October 29, 2013

"Law attracts some very bright people. But it is not profound. It is one of the simplest professional fields."

"... The young are analytically sharper than the old but lack experience. In an analytically weak field, experience may be essential to successful problem solving."

Writes Richard Posner, the 74-year-old judge, in his "Reflections on Judging."

AND: In line with this stress on real-world problem-solving is this proposal for law schools:
Law schools should require students who lack a technical background... to take a course in accounting and a course in statistics; a course that places a field or fields of law in its (or their) technological context; and at least one course, elsewhere in the university, of a purely scientific or technical character, such as applied math, statistics, economics (at the level at which it employs calculus and statistical analysis), physics, physiology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, some branch of engineering, or environmental or computer science.... If room needs to be made in the curriculum by cutting or shortening other courses, there is a good place to start: it is called constitutional law. Dominated as it is by the most political court in the land, constitutional law occupies far too large a role in legal education.

47 comments:

EDH said...

You shouldn't be allowed into law school before the age of 25 with at least three years of private sector work experience.

jimbino said...

Wow, it's great to see Posner beating my drum.

He needed to point out, however, that our very SCOTUS has 8 humanities majors, in the Roma- Catholic-Jewish alliance of 9, who have no sophistication whatsoever in STEM or Economics, Breyer being the exception.

And don't look to POTUS or COTUS, of course, to find either an atheist or scientist.

Our medical and legal establishment is overwhelmingly peopled by religious folks who did their damnedest to avoid any STEM but "baby math" and "baby physics" in college, so as not to risk suffering a B that might interfere with acceptance to professional school.

traditionalguy said...

Law is not that smart. Dickens has it right in Bleak House.

But it provides a sense of justice and "hearings" for the injured, which is what puts the vigilantes out of business.

The men and women who need a strong education in the real world are the Judges, especially the Trial level judges. But most of them are too powerful to seek knowledge.

As for Constitutional Law, that is where the best and the ethical are needed. Good job, Clarence Thomas.

mtrobertsattorney said...

Posner leaves out philosophy. But that isn't surprising.

I read somewhere he is a devoted follower of Nietzsche. He's the fellow who equated power with truth. So naturally, Posner is infatuated with technocrats.

Those law students who have a technical background should be required to take at least four philosophy courses: a beginning course and 3 advanced courses.

This should help them avoid a malady that seems to affect many of them: that they think they know what they really do not know.

madAsHell said...

Law attracts some very bright people

My wife is a lawyer. There was a party where a female lawyer assumed that engineering, and lawyering were the same.

I told her that "Gravity is a cruel judge".

She never talked to me again.

Mick Havoc said...

Are lawyers any better at their craft now than they were when they wrote their lessons out on a shovel with charcoal by firelight?

Mick Havoc said...

And isn't it about balance?

Too much heart or too much head both lead to perdition

Lem said...

"... bright but not profound."

Posner Pens Stealth Attack On President Obama to Coincide with Lowering Prez Job Approval.

Althouse Enables.

EDH said...

AND: ...If room needs to be made in the curriculum by cutting or shortening other courses, there is a good place to start: it is called constitutional law. Dominated as it is by the most political court in the land, constitutional law occupies far too large a role in legal education.

Hits so close to home. I expected at least some commentary from Althouse.

Kirk Parker said...

"... glib but not profound."

FIFY.

FleetUSA said...

"our medical and legal establishment is overwhelming peopled ...avoid any STEM..."

There is no way you can get into Med School taking baby courses. Now maybe they could benefit with a good English grammar course as I understand new MDs aren't gifted writers.

Skyler said...

I learned in law school that opinions written by Posner are usually poorly written and that he is quite impressed with himself, especially his own belief in his ability to understand technology and especially economics, despite having no degree in those fields.

Constitutional law is not all politics, of course, and cutting that class from the curriculum is like telling a plumber he need not learn brazing. But as it is mostly political it could stand to lose the pretext that there is logic involved and just treat much of it as simply arbitrary rules.

"Gravity is a cruel judge" is one of the funniest lines I've heard in a long time.

Larry J said...

Several years ago, I atteneded a college graduation party for a friend's child. One of her friends from high school was also there. He'd just graduated at the top of his class from the Colorado School of Mines (a very good school) with an engineering degree and was going to attend Harvard Law that fall. I never saw him again but I always wanted to ask him about an engineer's view of law school.

