I wasted a few minutes today logging in to LinkedIn.1
My momentary re-entry there generated a difficult discussion between me and an acquaintance of mine, Brian Baker.
It wasn’t difficult because of Brian, mind you, though I do disagree with him wholeheartedly. It was difficult because whenever I tried writing a response to him, I invariably found myself being told but the LinkedIn algorithms that I’d surpassed some arbitrary limit on the number of characters in my reply, and what I’d written could therefore not be linked in.
Were we arguing about whether it was cold out today, or not, I could understand the arbitrary limitation on characters. But we were discussing something just a tiny — just a tad – bit more complicated: the length of a law school edumacation, something which we both have, and therefore something with which we both have some experience.
So…screw the arbitrary limit on characters. Why do I want to provide free content to LinkedIn anyway? What have they ever done for me?2
This post is comprised of my thoughts on (the deficiency of) a law school education. It’s long. I apologize. Maybe you should have skipped this introduction. So don’t read it. Or maybe you can just skim the rest of it.
But if you want to know what I think….
First of all, screw everyone who says law school is difficult. It’s not. Or, at least, it’s not difficult where I went to law school. Not that it matters — it really, really, really doesn’t3 — but I graduated third in my class, and I did so despite working my first couple of years as the Director of Information Systems for a multi-million-dollar corporation,4 going home between work and law school to watch my favorite TV show, and sometimes not even reading my assigned cases until I got to class.
If you think I’m bragging, stop reading right now, go sit in the corner, and fuck yourself:5 my point is that law school really is not the brain torture device I’ve heard some people make it out to be. I know for a fact that I’m not brilliant; I’m not a genius; and I’m not trying to make it appear that I am. I don’t hold a candle to many others I know, such as Scott H. Greenfield, Gideon, Mark W. Bennett, Brian Tannebaum — the list is long enough to cause WordPress to create a character limit in protest if I keep going.6
Saying law school is difficult is something people say to justify the costs involved, and perhaps to scare off the few who really couldn’t hack it and should be P.E. majors.7 I mean, hell, even District Attorneys have graduated law school, so what does that tell you about how easy it really is?
Primarily, saying law school is difficult makes those who get accepted feel truly wonderful about themselves. It’s like I felt for a second when I got an acceptance letter in the mail a couple days ago from the New York Institute of Photography. As a lawyer who sometimes wishes he was a photographer — and I’ve even had my work exhibited, and won an award — I was quite flattered.
Until I remembered that I hadn’t applied.
Just as LinkedIn has some arbitrary character count for responses in “discussions,” so, too, does law school have some arbitrary numbers you’ll have to beat on the LSAT. The numbers are idiotic, because I know some people who, frankly, have trouble thinking their way out of a paper bag, but they managed the LSAT.8 Because of the timing of my decision — it really was almost spur-of-the-moment, on the repeated encouragement of a lawyer-friend — to go to law school, I took the LSAT within a couple weeks, I think, of deciding to go to school. I didn’t have time to prep, or think about it.
I don’t remember my score, but I must’ve done okay, because they let me into the school.
So, blah, blah, law school.
After law school, the State Bar Examination was not fun. But primarily it was not fun because we were told it would be very difficult, and “not fun.” That scared the crap out of me, especially because I had neither the time, nor the extra money, to pay for any “bar prep” courses after law school. When everyone else was taking bar prep classes, I was still researching and writing in my downtown “independent law clerk” office, where I wrote primarily for a criminal law specialist down the hall, and about a half-dozen other criminal lawyers who hired me from time to time to work on motions, writs, or appeals.
Hell, just about five weeks or so prior to taking the bar exam, I handled the oral argument before California’s Fifth District Court of Appeals in a Hell’s Angels case.9 So instead of prepping for the bar exam, I was prepping for getting a spanking.
But what really scared me about being told how hard the bar exam was, was when it turned out not to be true. I thought at the time that somehow I must be screwing up wildly. To some extent, I think that’s because I had some really good teachers, who understood what they were preparing us to do.
And because I was interested, and paid attention, I passed the bar — which is what they were really preparing me for — the first (and therefore only) time I took it.
Which brings me to the point I really want to make here. Because, again, I’m no genius. I simply decided on a path, stepped out, asked a lot of questions along the way, and basically did what I was told. I sweated a lot, but that turned out to be due mostly to unnecessary fear. The coursework was college coursework. The teachers were (sometimes) provocative. They definitely taught me how to pass the State Bar Exam.
But what they taught me has not been all that useful in my new(ish) career as an attorney.
That’s not the fault of the law school. They only had me, after all, for four years.10
And then after those four years, because nobody told me I couldn’t — and several people told me I could — I went straight into private practice. In fact, as I said, I actually opened my office downtown long before I was sworn in as an attorney. The words on the door said, “Rick Horowitz” and underneath that, “Independent Law Clerk.” I was as independent as a law clerk could be. I had my own office. I kept my own hours. I built my own library. I paid for my own expenses, including Lexis, Internet, phones, etc. The primary attorney I worked with — the criminal law specialist who supervised me while I was part of California’s “Certified Law Student” program — was about 30 or 40 feet down the hall. I researched for him, wrote for him, went to court with him.11 He was generous enough to really educate me, and allowed me to conduct one trial12 from intake-of-client to verdict, “sit second chair” in several trials, including a couple “special circumstances” murder cases, and thanks to him I argued the aforementioned case for which I’d done all the research and written all the briefs, in the Fifth District Court of Appeals.
