Evidence from “Don’t Do It”

Is there really evidence that the legal profession is in a state of decline? Evidence is weak, at best.  See Richard A. Epstein, “The Rule of Lawyers”  WALL STREET JOURNAL (May 6, 2013)  (This was an insightful article and review of  Steven Harper’s THE LAWYER BUBBLE: A PROFESSION IN CRISIS (2013). Epstein’s short article was, in part, a brief review that is better than the book.  Jacob Gershman published a response to Epstein at least on the WSJ internet the title of which was “Pricking the ‘Lawyer Bubble.” One wonders if there is not an ambiguity hidden in the title of the responsive piece. Perhaps WSJ conceived of it.  It is also worth noting that the economy is improving, the deficit is falling, and the number of lawyer jobs is increasing.

One statistic, which is often seen in the popular literature, is the claim that a typical lawyer will tell 6 out of 10 young inquirers, that they should not enter the legal profession.

The fact is that this proposition proves absolutely nothing. I usually avoid giving advice on this matter. Usually, I don’t know the person asking well enough. When I do give the advice, I consider what they have studied, how well have they done, what kind of
stamina they have, how they get along with other people, how good are they at proofreading, do they respect the judicial system, do they believe in the rule of law, and so forth. 

I also sometimes ask them if they have ever been involved in negotiating as a method of solving problems with others. If a person says “No,” then I ask why do they think that. If they have no answer I tell them not to enter the profession. They are ignorant of a crucial and intuitively fundamental point. None of these questions has anything to do with any decline in the legal profession.

The “6 ‘out of” 10” “studies,” the popular authors cite,  if any such objective studies exist, appear not to have asked meaningful questions.  There are two forms of questions: One of them probes the personality of the lawyer making the recommendation; the other concerns what the lawyers knows about the person to whom s/he is talking.  Here are some examples:

Questions to be Asked the Advisor

Why do you say this?

What branch of the law do you practice? (This question includes the general practitioner.)

How do you feel about what you do?

Have you ever felt good about the law?

Do you wish you had never entered the profession? Why not?

Would you describe yourself as a happy person? (The person asking the question should be able to look at a person and reasonably guess how they feel about the world and themselves.)

Do you see yourself as being successful at practicing law? 
(If the answer is “No,” ask why not. If a person says “yes,” give them a 1 to 10 test.  If they say, “I am happy as a lawyer to the degree of 10,” you know that the person being questioned is either lying or ignorant regarding simple tests. No one is perfectly happy.) 

How often do you feel really depressed? 
(There are many other questions. Anyone doing the kind of “study”–as a study of those asking questions in preparation for advising on whether to go to law school–must ask a whole variety of such questions. The person constructing the study should probably seek the advice of a professional when constructing tests as the one relied on here, if—indeed—there actually was a really helpful inquiry.  Very few people are reliable estimators of their own powers of intuition when focused on themselves.

Questions Advisors Should Ask the Advisee 

What questions does the advisor ask the advisee about himself?  If no questions are asked by the advisor and the advisee is less intimate with the advisor than something close to the advisor’s spouse or one her/his children, one knows immediately that the advisor’s statements regarding the “6 out 10” rule are uninteresting, except for studying the psychology of advisors dispensing of advice.

How are/were your grades?

Do you think you get along well with other people?

Do/would other people find you easy to get along with? Or do they regard you as openly aggressive?

How articulate are you on short notice?

Do you like rigorous thinking and discussion?

What kind of family does grow up in? [I’m not sure about this question, taken just by itself, but the answer might be interesting to an advisor when taken with other answers.]

Do you like to read a lot? When you read, do you enjoy it? 

Do you like studying?  If you do, what do you like best to study?

How do you feel about competing strenuously?

Do you feel depressed from time to time?  How often?

Do you have what might be described as stamina?  In what?

Do you enjoy doing whatever you have the stamina for partly because it requires stamina?

These are all sensible and informative questions. With the exception of one potential advisor per 500 people, we do not have
sound intuition about other people based on a “glance.”  (The number 500 has been dreamed up by me.  Whatever number is
right, there are very few reliable estimators of their own intuitive powers.)

A Conclusion and a Promise
This essay is about “evidence” on the basis of which critics of the legal profession-business suggest that what they regard as a huge swamp may be in a mess growing worse.  These prophets of negativity and doom love to state propositions dramatically, and thereby bash away what they think was, not is, an important cornerstone of the American republic. These dedicated creatures of preaching “You all and therefore the rest of us are bound for hell in a handbasket,” cherish the loud but do not love either objectivity or evidence.  Not only are their arguments poor, but their prose is not even close to attractive much less elegant; it’s in Dallas when the game is in Houston. They argue not only that the economics of placement is currently bleak, but that only a near economic, social, educational, and organizational revolution will rectify the deep and destructive problems.

I will present a set of Blog-essays intended to respond to some of these disaster-is-here-or-coming-soon articles, books, and blogs. Each of these essays will focus on one at a time, so there may be many parts. 

I certainly do not disagree with everything each of them asserts.  For example, it has been pointed out that student loans for law school are “back-breaking,” and I agree that it would be a good thing to somehow deal with this problem.  Who doesn’t?

Sometimes it is said that our economy and social preferences have gone awry, and the legal profession fits into a harm-causing business structure and that it needs reform across the board.  This too may be right.  I am interested only in critiques focused on the legal profession that make it look like the problems in the legal profession are distinct from general business, economic, and socio-societal problems.