David said...

I can't say something nice, so I won't say anything at all.

Larry J said...

A quick Google search turned up the guy I was talking about. I'm almost certain this is him.

Graduated top of his class from SoM in engineering and Harvard Law. How many others can there be with that background?

pm317 said...

He presided over one too many patent infringement cases?

I have heard lawyers who don't understand technology generally distort claims to a point of unrecognizable by its inventors.

wildswan said...

Interesting that he admits that the courts are polarized and political. But studying economics won't help - the problem is the size and intrusiveness of government and also the fact that it has begun outright trampling on religious liberties - and that is so that it can have death panels.
Ten years from now - "If you like your life, you can keep it." Yeah,we know
"If we like your life, you can keep it."
It's just a little difference, a different pronoun, "we" vs. "you" and a shorter pronoun too. "We" has only two letters. Soon it will be substituted in the videos.

Bruce Hayden said...

Interesting where the discussion has gone here - STEM and law. I came ot of 15 years of software engineering, before becoming an attorney, almost 25 years before. Still, my first love is software, not law. In patent law, there seem to be two types of practitioners, those who are engineers at heart, and those who are attorneys at heart, or, maybe those who have worked as engineers a bit, and those who go straight to law school and never really practice engineering first. We, the ones who were engineers first think that we do the better job, because we do a much better job at understanding how the underlying inventions actually work. Think of the difference being engineers with law degrees, and lawyers with engineering degrees.

We are, again, trying to get the innumerate Supreme Court to clarify the law about statutory subject matter and whether or not software can be patentable. That it isn't fully patentable is more, I think, a reflection on that innumeracy than it is about the merits. The argument seems to revolve around the problem that those who have never worked with software think of software as abstract, and abstract thought is not patentable. Moreover, laws of nature are not patentable, algorithms use laws of nature, and software programs are just sophisticated algorithms. Never the less, hundreds of billions of dollars are spent creating this abstract thought every year, and hundreds of billions are ultimately made. And, that type of abstract thought is keeping many millions from signing up for health insurance right now. We filed a Cert brief a week or so ago pointing out that their two strands of cases are irreconciliable. The original case here was from the early 1970s, and some of those Justices were born in the 1970s. The Justices today were not, and, apparently their only excuse for so misunderstanding something so basic is that almost all of them are almost commpletely scientificly illiterate.

EDH said...

Larry J said...
Several years ago, I atteneded a college graduation party for a friend's child...

And of all things, you told him to go into "plastics".

Jay Vogt said...

As a consumer of legal services, I can say that I almost never come across an attorney that isn't quite bright.

However, it is true that (at least in contracts and securities) it is never a good idea to retain a primary counsel who is under the age of 45.

There is simply too great of a risk that in a practical sense they won't have a sufficiently dense understanding of the practicalities at hand. Sometimes they won't even have a grasp of the required vocabulary.

jazzmajora said...

Our medical and legal establishment is overwhelmingly peopled by religious folks who did their damnedest to avoid any STEM but "baby math" and "baby physics" in college, so as not to risk suffering a B that might interfere with acceptance to professional school.

I'm a proud exception to your categorization: I'm an attorney who earned a BS in mathematics. I loved sciences at university, and I couldn't decide which discipline I liked best (or which ones I disliked the most), so I wallowed in engineering, chemistry, physics, and math classes until I HAD to graduate. I'm kind of a scientific tinker: I know a little about a lot of things, but I'm not really a master of any. However, scientific methodology and mastering mathematical proofs were spectacular training for legal analysis. I'm very, very grateful for my "technical" training.

Freder Frederson said...

Posner's undergraduate degree is in English. I guess he regrets not majoring in science or economics.

LarsPorsena said...

".....Our medical and legal establishment is overwhelmingly peopled by religious folks who did their damnedest to avoid any STEM but "baby math" and "baby physics" in college, so as not to risk suffering a B that might interfere with acceptance to professional school..."

_____________________________


".....Our political, news/entertainment and legal establishment is overwhelmingly peopled by irreligious folks who did their damnedest to avoid any STEM but "baby math" and "baby physics" in college, so as not to risk suffering a B that might interfere with acceptance to professional school..."

