How to Feed a Lawyer (and Other Irreverent Observations from the Legal Underground)

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Taco John

You mentioned one objection, but just dismissed it without saying why it was invalid. It seems that your argument is that public interst legal research and writing is not substantially different than "normal" legal research and writing. So why devote the resources to the class? It would seem to me at that point, you are just having a class to promote one area of law practice over another. And you seem to imply that if someone was dissatisfied with public interest law, they could easily switch to private practice, but not the other way around. Am I misunderstand something, or is there something that makes the switch one way possible but not the other?

It seems to me that the whole point of the class would be to expose people to one type of law, not teach them a set of skills necessary in that particular field. A law school shouldn't do anything to promote one field over another, aside from promoting its distinctive programs. Perhaps only 56 of 180 law schools responded to the survey because, as you guessed, only 56 law schools felt they had programs which were distinctive enough. 56 is a decent number of places to choose from. Asking a school to rank its public interest law program when it has none or does not focus on that area of practice is the same as asking why a school does not promote its IP law program, sports and entertainment law program, or maritime law program. They just don't have the programs.


"So why devote the resources to the class? It would seem to me at that point, you are just having a class to promote one area of law practice over another."

I can add another GW perspective. Our Legal research is taught in small sections of 10-12, but the problems and assignments are shared by the entire 1L class of 400 some.

I think this program could be a benefit for the PI minded even if the only effort exerted to create it would be finding the people -- students and staff -- and putting them in the right section. Even if the assignments were the same as the rest, I think this could be a benefit, mostly for the social networks that are formed inside these sections, and for how some of us look the adjuncts as a mentor contact in the faculty.

But yes. Its a class to promote one area of law practice over another. Just like any other class in law school.


Great post! I am pleased to say that my school did participate, and is a member school. We don't have a specific PI section for Legal Writing (to my knowledge) but we have extended legal writing requirements. All students take the same legal writing course our first year, then second year, we have a drafing course, and then a course with area specific projects--you could specialize in public interest law. Third year, there is a seminar requirement, so you could also use that to gain more public interest experience.

It is a shame, though, that only 56 schools participated...


Taco, you wrote: "A law school shouldn't do anything to promote one field over another, aside from promoting its distinctive programs."

I disagree generally, but beyond that, my argument rests on the fact that many law schools (certainly my own) already *do* promote one field of law over all others -- that's the BigLaw, big firm, private practice law where the billable hour and the fat annual salary are king. One PI-LRW section at each school would be a tiny but meaningful show of support for a different type of career and practice that is sadly neglected in the legal academy.

Oh, and one more reason schools should not worry about "trapping" students in a PI career path: That's a paternalistic concern that's particularly unbecoming and unnecessary to graduate level education. By the time people get to law school, they are (or ought to be) old and mature enough to make and be responsible for their career choices. No school needs to "protect" its students from the horrible fate of being a PI lawyer; the "market" generally does a fine job of that, anyway.


I went to law school a long time ago now, so my observations may not be releavant to the current state of things, but I disagree with ambimb that law schools are directing students to BigLaw over other types of law.

On the contrary, when I went to law school the professorships were populated by professors who were very much at odds with law firms and typical practice. As a rule, they were liberal, given to causes, and tended to have a cause oriented view of practice. More than one of them had organizations they were involved with, and involved students in, that were "public interest" aspects of the law.

That is, in part, what is wrong with law schools. It isn't that they take a big practice approach to teaching. Rather, law schools are devorced, to a large extent, from the practice. I know some professors participate here, and I'm likely insulting them, but most law professors I knew had practiced very little, and had very little idea what any sort of career in the law was actually like. There were exceptions, of course, and the exceptions tended to have much more practical approaches to teaching.

On another matter, law students often have all sorts of ideas about where they are going to end up in the law. Probably about 1% actually do what they plan. In the third year it dawns on most students that they need to get a job. That becomes paramount. Unless a person is idependantly wealthy, picking and choosing a path in the law is not an option at that stage for most students. Some will end up in PI jobs, but most won't make a career out of it as they can't. There are exceptions, but the exceptions are to the rule, not the rule.

