basis who always going on about how they can't wait to start law school this fall (or last fall, or the fall before last) and I just can't believe it...
posted by gagglezoomer at 5:53 PM on August 16, 2012


But of course a law degree allows you to do anything! To demonstrate, i shall now jump off this cliff and fly like aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.....

Pay no attention to this jokester. Everyone knows that a law degree allows one to soar like an eagle.

Go ahead. You're a leaf on the wind.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:53 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ohhhh, you're thinking of the Infinity Gauntlet
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:08 PM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I meet so many dull witted people on a daily basis who always going on about how they can't wait to start law school this fall (or last fall, or the fall before last) and I just can't believe it...

This is actually a good thing. It keeps them far away from art school.
posted by R. Mutt at 6:10 PM on August 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Shoulda got a BFA.

I got both! Hah! Who's laughing now?!

(hint: it is not me.)
posted by Navelgazer at 6:19 PM on August 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


Of all the times I wish I had listened to my father, it was this one. He told me to get an MBA. At the time I entered law school, an MBA was hot.

But... but... Mark McCormick, author of "What They Don't Teach You At Harvard Business School" says in that that book that, in a biz exec career, the two degrees—JD and MBA—are completely interchangeable.
posted by bz at 6:45 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I got both! Hah! Who's laughing now?!

The banking and postsecondary education rackets?

You can gain critical thinking skills and what not by having a good job for three years, and that's free.


No! If you get paid for it, it costs you less than nothing, and therefore it is obviously beyond worthless!
posted by Sys Rq at 6:53 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


A lot of people "think" they want to be lawyers ... until they actually start studying.

Related side note: I know a lot of teachers who decided, after teaching for a few years, that they didn't want to teach anymore (for a variety of different reasons). All them decided to go to law school in order to change their career path. They thought they wanted to teach (actually, most of them did, but the reality of teaching vs. the theory they were taught didn't jive). Hopefully, they don't merely think they want to be lawyers.
posted by asnider at 6:59 PM on August 16, 2012


You should not go to law school unless you want to practice law. END COMMUNICATION

But that's not really the problem the article is talking about. The article is talking about tons of students who wanted to be lawyers, couldn't find jobs as lawyers and are now finding that the degree makes it harder to get hired as something other than a lawyer.

The article is trying to take the ABA, law schools, and the law school accreditation process to task for pretending that students who couldn't get hired as lawyers, but managed to get hired as something else (like a guide dog trainer) were aided in getting those jobs by their law degrees. Which, as the article rightly notes, is bullshit.

Every student who isn't ranked 1-20 in their class gets told this bullshit during on campus interviewing and during on campus career advising. "Don't worry that you aren't getting any on campus interviews because your degree is highly portable." "Don't worry that you haven't matched the numbers cut-offs to be hired by anyone in the legal profession, your degree makes you very attractive to employers in a lot of professions." I've heard a lot of career counselors at a lot of law schools say that your law degree is "portable" and highly
desirable to a lot of professional employers, but the only other job than "lawyer" (or judge) I have ever heard identified by name which considers a law degree valuable is "law librarian" and they are more interested that you be trained as a librarian.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:19 PM on August 16, 2012 [10 favorites]


I think sometimes that lawyers who change careers are treated differently than other career changers. The reactions seem to fall close to two extremes:

1. Good for you. You really know what your priorities are. There's this (to me) seemingly out of proportion appreciation thing going on, where it's like, OMG, you gave up being a lawyer to do that. How noble of you!

2. Why the fuck would you quit practicing law to do that? People who voice this sentiment might also take the view that the person was stupid to go to law school in the first place if they were going to change careers at some point.

I contrast this with what I perceive to be the experience most career changers have, which is a pretty neutral reaction from most people, more along the lines of "Oh, good for you, I hope it works out." In other words, changing careers doesn't bring out strong feelings in most people (unless of course they're changing careers to be a lawyer, in which case someone will either tell them how stupid they are to be going to law school right now, or how they can do anything (!) with a law degree).

And just like I don't think lawyers should be fawned over for changing careers, I don't think they should be castigated, either, and it interests me that reactions to career-changing lawyers are frequently so polarized. I suspect it has something to do with the unreasonable amount of respect, or adoration, or whatever, we heap on lawyers. It's as if we presume that being a lawyer is so desirable that walking away from it is either foolish or an act of martyrdom. It reminds me of the adage about a quarterback getting too much credit when his team wins and too much credit when his team loses.

In any case, this article made me think about it.
posted by MoonOrb at 7:28 PM on August 16, 2012


I have been a lawyer for 24 years now. I currently have my own practice which only barely pays it's own bills, and I make a living working at Target and hosting trivia nights twice a week.

My legal degree has been invaluable in keeping me from killing people at Target, and the general liberal arts education I got before the legal degree has served me very well indeed in the trivia field.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:41 PM on August 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Navelgazer: "Shoulda got a BFA.

I got both! Hah! Who's laughing now?!

(hint: it is not me.)
"

Would it make you feel better if I confess that this sucker has a BFA and and MFA along with her JD. You can laugh at me now. I certainly wasn't laughing yesterday when my boss informed me my firm might not have the cash flow to pay me at the end of this month.
On the other hand, my sock puppet interpretive dance is going to work like gangbusters at the end of the month pandhandler bar association meeting. If only I'd bothered to learn an instrument other than the pan flute.
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:05 PM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


A JD is not, in and of itself, "versatile." On the other hand, good experience practicing law is a versatile qualification for all kinds of things. Hence the worlds of finance, business and government are full of ex-lawyers, but very few of them couldn't get jobs as lawyers to begin with.