Fixed it for you.



10/29/13, 10:42 PM

Hagar said...

I forget the wording, but the definition of an engineer is someone who applies scientific principles to the natural world for the purpose of building or making something for practical use by humankind.

So, how did they come up with "software engineer"?

jimbino said...

FleetUSA contends "There is no way you can get into Med School taking baby courses."

This is not true, of course. The requirements for admission to Johns Hopkins Med School are satisfied by a class in statistics and one in baby physics, which is the only physics you get if you don't know calculus:

D. MATHEMATICS
Calculus and/or statistics, one year (6-8 semester hours).
Mathematics courses should enable the student to develop equations, to interpret graphical representations of function and to evaluate probability involved in testing hypotheses in the study of natural phenomena. Advanced placement credit for calculus, if acceptable to the student’s undergraduate college, may be used in the fulfillment of the math requirement. Regardless of such credit, it is strongly recommended that applicants take at least one semester of statistics or epidemiology.

E. PHYSICS
General college physics with laboratory, one year (8 semester hours).
The student should have an understanding of the constants and units of physical measurement, Newtonian mechanics, the physical properties of various states of matter, such as liquids, solids and gasses, and the basic aspects of electricity, magnetism and optics, and their applications to living systems. Advanced Placement credit for physics, if acceptable to the student’s undergraduate college, may be used in fulfillment of the physics requirement.

The laboratory portion of this requirement is expected to equip the student with practical understanding of the process of scientific inquiry and to gain insight into how scientific knowledge is discovered and validated.

Bruce Hayden said...

How did they come up with "software engineer"? Because, like with other engineers, they build things. And, there are a lot of basic principles that they they use to do so. 1+1=2, etc

Also, I must also admit that some of it was that they were trying to get acceptance with other engineering disciplines, which they really have - for example, the IEEE accepts them, along with electrical and other types of engineers, for membership, and publishes all sorts of journals on software engineering, as they do for electrical engineering.

I have quite enjoyed the spectical of President Obama, on down, talking about jumping in, pen to coding pad, to just get the ObamaCare web site to work in quick order. Kinda like them jumping in to carry pieces of iron in order to help finish a bridge. Except that they couldn't even think of carrying the equivalent of pieces of iron when it comes to software, and besides, the problem isn't the iron in the bridge, but the bridge itself. They appear to have absolutely no idea what they don't know here, and are completely clueless. They are so clueless that they apparently don't just not know how software and software design work, they don't have any idea how to oversee or manage a software project either. Imagine waiting 3 years into a 3 1/2 year development to finalize the specifications and requirements for a bridge, or expecting the bridge to come in on time and under budget when the contract is given to a friend of the wife.

Bruce Hayden said...

I should have said that software depends on 1+1=10 (base 2). The interesting thing is that that is really only true in our small part of the universe. Sure, 1+1 usually is close to 2 (10 base 2), and the difference between 1+1 and 2 is undetectable here but it is because we are living and working in Euclidian space. Man used to think that the Earth was essentially flat and it is, for most practical reasons absent high speed or air travel, and is so from our typical frame of reference. But, in the extended universe, parallel lines can intersect, and you can have multiple shortest distances between two points (e.g. a gravity lens that uses gravity to warp space and/or bend light). But, just like we can use the simplifying assumption that the earth is flat, and parallel lines don't meet, to build bridges and buildings, we can use 1+1=2 (or 10 binary) to build computer programs that work.

(One of my favorite classes as an undergraduate was in non-Euclidian geometries, where the class essentially was an exercise in "let's pretend" for the class every day).

Bruce Hayden said...

Getting back to the difference between law and engineering - one big difference is that engineering is much more black and white. The bridge stands, or it falls down. The program runs and gives the right answer, or it doesn't. Law involves a lot of shades of gray, and really few absolutes. This is the flip side of what a lot of practicing engineers face when they move into the law. It is hard for a lot of them to handle the problem that in law, there are rarely right and wrong answers,, but rather, they are kinda right and kinda wrong, and you get rewarded for arguing well for a wrong answer.

Larry J said...

Bruce Hayden said...

(One of my favorite classes as an undergraduate was in non-Euclidian geometries, where the class essentially was an exercise in "let's pretend" for the class every day).


