The T is for ‘Tarded

Posted in Reasons Not to Go to Law School on October 21st, 2010 by bl1y

When I appeared on the Down by Lawcast I supposedly said something along the lines of the cognitive deficiency that makes people score a 155 on the LSAT is the same deficiency that makes you view that 155 as a sign that law school is the right place for you. Honestly, I don’t remember exactly what I said because I was a couple drinks in and don’t listen to other shows when I’m on them. I have to listen to myself all day long anyways, why make it worse for me? If wouldn’t even listen to my own show if I didn’t have to the audio editing.

Well, apparently a few people took offense to that.  Guess where they fell on the LSAT curve.  If you were one of those people, here’s some math (ah! oh no! numbers is hard!) for you to consider:

The median score for the LSAT is around 151.  So, let’s assume you take the LSAT, get a 158, see that you’re at about 77th percentile, and figure that’s pretty decent, you’ve got 17 percentile points between you and average.

Except then something weird happens between getting your score and going to law school, causing the median score to jump way up.  Actually, two weird things.

First, some people won’t enroll in law school, and the people who don’t enroll are more likely to be on the low end of the spectrum than the high end.  If everyone who got a 140 or lower didn’t enroll anywhere, the median score would go from 151 to 153, and your 77th percentile drops down to 73rd.

Now here’s the second strange thing that happens.  Assume 100 people take the LSAT, 1 person gets a 127 or less, and 1 person gets a 172 or higher (those two numbers are the top and bottom 1%).  The LSAT is offered four times a year, so at the end of a year, you’d expect 4 people with 172+ and 4 people with 127- right?  If you said yes, you probably sucked on the LSAT.

At the end of the year, 4 people will have 172+, but only 1 or 2 people will have a 127-.  Why?  Because low scoring test takers are more likely to retake the exam.  People who do well stop taking it.

How does this affect you?  It means the part of the curve below you consists of a lot of clones, and they’re artificially propping you up.  They’ll stop propping you up in law school and in real life, where they go back to only counting once.

Of course, some people with good scores won’t go to law school (maybe they’ll become doctors instead), and some people with high scores will retake the exam (because they want top 5, not just top 14).  But, in general, people with lower scores are less likely to enroll, and more likely to retake the LSAT.

The LSAT is taken about 150,000 times a year, but law schools enroll only around 45,000 1Ls.  Your 77th percentile that looked so hot before isn’t just dropping down to 73rd, but probably closer to 50th.  If you started at the 50th percentile, you’re not safely in the bottom third.

So now, when you get your 158 on the LSAT, should you still be taking that as a sign you should go to law school?  Probably not.

Of course, the LSAT pretty much only tests logical reasoning and reading comprehension, and if you’re not good at those skills, you’re not going to understand any of this, and you’re probably not going to understand why it’s a bad idea for you to go law school in the first place.  After all, someone has to feed law tier four law school deans.  If not you, then who?

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In Defense of the LSAT

Posted in Uncategorized on February 7th, 2010 by bl1y

You don’t have to poke around sites that talk about law school very long to hear complaints about the LSAT.  They’re mostly some variation on the theme that the LSAT isn’t great at predicting law school performance, or how someone will ultimately perform as a lawyer.  Then, they follow up with some anecdotal evidence, acting as though it completely invalidates the test.

First, let me couch all this by saying that the LSAT should be understood as being merely probabilistic in regards to law school/practice performance.  It doesn’t say that someone with a 170 will do better than someone with a 160, but rather that they are more likely to do better.  It’s an aptitude test and gives schools an idea on the likelihood that you will perform well.

Second, let me also remind you that there is no perfect test.  If you wanted an incredibly predictive test, you’d take law school applicants and put them into a firm’s summer associate program and let them try their hand at doing real life legal work.  This would of course be incredibly expensive, time consuming, and very difficult to evaluate.

Schools are interested in getting students with a high chance of meeting their standards, and they need a test that conveys that sort of information in an efficient way.  So, let’s look at what exactly the LSAT tests.  I think they may have changed the names of the sections recently, but the questions are Logical Reasoning (50%), Reading Comprehension (26%) and Logic Games (24%).

Reading comprehension is a pretty basic skill for a lawyer to have.  So is logical reasoning.  People sometimes think the logic games are completely disconnected from the law school experience, but they’re not.  The logic games are close to pure logic problems and are a test of your deductive skills.  The section called Logical Reasoning is not really logical reasoning, but rather a blend of logic and reading comprehension.

