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Messages - Thane Messinger

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I wish law schools would market what they are doing to improve their quality and how they are producing more competent lawyers as well. I read an article at above the law a few months back on how prospective law students reported on a survey that a large majority choose a law school based on the us news ranking, and not on more practical things like job placement & bar passage. These sort of changes also will not come until the students/customers demand such information.

The truth is that all law schools . . . all of them . . . are in pretty much the same boat with regard to these issues.  They have no real reason to compete in these ways, and they have serious incentives to keep doing what they're doing.  (Again, Law School Undercover offers an insider's look at the commodification of law schools, as well as advice for what to do with that knowledge.) 

The "customers" of law schools are not students, but firms; students are the product.  And, for their own reasons, firms like the system as it is.

Moreover, it is an open secret that one does not learn in law school how to practice law, and in fact those courses that were introduced around the scathing MacCrate Report of 1992 are openly dismissed among law faculty.  Hereagain, read Law School Undercover.  That book (and mine) will lend important insight into how to approach (and how not to approach) your legal research and writing course.

So, not to be too brusque but the topics under discussion have been thrashed about for the better part of two decades.  If a report sanctioned by the ABA and headed by one of the most powerful practitioners in the country cannot change an industry practice, well, this is the time for an individual to consider how to navigate in the world as it is, rather than as we would wish it to be.  (Just to be clear, I included a bonus chapter on much of this in my book for law new students.  So I share these sentiments.  I also, however, consider it intellectually treasonous to disregard reality.  Would that Marx had only shared that sentiment.  = :   )


All that being said I don't blame U.S. News for what has happened they are a private magazine making a lot of money for doing nothing. The sad thing is law schools have not banned together to focus on producing competent lawyers. Instead schools will discuss how high U.S. News ranked them in some speciality or my school for my example hired our Dean to boost our ranking. That was the reason and needless to say it didn't happen, because nobody can boost a ranking the system makes no sense. I just wish law schools would disregard U.S. News and ban together to stop it and focus on producing competent lawyers not lying to to get into an 11 way tie for 84th place. That kind of behavior is not good for anyone.

Human beings will manipulate anything measured, and humans are lustful of quantification.  Ergo, humans will misuse data, and assertively so. 

There's hardly an organization in existence that doesn't (mis)manage its internal systems with poorly-designed systems of quantitative goals.  Every one of those goals--good and bad--will ripple throughout the organization, often in unintended but deeply consequential ways. 

In a sense, this makes it even more important to evaluate these data points well . . . as employers WILL.

In immodesty, I think my book on law school provides an effective way to think about rankings that is quite different from how they are commonly considered.  In addition, a new book, Law School Undercover, does an excellent job for those who are in the application stages.  Well worth reading.

As to law schools, few practitioners (or professors) will argue that law graduates know much (or anything) about practicing law.  Practitioners will say this with varying stages of dismay or dismissal.  Professors will say this proudly.  The sin relates more to the umbrella organization, the ABA.  For those future ABA governors out there, we'll forward you the complaints.  = :  )    By the way, the points in your last paragraph are addressed at length in Planet Law School, for those fellow contrarians out there.


Incoming 1Ls / Re: bags
« on: June 12, 2011, 09:04:00 PM »
for cheap designer handbags at my estore

When I'm thinkin' law, I'm thinkin' cheap handbags. 

= :   )

PS:  All handbags have designers, no?

I just came across this randomly and have to say it is very well written and realistic view of the effects that U.S. News Rankings have had on legal education. Schools are caught in the Catch 22 presented in the article.

bigs & All -

All quite true, and the system as it has morphed has not, on the whole, been good for students.  That written, what's important is, for a prospective applicant, to know what to do with the information and, for a current student, to know what not to do.

Decisions of which law schools to apply to and attend are made based on any number of factors.  Basing them solely on the U.S. News ranking is unwise . . . but the rankings are a valuable resource.  And . . . with a significant caveat . . . they're also valuable below the top, "national" schools.  The caveat is that below the top schools, geography is (by definition) more relevant.  This means that rankings are neither supreme nor silly; they are as useful as their proper consideration warrants.