If you've ever studied long range navigation or celestial mechanics, an understanding of spherical geometry is quite useful.

Smilin' Jack said...

Our Constitution is mostly unintelligible gibberish, and our law is whatever a bunch of meretricious dullards think will get them reelected. It is sad that any truly bright person would waste his talents on "studying" it--unless maybe he's an anthropologist.

Hagar said...

But they do not build "things," it is all in their heads.
Engineers build "things."

Perhaps "software architects" would be a better term; arranging "things," if you look at the electrons flying around as "things." Personally, I have trouble thinking of even EE's in electronics as "engineers." EE's in power generation and transmission (excellent fields for good pay and job security, BTW) certainly, but designers of cellphones? Industrial designers would be a better term, and I do not see why professional registration should be a requirement.

(Though some contractors have told me that if I did not adress them in more respectful terms, they would begin referring to me as an "architect"!)

What is wrong with "software developer"? That is what they do, right?

Hagar said...

..."architect"

Bruce Hayden said...

Industrial designers would be a better term, and I do not see why professional registration should be a requirement.

Professional registration is not a requirement, and is, indeed, rare, when you get into microelectronics. Power, etc., sure. But the whole point of registration, or whatever you term a PE, is for public safety. You supposedly need protection from people trying to design and build things who don't have sufficient training and experience. Something like that. But, with, say, Intel, if it doesn't work, you don't sue the engineer, but rather, the multinational company. They are the ones on the hook for engineering malpractice, and are the ones screening the engineers for competence.

Let me suggest though that building a modern microprocessor, from the ground up, is a significantly greater engineering accomplishment than, say, building a bridge or a building. The big difference is that it takes a lot more design effort. But, then, most of the engineers involved in microprocessor design are doing design, while most of those involved in building a bridge are actually building it. Much of the work in actually building the microprocessors is fairly automated. And, one of the things that Intel does extremely well is to take one process, refine it, and then make it operational at numerous fabs around the world. (One of those things that you don't really appreciate, until you work for a competitor that doesn't operate that way).

Another reason that terming much of electrical engineering as industrial design, or the like, is that it ignores that much of what has gone on in microelectronics over the last 40 years has pushed the frontiers of science, far more than the average ME or Civil engineer does. Quantum tunneling? Microprocessors wouldn't work without it these days. Speed of electricity? A real problem when microprocessors are operating at the speeds that they do now. Capacitance due to adjacent components? Became a major concern as feature sizes shrunk - if you have wires running in the same direction along side each other, they can greatly affect each other, esp. at ultra low amperages. How do you use light to etch features in ICs, when the size of the features approaches that of the light waves being used to etch them? Turns out that the lasers over-etch, and, without compensating for such, gates and interconnections between layers don't work consistently (which is a primary goal - that 1+1=10 (base 2)). And, these were the physics related problems that were being faced a bit over a decade ago when I was working on patents there. I expect that they would be worse today, as the limits imposed by the laws of nature are approached ever more closely.

Larry J said...

Hagar said...
I forget the wording, but the definition of an engineer is someone who applies scientific principles to the natural world for the purpose of building or making something for practical use by humankind.

So, how did they come up with "software engineer"?


I suppose it depends on what type of software you're talking about. When you're talking about a smartphone app or common computer application, there likely isn't much software engineering taking place. When you're talking about the software that makes fly-by-wire systems used in airliners function with extreme reliability with hundreds of lives on the line in each airplane, you'd better believe they applied software engineering practices. They did it, if for no other reason, because of the liability issues in the event of a crash. A Boeing 777 can carry over 300 people. If you have an accident that kills everyone on board, Boeing could easily be facing a billion dollars worth of lawsuits. They have to be able to defend themselves by showing they used the industry best practices when creating those programs. While the high degree of automation on airliners can contribute to some accidents (as in the case of that Korean airliner that crashed in San Francisco last summer), that same automation is one of the biggest factors to the extremely low accident rate over the past 10+ years.

Hagar said...

In your example the software controls the engines and aircraft designed by the engineers, so it is agreed that software can be very intricate, sophisticated, and certainly important; it just is not engineering, it is not about "things"!

Kirk Parker said...

Bruce,

As a software developer and consultant, and one who is completely against software patents, I do see your point.