The fact that the LSAT tests the very types of intelligence lawyers rely on is not the real reason it’s a good test for law schools to use.  The LSAT tests skills, not knowledge.  Skills must be developed over time through practice and self-analysis.  So, for the vast majority of the population, performing well on the LSAT is an indication of your ability to do tedious, boring tasks for long periods of time.

Spending your time doing tedious, boring shit, shit that no one’s really that interested in?  That’s exactly what you’ll be experiencing in law school and in the legal profession.  If you can’t sit down and hone your LSAT skills, what makes you think you’re going to be able to sit down and analyze case law for hours on end, or memorize civil procedure rules?

Of course, doing well on the LSAT doesn’t mean you have a great work ethic.  For instance, I majored in analytical philosophy, so I had basically two years of very relevant training before I took the LSAT.  Also, in my elementary school’s gifted program we routinely did logic games style puzzles.  Having trouble with the games?  Then you’re dumber than a bunch of 10 year old redneck kids.

So, while a good score on the LSAT doesn’t mean you’ll be a good student or a good worker, a bad score does mean you’ll be a bad student and a bad worker.  If you couldn’t follow that bit of logic there, I suggest you give up on the LSAT right now.

Another common complaint about the LSAT is from the people who say they “don’t test well.”  This always comes from the people with really high GPAs and terrible LSAT scores.  These people get mismatched numbers for one of two reasons:

1. They can’t handle stress.  The LSAT tests, among other things, your ability to perform under pressure.  If you choke when things get tough, you’re going to bomb your law school exams, fail the bar, and be a terrible lawyer.  Law school and practice is full of stress.  If you want an easy job, go be a professor.

2. They have bullshit majors.  Political science, English, Gender studies, that sort of thing.  Basically all liberal arts.  These are majors where all you really need to get a good GPA is the ability to memorize a small number of facts and then bullshit on essays.  When all you deal with are fuzzy ideas of course you’re going to get your ass kicked by a test that wants you to do cold, hard logic where there is exactly one right answer that is necessarily true based on the information you have.  If math and science kids were doing poorly on the LSAT, we’d know there was a legit problem, but they don’t; they do the best.

Lastly, I’ve heard complaints that it’s possible to “game” the LSAT.  There is in fact one way to game the LSAT.  In logical reasoning sections there is a fairly fixed pattern in the questions.  The difficulty increases as the section goes on, but with two exceptions.  Around questions 3-5 there will be one hard question.  Getting hung up on it will cost you time and points, it’s often best to skip it and come back to it later after you’ve done the other easy questions.  Also, at the end there are 3-4 medium difficulty questions.  Some people never get to them because they get stuck on the very hard questions.  People in the know skip ahead and do them, then tackle the really tough questions.

That’s it.  It can make a difference of a couple points in your raw score, but “gaming” the LSAT won’t take you from a 155 to a 165.  And, for the people scoring over 170, these tricks are useless because even the difficult questions are only moderately challenging.  We finish with plenty of time left.

Some people might think doing the reading comprehension and logic game questions out of order is also gaming the LSAT, but it’s not.  It’s just common sense to examine the reading samples/logic games and see which looks like it’s the easy points and do that first, saving the toughest questions for last.  If you can’t figure that out, you shouldn’t be a lawyer.

If someone can come up with a better idea for a test than the LSAT, I’d love to hear it.  But either way, I think the LSAT is a damn solid test.  And, so do law schools.  They could choose to ignore it if they wanted, but they don’t, because they know it’s actually quite useful.

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Reason Not to Go to Law School #17

Posted in Reasons Not to Go to Law School on January 19th, 2010 by bl1y

You’re too smart/stupid to be a lawyer.

Too Smart.

Students who get into the top law schools are generally quite intelligent (or the beneficiaries of outdated affirmative action programs). A score in the 95th percentile on the LSAT will qualify you for Mensa; this is about a 165-166.

The Duke Law class of 2010 had a 75/25 LSAT of 170/167. If you’re unfamiliar with 75/25 stats, that means the 75th percentile got a 170 and the 25th percentile got a 167. Given that there are several alternative routes to Mensa membership, virtually everyone at Duke could, if so inclined, become a member. Duke is only ranked #10.