Just one counterrevolutionary note, and one in which I have absolutely no vested interest:  U.S. News has created and garnered a franchise.  Good for them.  Others have tried to unseat them, and, if they wanted to, the LSAC or ABA could do so fairly easily.  But, to the extent that U.S. News does a creditable job with an inherently subjective evaluation, well, it seems the real shame is on us if we don't use it well.

(Sorry, bigs . . . love your posts . . . but I do support the careful use of U.S. News, from Yale to #201.  = :   )


Incoming 1Ls / Re: Part-time evening workload?
« on: June 12, 2011, 08:47:03 PM »
I don't disagree with a word of your post, Thane. You're absolutely correct on every point. If a student can find ways to be more efficient with his or her study time, working harder for the same results would be myopic and wasteful. I've found ways to make my own study time more productive, and every little bit helps. (Disconnecting this infernal internet is a biggie!) Learning how to play the game quickly is a critical part of the law school experience. I had to figure that out the hard way myself. At the same time, I would simply caution against relying too heavily on the "smarter, not harder" (SNH) theory.  In my experience, students often use the SNH mantra as an excuse to be lazy. These are people who are chronically looking for shortcuts at every turn, who have been to LEEWS seminars and have purchased Flemings doing everything except the reading. I tend to believe that there is no holy grail out there to learning this material. You have to do the reading.  You should write your own outlines and most importantly, you must do practice exams until you can write them in your sleep. And by all means, you need to get feedback on your practice tests from your professors. Certainly, some people will get there with less effort than others, but it amazes me how much time and energy some students spend in their quest for shortcuts when applying that energy to simply doing the work would give them a better payday.

We might be at risk of a mutual-agreement society, Duncan.   = :   )

 . . . absolutely right.  It is very, very easy to think that having a "secret" is that same as success, or that buying a resource is somehow going to magically inject all that legal knowledge.  Just buying a hornbook (a bad buy) will somehow seep into your brain, as if by osmosis.

You're dead-on right about the dangers of seeking short-cuts.  What everyone should be doing is looking for bad trails.  That's where time is wasted.  (Unfortunately, those bad trails look like "study" to anyone who's survived high school and college.)

As long as we're on secrets, one secret is that it's possible to get straight A grades without doing a single case brief.  But it's very easy to read that and think "gee, that means I don't have to work."  The sad truth is that the work that IS needed should be fun work, not drudgery like case briefing.

Incoming 1Ls / Re: Part-time evening workload?
« on: June 12, 2011, 01:06:30 AM »
Again, if you're satisfied with a C average, then maybe you can take it a little easier than I've described. If you aren't afraid to hear your friends and acquaintances ask, "Weren't you in law school awhile back? What happened?" then by all means, make it to that concert. But to excel, you really have to take your medicine and make the sacrifice.

Generally quite true.  Just a somewhat different take on the effort-and-grade question:  Great grades are not about effort.  Or, more correctly, not just about effort.  I know this is hard to swallow, because for 16 years we've been trained to buck up and just cram already.  But that is the wrong way to approach law exams, whether full- or part-time.  It is possible to do well in law school with relatively less effort, even if your attention is split with job and family too.  If anything, it's all the more important to focus on efficiency, as that's where the wheel-spinning of full-time students is equalized.

If you find yourself with never any spare time, that's a warning that you're going about law school the wrong way.  Law exams require focus, not regurgitation.  Certainly not projectile vomiting.  Doing well in law exams requires discipline, not raw horsepower.  For all, if you've not seen LEEWS, that's a good start to the law exam process.  Take this early in your semester; then use it.  Don't pick it up "just before finals."  By then, it's too late.  This should be an integral part of studying for law school.

A different way to look at it:  A practicing lawyer could forget everything they know, and in the space of a few hours a day get re-familiarized with the law.  Chances are they would ace the exams, or close to it.  How is this possible?  Are they smarter?  By definition, no.  Discounting the ones who decided not to take (or pass) the bar, they're just about the same as you.  The answer is that they will approach law in the way needed for a law exam, because that's the way it's needed for the law.  Unfortunately, most students (understandably) approach law school like they've approached all schools before.  Yet law exams do not "test" the law in the same way that your biology professor tested your knowledge of photosynthesis.

This is how part-time students can actually do better than full-time ones . . . and much better, on an hour-for-hour basis.   Work smart, not (just) hard.


