“Any idiot can get into law school” is something that any idiot already in law school knows all too well. Law school is full of them. Putting aside the argument that anyone in law school is a few cards shy of a full deck, we all have classmates that are morons.
And I’m not talking about doing the kind of dumb thing that could happen to any of us, like biting it on call one day or nearly failing a class. I’m talking about the kind of dumb thing that makes people stop and think, “Really? You got into law school? How do you even function in real life?” These are law students with seemingly no common sense. They come in essentially two varieties: law school smart, and not so smart at all.
The second variety doesn’t do the reading but voluntarily contributes in class, saying things like, “Well it was unclear to me whether X happened,” when “X happened” was the first sentence of the reading. They call in “sick” to work on Monday after a very public Sunday Funday. They go out the night before a final and wonder why it didn’t go well. After school, presuming they pass the bar, they will probably encounter the attorney discipline and review committee sooner than most.
The first variety is what I like to call Law School Smart. They’re like the Michael Scott’s of the world, except they’re real and not funny and you spend more time looking at them incredulously than finding them endearing. These people are in the top percent of the class, and based on real life interactions with them, it’s unclear how that happened. They CALI a class and send you the outline and it appears as if an 8th grader wrote it. They drive H3’s, one of the few financial decisions worse than law school. They often have no awareness of (or at least concern for) appropriate social customs — they ask anyone anything about whether they got a call back, they blather on about getting a second interview when they know the other candidates who didn’t get second interviews, and often invite themselves into conversations that they were clearly not intended to be part of. In general, they’re seemingly oblivious. But in law school, they manage to excel. I suppose there are people like that in every field. Maybe there’s even something in the legal field that cultivates this kind of behavior.
The real problem for this comes for the kids who aren’t Law School Smart. There are law students who are intelligent, do well in clinic settings, have legal work experience, and in general understand the practical nature of legal work, but their GPA and transcript don’t necessarily reflect that. They are Real Life Smart. But I’ve yet to see an asterisk on a transcript for with that notation. Sure, theoretically their résumé and interview would protect those kids from rejection —- if they ever get that far. But if the qualifications for the position include a class rank they don’t have, employers will never know, and the Real Life Smart kids never have a shot.
How valuable is it really, to be the best law school exam taker? Do practicing attorneys often find themselves in a position where they have to sit in room with 70 other attorneys and write out everything they can think of that relates to the question? Then whoever has the best answer “wins” for their client? Does this kind of skill set ever come up again after the bar exam?
We’re essentially teaching law students how to succeed in law school. Then, we hire them based on their success in law school, all the while acknowledging that law school is not really an appropriate reflection of real life legal work. Just like the LSAT is arguably an indicator of law school success, isn’t law school success an arguable indicator of law practice success? Does it really matter if you’ve memorized the model rules of professional ethics if you aren’t actually competent?