For that reason law schools which would spend a great deal of effort on PI type interests risk fooling the students into believing that they are going to leave school and enter an exciting, public interest, related field. Most of them are not. Law schools have already fooled the students into thinking that they will be working on big causes, full of excitement, with glamour etc., which is also incorrect. No need to fool them even further.


At my school, I found that the school pushed public interest to the point of frequently denigrating firms and, perhaps more troubling, those who wanted to work in firms. It left enough of a bad taste in my mouth that I declined to attend the school's public interest career fair. I really like my law school, but this is one of the few things I dislike about it. There is an orthodoxy of opinion with regard to suitable careers that puts me off.

In any case, they do quite a bit in the Career Services office, at least at my school, to promote PI. But my school is a public school, and doesn't rely on the big bucks graduates as much as the private schools. That may be the difference.


Transmogriflaw's experiences more or less mirror mine, although mine are no doubt more more antiquated.

Indeed I found that while I went to a public school, my school did take in large sums of money from certain regionally important industries. This didn't stop those industries from being attacked in law school classes, however. Far from it. One industry actually found itself the victum of suits that were lead by a professor which tended to fail, but tended to be constantly refiled. Working on them was practically a class project for some classes (elective classes). They actually ultimately complained to the university about school resources being used to repeatedly challenge them, but their complaint did no good.

This outlook was so pronounced in certain elective classes dealing with these issues that in the one class I took that was in the area, but which was presented straight, it was actually a shock. The students weren't really prepared not to have the professor use the class as a lecture against the industry which it concerned.


Yeoman & Transmogriflaw: This is fascinating news to me; I haven't heard anecdotes like this from anyone else about any other schools. I would definitely be curious to know what schools you attended that pushed PI law so forcefully. Perhaps it's time for me to transfer. ;-)

At GW, the default is the firm life; some professors remember to make caveats now and then for those of us who aren't going to firms, but generally hypos and comments or advice about post-school life are firm-focused.

Beyond that, I suspect students vary in their perceptions of their school's bias. I have little doubt someone at GW (or maybe large numbers) feel very put off by the small amount of effort the school makes to support PI law. In fact, I know this is true b/c I worked on the EJF public interest auction and heard rumblings occasionally from people who resented the "special treatment" we got to make the auction a success.

However, the fact that different students will have differing subjective opinions about a school's support for public interest law doesn't affect the value of a PI legal writing section -- at least not as far as I'm concerned. As I said, such a section would allow students to self-select, so if you're a student who doesn't want to hear about PI law all the time you can stay far away from the PI section and not be bothered. Also, such a section would be another data point to add to objective measures of a school's support for PI law. It's one thing if professors talk about it frequently, it's another thing if there's clear evidence of institutional support.

In the end, the idea will probably not be necessary or helpful at all schools, but I'm confident some (including GW) would benefit a great deal, and I think the legal profession would benefit in the long run, as well.


Sorry, I should have made it more clear that I think that a PI section is a good idea. I think my school would probably support the idea. I think it's a great concept myself, as well.

I only wanted to point out that not all schools are anti-PI. Mine certainly promotes PI over firms. OCI is probably the only pro-firm activity the school engages in; the rest is geared towards PI.


I pretty much agree with Trasnmogriflaw, except that at the school I went to, public interest efforts were so well recognized that I doubt there would be anything else they need to do. Of course, it may have changed, but I doubt it.

I probably should note that at the time I went to law school I was really liberal, poltically, myself. As odd as it may sound, I was more liberal than I really was. That is, a variety of factors made me take liberal positions to a greater extent than I naturally would have, even though even now I tend to be politically liberal, or perhaps centerist.

So, the liberal bias I saw in law school did not bother me at the time, although it was certainly clear to me it was there.

The problem that may occur here, however, is that this tends to cloud what actual practice will be like to those who have no preexisting exposure to the law. And I did not. Nor did many of the rest of us. After getting into practice, I've come too feel that law school did a very poor job of exposing us to the practicalities of law.

Truth be known, big issues are something most lawyers will never work with, even those who want to. And the issues that end up mattering to practicing lawyers often are not recognizable to students as big issues. I have several state supreme court cases to my name that are really big, in terms of their effect on tort law here. But they likely don't hit the interest meter in law school.


So, the liberal bias I saw in law school did not bother me at the time, although it was certainly clear to me it was there.


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