The notion that the current law school paradigm is an ineffective and/or inefficient method for producing new lawyers is nothing new. But every day of my life—particularly days I pay my student loan bill—I grow increasingly convinced that it’s not just a faulty system in need of some tweaks, but a god awful abomination in need of an exorcism and/or disembowelment. To illustrate why, I’d like to analogize this to learning a skill we can all (hopefully) understand: Super Mario Brothers.
What if playing Super Mario Brothers was a real profession (outside of South Korea, I mean)? Now, say our society decided that, because of the importance of highly-skilled Mario players to society, it was going to create a standardized educational process for producing new highly-skilled Mario players. How would that work? Well, if it was anything like law school, first you would start by taking classes on “core” Mario skills, which basically means the type of Mario knowledge you’ll be tested on when you take the Mario licensing exam. You’d take classes like Enemies, Jumping, Attacks, Worlds and Basic Boss Tactics. In these classes you’d learn about the history of the Nintendo System and the Mario video game series and all the different enemies and characters and lands and worlds and obstacles and upgrades and prizes that exist throughout the series. You’d hear about mushrooms and flowers and feathers, memorizing what they did and classic tactics for their use. Maybe you’d learn about some of the more famous places in the Mario World, making flashcards of item locations, major cheeses and pitfalls, etc. Then maybe you’d take classes on advanced tactics for the more difficult bosses and strategies for defeating them as well. After that you’d take some elective classes designed to really get you to “think like a gamer” so that you could make the spontaneous and quick-witted moves necessary for success when employing traditional Mario tactics failed to get satisfactory results. Or maybe you’d elect to take some classes where you went really in depth on Super Mario Brothers 3 so you could get official Mario 3 certification in addition to your Mario degree and become a specialist Mario companies hired when they needed someone to really kick ass and take names at Mario 3.
Then, once you’d gotten sufficiently edumacated on all the main aspects of all the important editions of the Mario series, you’d spend a couple months and about $3,000 re-studying all the crap you studied during Mario school. Finally, at long last, you’d be allowed to sit for a multi-day test on all the different things you had learned about in Mario school, not really quite as in depth as you got in any of your classes, but superficially covering pretty much everything in the “core” Mario subjects. Some official, licensed Mario experts would grade your test, and if you got a good enough score you would become an official, licensed Mario expert yourself and people you met would assume you were really, really good at Mario.
Then, after all that was done, you could finally pick up the controller and play the game.
Of course, you’d be horrible at first because you would have never actually played Mario except maybe for those two hours that one time where you fulfilled your Mario school’s “practical training requirement” and got to play as Luigi while your mentor, a seasoned official, licensed Mario expert took the first player controller and did most of the leg work. Big Mario companies who understood the system would of course expect this and wouldn’t let you do any serious Mario playing until you’d been with them for years. But plenty of private citizens might hire you to play some Mario for them without realizing you really had no clue what you were doing. Perhaps, with all the Mario you were now playing as an official, licensed Mario expert you’d actually get really good fairly quickly, but you’d also probably screw over a lot of people who thought you knew what you were doing and who trusted you and paid you mad stacks of gold coins to play Mario for them while you learned the ropes and had to hit continue a lot.
That’s basically how we train lawyers in our society (and many, if not most other professions for that matter). When I was in law school I used to think “Okay, well the system needs some improvement but it can be salvaged by some sort of mandatory internship/residency program with a law firm after law school like they do in medical schools.” And I’m sure that would work to create more skilled lawyers before turning them loose on the general public. But why, why, why? It’s such an inefficient waste of time. It does not need to take even remotely that long. The only real reason I can see for why it is this way is to serve entrenched interests. First, the difficulty of becoming a lawyer creates a high barrier to entry, which stifles competition and allows those who are already lawyers to charge more for less. Second, legal education industry is itself an entrenched interest abhorrent to change. Law schools are cash cows for universities. They require minimal facilities and can charge top dollar even when they’re lower tier schools. Maybe these views are overly cynical, but cynicism is one thing I did manage to learn quite a bit of in law school.
Why, in the holy hell, do we need law school at all? How about we make law an undergraduate major and then have students go straight to an internship/residency sort of thing for a few years afterwards (you know, how it was essentially done for hundreds of years before our modern system). I used to be a huge believer in formal education, but honestly, the older I get the more useless it seems. Not just in law school, but in everything. Law school is just a particularly egregious example. Most of the best learning I’ve done has been on my own or on the job. When you learn on your own you generally only learn about things that really spark an interest in you. That sort of personal motivation is a far better catalyst for acquiring a deep understanding of something than the threat-and-prize-based motivational system we use now (i.e. the threat of failure through test, grade and inability to get the sweet prize of a high paying job). And when you learn on the job, the immediate necessity of needing to learn what you need to serve your customer/employer/dark lord and master is a much better motivator (not to mention far more efficient since you only learn what you need) than the vague, distant “you might need to know this someday” sort of crap we dish out now that usually ends up being about 10% true, if that, beyond the licensing exam. Please, let’s end this madness and burn down every law school in this country. Nobody has to lose their jobs. Our current law professor class can just move into being undergraduate professors and continue to spit out law review articles only they and their five closest coworkers will read. And I’m sure there’s a place in the bloated, cholesterol-caked hearts of our undergraduate administrative bureaucracies to incorporate all the other staff. It’s a win-tie situation.