Choosing the Right Law School / Re: Small Town Law
« on: June 12, 2011, 01:01:44 AM »
I know a few people that attend U of South Dakota, if you have been accepted I suggest attending (based on what you described as your options).  I think it offers a quality legal education at a good price.

Indeed so.  Most public law schools, especially the flagship ones for larger states, are a relative bargain.  The quality of education, believe it or not, is about the same at all law schools.  The differences have more to do with students and atmosphere (and students' reactions to the atmosphere) than with the school itself. 

Choosing the Right Law School / Re: why do you want to be a lawyer?
« on: June 10, 2011, 04:20:14 PM »
* * *
Higher Ed was good to me so I decided to pursue a Master's in Higher Ed Admin and work my way up, but my heart and soul wasn't in it.  For the last five year all I can tell you is that going to work for something that you don't truly enjoy is the most difficult thing in the world.  I loath every morning and am elated at 5:00 p.m. everyday. 
* * *

Sorry to read about your experience, Powers, which, unfortunately, is not all that unusual. 

It's hugely important to think--before entering a program--about what it is that attracts you to the program.  If it's things like "power," "money," and "prestige" . . . fine.  But be very, very sure that the actual day-to-day existence is at least roughly compatible with who you are. 

The truth in law practice is that even many top students from top law schools discover that they're really not interested in the 80-hour routine.  The key for all is twofold:  if that is a possibility, but sure you're ready, and if it's not you, focus early in different directions.  Happy is the law student who knows that it's an agency or other law office that is best.  Paradoxically, these students can actually do better than the nominal high-achievers, in large part because their efforts are focused.

Incoming 1Ls / Re: am i screwed?
« on: June 10, 2011, 04:09:54 PM »
I don't mean to discourage, but just to give you a little reality-check before you spend 3 years and a hundred grand pursuing a federal judge position that is highly likely to be nearly impossible for you to get.

Falcon's advice is worth pondering seriously.  I too don't like to focus on closed doors, and there are always (or nearly always) second chances.  Were you to be the first in your class (even at a 4th-tier law school), a judgeship would indeed become a more realistic opportunity.

Here's a test.  (Seriously.)  If you've not yet read Planet Law School, read that.  It's about as raw a look at law school as there is.  Then, if I might, read my own book, Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold, which provides not nearly as dark a picture but looks seriously as well at the question of whether law school is right for you and, if so, how to go about it.  You don't even need to read them in full.  Just scan them. 

Okay.  Do you still have the same thoughts?  Do you *love* the idea of law school?  Do you see no other career possibility that fills you with an absolute insistance that this is the one for you?  Are you willing to go back and read the books, word for word, twice, and implement at least parts of the advice therein?

If you answer in the affirmative, and if you spend a month following through, the answer to your original question is much, much closer to "Yes."

For all, law school is not about effort.  Sure, it takes effort, but not nearly as much as most assume.  Lots of students burn out long before exams, and nearly everyone does less well than they should because of how they approach law school and preparation for exams.  So, to a large degree, the same question should be asked for everyone.  After all, even if you don't want to be a judge, being in that realm means that you're in a lot of other good realms too . . . and those will depend, to a large degree, on how well you approached law school.  (Note:  Not "how much effort you put in," but how *well* you approached it.)  The best law students look like athletes--it looks almost easy.  (Note 2:  It actually is easier, and more fun, the right way.)


Choosing the Right Law School / Re: Small Town Law
« on: June 10, 2011, 03:59:58 AM »
For instance, a law school may be 4th tier in the national scheme of things, but in the town its located, there's a good chance that a lot of people in the profession went there.  So, it's regarded as being a competent local school, versus a not-very-good national school.

Conversely, and to reinforce Falcon's point, there are fairly significant downsides--both practical and placement--to attending a non-prestigious school outside an area in which you wish to practice.  It's less that they'll look down on the other school than that they'll simply not look at all.  If you know that you would like to practice in a certain area, it's a good bet to attend a law school in that area.  (Even attending a top-tier school can raise its own problems, not least in that it's assumed you're "supposed" to head to biglaw.)

By the way, small town law can be an excellent career, long overlooked in the gleam of biglaw.  For the right person and practitioner, it's a wonderful life.


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