What he gave me exposed me to other attorneys in the community, and since I was “independent,” some of them hired me to research and write for them. They were generous, and taught me a lot.
But my “independence” and my simultaneous status as a student also created a problem. I spent most of my time reading case files, case law, and writing. I didn’t even handle the details of things like subpoenas, or filing the things I wrote. I did not make mundane court appearances, such as arraignments, pre-preliminary hearings, or anything that didn’t involve a motion I was to argue, or a trial in which I was to participate. I seldom interacted directly with “regular” clients; my own clients were all attorneys.
Consequently, I did not learn how to be an attorney. I did not learn how to operate as a practicing lawyer. I got a snapshot of a portion of what an attorney does, and the part I got was more like what we did in school.
Frankly, I should not have been allowed to open my private practice right out of law school. I didn’t know that, no one discouraged me — a few encouraged me – and it wasn’t illegal, so I did it anyway. But the failure to have any significant training in actual lawyering prior to opening a law practice has haunted me to this day.
It’s made my life more difficult. It’s cost me sleep; I don’t remember the last really good night I had. It’s probably part of the reason I had a heart attack a couple years ago at the age of fifty-three. And I think it’s made it difficult for the people around me.13
Because law school — again, sorry to piss off those who I know disagree — was easy. The bar exam, not so bad. But being a lawyer? That’s fucking hard!
Some days, I think it’s impossible.
The law itself is complex. The cases that come to us, simple as they may seem at times, are actually complicated. And — at least in my practice as a criminal defense attorney — people’s lives, or in some cases “only” portions of them, are at stake. On top of that, and aside from every case having its differing factual complexities, impacting what law should apply and how, the law itself changes all the time.14 Trying to get the government to follow the law? That’s a whole ‘nuther story.15
And let’s totally leave out the parts of the job where we attorneys are forced to become experts on all kinds of other things. I’m not even getting into that.
Psychotherapists (in California anyway) go through between two years (for Marriage & Family Therapists, or MFTs) and five years (for psychologists) of post-graduate education. The MFT programs are usually Master’s Degree programs. That (so far as I know) means MFT students will have already obtained a four-year degree.16 Psychologists will end up with a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree, and so far as I know that means they absolutely have a four-year degree prior, for a total of nine years of education.17
In addition, all those folks will have internships. They will actually work in the field in the capacities they might work in after completing all their work, but under the supervision of those who are already therapists, who already completed their own work.
And none of them will have to deal with conflicting jurisdictions interacting, variations in local rules, regularly learning new areas outside their chosen specialty — I have a case that’s requiring me to learn something about the operations of the trucking industry right now, for example; other cases require me to learn about child psychology — and all the while knowing that if they screw up, someone who absolutely should not be going to prison could very well go to prison.
No. I’m sorry. I simply do not agree that attorney educations should be shortened. I think they should be longer. I think we should be required to learn not only the things that I was required to learn, but we should have to then choose an area in which we intend to practice, and take at least another full year learning state-specific law for that area, and then we should have at least a year, if not two, of apprenticeship — not internship, but an actual apprenticeship.
But that’s what I think.
And I gots me an edumacation.
- I have no idea why I have a LinkedIn account. I’ve more use for a third nipple. But since I was getting notices about people allegedly trying to connect, I logged in. Except for convincing me to write this post, it was an otherwise completely negative experience. Now that I think about it, even this post is a reaction to something negative. [↩]
- Okay. I’ll give them credit for the fact that their arbitrary limit caused me to write this blog post. [↩]
- Since I became a lawyer, not one person has asked me how well I did in law school. [↩]
- The budget I managed alone was approximately two million dollars per year. [↩]
- That’s for reader Scott Warren — not that he should go fuck himself; that’s not what I mean at all — but I’m told he likes that I’m not afraid to be a little hardcore in my blog posts. [↩]
- And I’m particularly not listing any of the local people who are far smarter than me. I mean, I’m not that stupid! I do have to try to stay in business, you know. Find your own clients! [↩]
- Yeah, you knew I was coming for you. [↩]
- And, remember: District Attorneys. [↩]
- Having my head bit off by the lead judge on the panel within the first 10 seconds of arguing — now that was scary! [↩]
- Because I wasn’t initially planning to leave my job as Director of Information Systems until I graduated, I had signed up for the night-school, four-year program, instead of their “fast-track” three-year program. [↩]
- But see below. [↩]
- A traffic case, which I won because I discovered a technicality in the law, a fact which seemed to piss off the judge in the case. [↩]
- And I’m coming up on my seven-year anniversary as a — I’m told, anyway — respected lawyer. [↩]
- Usually this is because a few of us criminal defense attorneys are successful, and so the laws must be changed to fix that. [↩]
- See prior footnote. Plus, as I told a client’s family this morning, as far as judges are concerned the law is what they want it to be on any given day. If you get right down to it, we’re pretty much a lawless society these days. Not because we don’t have laws, but because when those laws go against what the judge wants to allow, those laws are many times simply ignored. [↩]
- If there are ways to go for a Master’s with only a two-year degree, like you could get into my law school without a degree, I’m not aware of that. [↩]
- Some law schools — mine included — allow students in without any prior college education. I obtained my own four-year undergraduate degree in Philosophy. [↩]
- And, frankly, I don’t give a damn. I told you not to read it. [↩]