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July 29, 2008

Spence: Law education is a fraud.

We were both intrigued and happy to see this Legal Blog Watch piece by Robert Ambrogi and links to Gerry Spence's blog. My take (with a nod to to Laura Nyro): law schools all over the globe have always attracted or produced their share of semi-literate robots with no guts, no gospel and no soul. They always will. But it's gotten worse. And the best part of many law students' undergraduate education--being steeped in old verities and enduring ideas--is ripped from him or her during the law school process. By age 35, most lawyers I know of any generation are disappointed, burned-out or bored. Reason: their work lives are not enriched by ideals or principles beyond the workaday nuts

and bolts of their job. It is the entire profession's fault (mine included) and problem. From Spence's post:

One need not write poetry or paint pictures to be a successful human being. But some intimacy with the arts and the language and its use and with right brain functions of feeling and creativity are essential to the development of the whole person. Little wonder that lawyers, disabled by all of the stifling, mostly useless mental exercises they have suffered, have trouble relating to jurors much less to the rest of mankind.

Posted by JD Hull at July 29, 2008 12:52 PM



Wow!! Our experiences are so much different. Is it generational? Have I simply had the extraordinary good fortune to work with some great public spirited, lively, arty, funny, robust, generous, literate lawyers?

Or is it just that you can find both great and dull, conscious and unconscious, curious and incurious people in any profession? Here's what e.e. cummings wrote about "most people"

-it's no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. Mostpeople have less in common with ourselves than the squarerootof-minusone. You and I are human beings;mostpeople are snobs.

Take the matter of being born. What does being born mean to most-people? Catastrophe unmitigated. Socialrevolution. The cultured aristocrat yanked out of his hyperexclusively ultravoluptuous super-palazzo,and dumped into an incredibly vulgar detentioncamp swarming with every conceivable species of undesireable organism. Mostpeople fancy a garanteed birthproof safetysuit of nondestructible selflessness. If mostpeople were to be born twice they'd improbably call it dying-

you and i are not snobs. We can never be born enough. We are human beings;for whom birth is a supremely welcome mystery,the mystery of growing:the mystery which happens only and whenever we are faithful to ourselves.

Posted by: Vickie at July 29, 2008 08:06 PM

People, especially business people, SHOULD dislike lawyers. And they do. Most of us are out-to-lunch. It's why we started this blog.

I'm only in San Diego about 10 days a month--anything more would drive me crazy: a high talent but low energy place. Our clients and work are everywhere. For the next month I'll be in Seattle, Dillingham, PA, Ohio, DC, London and Zurich. And Baltimore, if I am unlucky. My normal life. Like most places, SD is swell but a "lawyer town"--not a client town. Clubby and not helping the image of lawyers. We've written about that before. Most American cities are not a place where a sophisticated client is safe. With a few exceptions, it's all about the lawyers. And that must change.

And it CAN change, if people like you--a stoner winner, doer and achiever your whole life--disabuse yourselves of the notion that most lawyers are way cool, or even competent. I am sure your lawyer friends are great. I love my lawyer friends. But lawyers as a group disappoint; our products and services both have gotten worse. The profession has a quality problem. Ask some GCs. Ask some clients. Clients tolerate us--but they would love us if we became active players in their affairs, and not just "dipsticks" who tell them what they cannot do.

Most of my career was spent in DC, first as an associate, later a partner. After I left Washington, I realized that practically anyone can and routinely does become a lawyer; the profession attracts mainly unimaginative and risk-adverse people who will not lead. They merely want to appear to be lawyers. True, lots of "nice" people who can put up with some real-life adversity--but so what?

And we have a morale problem, too. Reason: the wrong people became lawyers. And they no longer give a rat's ass. It shows in their work.

Finally, Spence is right about something. Most lawyers--who are supposed to deal in words and ideas--are not informed about the great ideas, literature and institutions of the past which brought The West, at least, to where it is now. We have no context or frame of reference about our world. We are under-educated. That shows, too.

We can do a lot better. I try to hang with non-lawyers with real ideas and aspirations, and lawyers with a little moxie and soul.

Posted by: Dan Hull at July 29, 2008 06:46 PM

I'd LOVE to be special, but I'm not.

The FIRST time I left practice is the first time I realized I'd just spent seven years (3 law school/4 practice) among some of the most vital, interesting, interested, energetic, curious, multi-talented, driven, brilliant people I was likely to ever know.

I returned to practice the following year after teaching at a local university with some of the dullest, most out-of-touch mediocre, lazy people on the planet -- so much for the life of the mind!

When I took creative writing classes at UCLA in the early '90s, my professors told me that by far the largest percentage of their professional students were -- you got it -- LAWYERS.

My lawyer friends are poets, writers, actors, rock n roll drummers, history-buffs, and nearly all of them are community volunteers.

With all due respect to Spence (who does not work in a law firm) I have worked in firms of 2, 45, 300, 4, and 200. That's at least 500 attorneys over 25 years of practice who I WORKED with -- not to mention those on the joint defense teams with whom I travelled the world gathering testimony about toxic waste sites.

Let's not do ourselves the disservice that people who hate lawyers on principle do. Anyone with the GUTS to enter a profession that requires a 3-day exam AND public speaking is -- as my dear old mother would say -- a "go-getter."

If your experience is that most lawyers are uninspiring, complacent, uncreative and happily mediocre, YOU need to get out of San Diego, my friend!

Posted by: Vickie at July 29, 2008 03:27 PM

Spence is not talking about you, Vickie. My biggest heroes and many of my friends are lawyers or have legal educations--but most lawyers (including trial types like us) are uninspiring, complacent, uncreative, and happily mediocre. Mainly followers, and quite ordinary but nice people. Not much going on; very little to offer. I wish it weren't true.

Posted by: Dan Hull at July 28, 2008 11:14 PM

25 years of litigation practice kept me stimulated, challenged, energized, and sometimes excited. I never stopped reading, writing creatively, being involved in my community, volunteering whenever I could lend a hand, etc. Spence is just being grumpy. Lawyers are among the most vibrant people I know.

Posted by: vickie at July 28, 2008 10:59 PM

I had so wanted to post about this today, but some stupid blawg thingy got in my way. But tomorow is another day.

Posted by: shg at July 28, 2008 04:35 PM

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