The followup to Lawrence Mitchell’s specious law school editorial

A friend observed that more than a few people savaged the editorial I discussed in “The specious reasoning in Lawrence M. Mitchell’s ‘Law School Is Worth the Money.'” The savaging doesn’t surprise me. Sometimes there are two sides to a story, but sometimes the evidence in favor of one side or interpretation is so strong that only a fool would disbelieve it.

If you know anything at all about law schools and the structure of law schools, it’s impossible not to see Mitchell’s piece as self-serving and disingenuous at best, and cruelly mendacious at worst. The kindest thing to be said is that Mitchell might simply be experiencing the intellectual blindness all of us suffer from occasionally. Chuck Klosterman, however, is the subject of this piece and defends law school out of ignorance. I don’t mean that as a synonym for stupid, as so many people do: I mean it in the dictionary sense, “lack of knowledge or information.” That shows in his response. Sometimes outsiders can make valuable observations that insiders miss. Sometimes they’re merely ignorant about an issue or field. He’s the latter.

The Mystal piece gets this right:

Heck, when I decided to go to law school, I kind of thought that I was signing up to go to “College II: This Time It Counts.” But that kind of casual connection misses a great big point: law school is a professional school. People go there to become professionals.

This attitude is really common among the 22 – 24-year-old set. It describes a part of my attitude at that age. Unfortunately, it’s also a tremendous mistake because of the money involved. Law schools have clearly evolved into institutions that work to extract as much money as possible from their nominal students. And the feds are enabling them to do so. There are differences between the federal student loan guarantees and what the big banks did in the leadup to the housing crisis, but the similarities are profound. I think the reckoning will play out differently, but it will play out.

I should clarify that I’m not arguing law school is bad for everyone, all the time. It isn’t. If you have the kind of personality that thrives in big-firm cultures, if you get into one of the top three law schools, if you have the self-certainty and tenacity necessary to be a top lawyer, fighting with other top lawyers: law school might be for you. But that’s maybe ten to twenty percent of the current law school population. The rest are being had, and are eventually going to tire of being had by law schools and their own bad judgment.

Something’s wrong, but you don’t know what: the stupid person’s paradox and the Dunning-Kruger Effect

“Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is:” What happens when you’re too incompetent to judge that you’re incompetent? One of my friends teaches the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) and calls this the stupid person’s paradox—you’re too stupid to realize that you’re stupid. He often found evidence of the stupid person’s paradox in students with high GPAs in very easy majors who then wondered why they were terrible at the test and/or couldn’t read effectively.

I like that name better than the “the Dunning-Kruger Effect,” which finds that “our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence.” I wonder if understanding the effect makes us less likely to susceptible to it, or merely makes us implicitly smug that we’re smart enough to understand it and “they” aren’t, but in actuality we suffer just as much.

I find this bit of the article especially interesting:

DAVID DUNNING: People will often make the case, “We can’t be that stupid, or we would have been evolutionarily wiped out as a species a long time ago.” I don’t agree. I find myself saying, “Well, no. Gee, all you need to do is be far enough along to be able to get three square meals or to solve the calorie problem long enough so that you can reproduce. And then, that’s it. You don’t need a lot of smarts. You don’t have to do tensor calculus. You don’t have to do quantum physics to be able to survive to the point where you can reproduce.” One could argue that evolution suggests we’re not idiots, but I would say, “Well, no. Evolution just makes sure we’re not blithering idiots. But, we could be idiots in a lot of different ways and still make it through the day.”

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