Could we perhaps agree, however, on a moratorium on any more software patents until the PTO develops enough expertise to evaluate software claims adequately; demonstrated by them going through and revoking all the previously-granted patents that don't meet the tests of novelty and non-obviousness?

Hagar said...

"Engine" and "engineer" have to be related, and an engine is a contraption.
A line of code is not a contraption.

Kirk Parker said...

Heck, I'd even be satisfied by trashing the ones that didn't meet the laugh test on novelty and non-obviousness.

Kirk Parker said...

" 'Engine' and 'engineer' have to be related, and an engine is a contraption.

A line of code is not a contraption.
"

You haven't had the misfortune to work with some of the software-developer colleagues that I have.

Michael said...

Equally importantly, no one should be able to get a journalism degree without taking elementary statistics and baby economics.

Smilin' Jack said...

Those troubled by "software engineering" should check out "financial engineering":

Master of Financial Engineering Program
You know how numbers work. Now apply them. Use your quantitative skills to help solve the complex and creative challenges of today's financial markets. Let us show you how. Graduates are equipped for careers in risk management, investment banking, money management, derivative pricing, private equity, hedge funds, and in technical operational areas of corporate finance.

rcocean said...

Of course Lawyers APPEAR bright, and very smart. Its their verbal/writing skills that make them lawyers.

However, communication skills aren't intelligence or wisdom.

For example, I've finished reading the Murphy dissent in the Yamashita SCOTUS case. To someone conversant with the facts and military history its the dumbest thing I've ever read. Yet, Murphy was not only a Lawyer he was a SCOTUS Judge.

Carl Pham said...

God forbid. The last thing we need is a judge with an A in freshman physics in his background 15 years ago that convinces him he knows fuck all about science, engineering, and medicine.

If there's one thing law actually needs, it's a heaping helping of humility -- of realizing what a crude instrument law (and lawyers and judges and courts) is for constructing justice. Ideally we'd want some experience akin to what humbles young physicians, which is that of people under your care dying in bewildering ways despite all your clever efforts. Of course, people are torn apart by stupid and inappropriate applications of the law, all the time, but somehow it doesn't seem to work. Apparently, the solution is to blame the victim. You moron, you shouldn't have been born with a character that isn't well matched with our judicial system of rewards and punishments. Better luck next reincarnation, fool.

Law attracts some very bright people

I've had the privilege of meeting about a dozen Nobel laureates in physics and chemistry, and one interesting fact about them as a class is that none thinks of himself as "very bright." (Second-rankers, on the other hand, routinely stress that fact.) I surmise that the smarter you actually are, the dumber you feel, because the amount you know you don't know increases faster than the amount you know you know.

In fact, there's an old related joke:

Q. Why are universities storehouses of knowledge?

A. Because freshman arrive knowing a little, and seniors leave knowing nothing. Hence, knowledge accumulates.

Richard Dolan said...

Like any profession, law is what you make of it. It's certainly true that a familiarity with various technical fields -- statistics, economics, accounting, and medicine being high on any list -- can help in dealing with some cases and transactions. But the fundamental skill is the ability to persuade -- be it a jury, judge, adversary, or just the other party to a transaction. More than all the techie skills of which Posner is so enamored, the most important for a lawyer (for anyone, really) is common sense, and it's even better when combined with a willingness and ability to listen to the other guy. It's very hard to persuade someone if you don't pay attention to how he views the problem.

Richard Dolan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Douglas said...

Dui, dui, dui ( or for those who don't read pinyun, "Corrrectodmundo").

Bruce Hayden said...

I disagree that the law is simple. Sure, a lot of lawyers operate at the simpler end of the practice. And it can be deathly boring for some. But that is because they are too bright for the part of the law they are stuck in. Part of it is extremely complex. Maybe it doesn't have to be, but a lot of lawyers enjoy complexity, and as a result, there are plent of complicated statutes and case law. And, making things maybe worse, some of the Justices and federal appeals judges are quite bright, and routinely split hairs and count angels on the heads of pins.

Remember, when the Bell Curve book came out, the IQs of different groups with doctorate degrees were compared, and they all, including JDs, MDs, PhDs, etc had very similar IQs, averaging about one std deviation above the mean (with the exception of those with Doctorates of Education, who scored close to the mean - they are typically teachers who get thei advanced degrees by just taking summer classes).