I don’t think Mensa membership is the first and last word on what constitutes genius, but I think this gives a pretty decent taste of how smart lawyers at the top schools are. Even freaking Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia thinks we’re wasting too many smart people on law:

“Well, you know, two chiefs ago, Chief Justice Burger, used to complain about the low quality of counsel. I used to have just the opposite reaction. I used to be disappointed that so many of the best minds in the country were being devoted to this enterprise.

I mean there’d be a, you know, a defense or public defender from Podunk, you know, and this woman is really brilliant, you know. Why isn’t she out inventing the automobile or, you know, doing something productive for this society?

I mean lawyers, after all, don’t produce anything. They enable other people to produce and to go on with their lives efficiently and in an atmosphere of freedom. That’s important, but it doesn’t put food on the table and there have to be other people who are doing that. And I worry that we are devoting too many of our very best minds to this enterprise.

And they appear here in the Court, I mean, even the ones who will only argue here once and will never come again. I’m usually impressed with how good they are. Sometimes you get one who’s not so good. But, no, by and large I don’t have any complaint about the quality of counsel, except maybe we’re wasting some of our best minds.”

Now, not many lawyers have the engineering or mathematical aptitude to become great inventors, but surely there is something more productive and meaningful all these intelligent people could be doing with their time, like working in microfinance or inventing Settlers of Catan.

Too Stupid.

The flip side of the problem is that many law students are just too damn stupid to be trusted as attorneys. For example, a girl I know who goes to a lower ranked Tier 1 law school in New Jersey came to me with a very serious situation. Her neighbor had gone out of town for a few weeks, and had parked on the street in such a way that his car slightly blocked her drive way. Well, one day she didn’t quite clear the car and ended up putting a minor scratch on it.

She did nothing about it and let several days pass. Then, she came to be, completely freaking out, thinking that she could potentially be prosecuted for hit and run. I decided to screw with her and say that she could. But, any reasonable person would have two ways of quickly finding out that a criminal prosecution was not in the cards.

First, you could Google “New Jersey hit and run law” and figure out in about two minutes that one of the elements of hit and run is that someone has to be seriously injured. When you scrape an unoccupied car, that’s not very likely to happen.

Second, you could tap into your general knowledge about American culture and remember the remedy for scratching a car: you leave a note, the owner calls you, you pay to fix the paint or whatever. What doesn’t happen is you leave a note and the owner calls the cops and they throw you in prison for 18 months.

If you can’t manage a simple Google search, or understand extremely basic policy concepts, you shouldn’t be a lawyer. And, if you’re reading this and think that you’re smarter than that, odds are you aren’t. Her school is ranked in the 40-50 range, which is probably higher than your school. You just think you’re smarter, but you’re too dumb to know you’re wrong.

Maybe there are some people who are just smart enough to handle the reading comprehension and logical reasoning law requires, but aren’t smart enough to do anything truly useful in society, but they probably account for less than 10% of current law students.

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Reason Not to Go to Law School #8

Posted in Reasons Not to Go to Law School on January 11th, 2010 by bl1y

There’s too many God damn law students.

The New York Times has reported that since The Economy Happened there has been a 20% increase in LSAT takers. Naturally, this is leading to an increase in students applying to law school (some schools have reported more than a 50% increase in applications).

On the other end, law schools are not rapidly expanding their lecture halls and hiring new professors. Nope, the available seats in good law schools is going to remain pretty much the same. So, getting into a decent law school is going to be a lot harder, and you can expect your future class mates to be even more competitive and douchebaggy.

Just to make things worse, third and fourth tier diploma mills have been cropping up all over the place thanks to the ABA practically endorsing degrees not worth the Kinkos paper they’re printed on. And unlike the good schools, they will be more than happy to widen their doors to take in more suckers. So, if you go to a mid-ranked school, when you graduate you’re going to have a huge number of kids from crappy schools competing for the same jobs.

Now, you might be thinking students at shit schools won’t hurt your job prospects, but some 30,000 students graduate from TTTs every year, and the numbers are going up. A 20% increase in those students, means another 6000 hungry lawyers in the job market. If you only have to compete with the top 5-10% from those schools (and you probably will), that’s 300-600 fewer job opportunities for you.

If you happen to be one of those TTT students…I’d feel sorry for you, but I don’t feel sorry for dumbasses who should have known better than to go to such a shitty school in the first place. However, I will offer you a gratuitous hottie as a consolation prize.

And look, she’s upside down! It’s practically a metaphor for how the rest of your life will turn out if you decide to go to law school.

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