A JD who can't get hired as a lawyer (unless he's in the extremely small set of top-school grads who get hired in the MBA-equivalence programs of a few banks and consulting firms) is in bad shape for sure.
posted by MattD at 10:06 PM on August 16, 2012


the Australian system is really different in some ways, particularly since the education is virtually free, however there are some close similarities. Firstly there are way more law students graduating each year than there is demand for lawyers. Don't know what they're all doing but it's not practicing. Secondly most law students just aren't cut out to be lawyers in large commercial firms, they just lack the commercial sense in some way. There are many articled clerks that haven't made the grade, that get culled in year one or two. Thirdly having a law degree doesn't necessarily indicate that you've got useful legal skills, but it does indicate that you have applied yourself in some fashion, have a modicum of writing ability and a basic clue about how the world works. So you should be employable.
posted by wilful at 10:45 PM on August 16, 2012


There's a difference between telling people who already have JDs but can't / don't want to get jobs as lawyers that they have plenty of possibilities and thinking that you should go to law school if you aren't sure you want to be a lawyer.

Once you have the degree, there's no point in considering the opportunity costs (and financial costs) because they're sunk anyway and you might as well look to the future.
For someone considering law school, they need to realise that for any career other than the law there are better ways of spending three years.
posted by atrazine at 4:45 AM on August 17, 2012


I have a JD and practiced law at a very large corporate firm.

The great irony here is that everyone says "Oh, you can do ANYTHING with a law degree!" Meanwhile, law school does almost nothing to prepare people to actually practice law. It's a very odd system.

One thing that no one mentions is that law school, while teaching you to "think like a lawyer", also tends to teach you to "behave like a lawyer" and to "interact with other people as a lawyer would interact with other people". Consequently, I think a JD is actually a limiting factor when looking for employment. Let's just be honest: People go to great lengths to limit the amount of time they have to spend with lawyers and lawyer-types. So why hire a lawyer if you don't need one?
posted by 3200 at 5:46 AM on August 17, 2012


Isn't this supposed to be the outcome of a classic liberal arts degree (except perhaps the personnel management)?

I learned way more about personnel management from reading Homer and Cicero than I did in law school.

Seriously, anybody who thinks lawyers are trained in personnel management will be disabused of that belief in about a week of working for the average firm. Law firm management is the dregs of Taylorism at best.
posted by gauche at 5:56 AM on August 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


They must be out there (mustn't they?) but I've literally never met a lawyer who was happy.

The ones I used to meet invariably became very engaged the moment they found out I was a working writer, full of questions and enthusiasm. At least three quarters of them admitted that they were working on a courtroom thriller because they wanted to become the next John Grisham and get the fuck out of actually practicing law.
posted by Naberius at 6:28 AM on August 17, 2012


Based on what I see in the alumni magazine, they seem to be doing fine, though that may have as much to do with their rich families and personal trust funds as it does their law degrees, I don't know.

It also has to do with who submits to the alumni magazine.
posted by The Bellman at 6:38 AM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Naberius: "They must be out there (mustn't they?) but I've literally never met a lawyer who was happy."

I'm a happy lawyer. I mean, it's not like I couldn't conceive of a better, more satisfying life than I've got now. But I went into law school with what I think were reasonable expectations, and my expectations have been more than satisfied. I work in a small but well regarded firm, doing work that is important to my clients and generally interesting to me.

I've witnessed the surge in lawyer-angst articles lately, and clearly there are lots of dissatisfied and unhappy lawyers (old and young). And I have no quarrel with complaints about law schools inflating job prospects and luring people into tremendous, life-crushing debt. Still, it's not a death sentence.
posted by lex mercatoria at 12:08 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


They must be out there (mustn't they?) but I've literally never met a lawyer who was happy.

I'm a happy lawyer, and a happy corporate lawyer at that. Of course, I've been very lucky: top law school, regional corporate law firm after graduation, followed by moving in-house. The things that make me happy are: I scrimped and saved and lived like a student the first five years of practice and thereby paid off my law school debts; I genuinely enjoy the law and find satisfaction in the painfully detailed, orderly work (think of corporate lawyers as accountants, but with words); and I went to a small corporation where I don't have much "prestige" in the legal field but I enjoy the people I work with.
posted by gd779 at 4:00 PM on August 17, 2012


In other words, I think lawyers that are employed but unhappy are generally making the mistake of thinking that the world owes them money and prestige (and that these are things worth chasing). Stop it. Lose the ego, lose the sense of entitlement, and focus on making your clients' lives better. Find satisfaction in contributing to businesses that allow people to build families and futures for themselves. And make a conscious decision to be downwardly mobile: make less money so that you can be happier.

This is, of course, entirely unrelated to the fact that the supply of lawyers presently exceeds the demand, or the fact that legal education is scandalously expensive. I don't have a solution for those problems.
posted by gd779 at 4:05 PM on August 17, 2012


Unhappy lawyers are louder than happy lawyers, in my opinion. I know dozens and dozens of happy lawyers, and few unhappy ones, just thinking about my own slice of the legal world.

And by "happy" I mean "content," really, not "exuberant." I don't know too many exuberant lawyers. Exuberant lawyers are to be avoided at all costs. They're freaky.
posted by MoonOrb at 4:28 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


My wife's a happy lawyer. Works for herself, out of the study.
posted by wilful at 3:26 AM on August 18, 2012


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