February 14, 2012

Justice Scalia gives law students some advice: have a life, perhaps in Cleveland, and take serious" classes, not "made-up stuff."

Speaking at the University of Chicago, he said:
“Try to find a practice that enables you to maintain a human existence … time for your family, your church or synagogue, community … boy scouts, little league,” Scalia said, noting he started with Jones, Day in Cleveland. “You should look for a place like that. I’m sure they’re still out there. Maybe you have to go to Cleveland.”

Noting his son joined a California-based law firm, Scalia laughed and said, “My son Gene went to Gibson Dunn. Any big firm has the basic ethos of its head office and if the head office is in La La land, it’s gonna be a little laid back.”
Scalia as for classes:
“I took nothing but bread-and-butter classes, not 'Law and Poverty,' or other made-up stuff," Scalia said to laughter. He said his advice to law students at the time was: “Take serious classes. There’s so much law to learn. Don’t waste your time.”
Oh, now, now, there's plenty of made-up stuff in classes with conventional names like "Contracts" and a decent amount of regular old doctrine in classes that have "Law and —" names. Unless what you care about is how it looks on your transcript, you need to know more than the name of the course to figure out where you're going to get law and what's going to waste your time.


Matthew said...

Also, even supreme court justices get robbed.

TosaGuy said...

I won't pretend I know anything about employment in the field of law, but to me it would seem that law firms want to hire people who actually know what they are doing.

I think Scalia is trying to say to take classes that will teach you the things that most law firms want you to know.

Chip S. said...

Oh, now, now, there's plenty of made-up stuff in classes with conventional names like "Contracts" and a decent amount of regular old doctrine in classes that have "Law and —" names.

This alone does not refute Scalia. Students have to take whole courses, not selected parts of a wide variety of courses. So in choosing among courses what matters is the total substantive content in each. It would have to be the case that some "Law and ____" courses had more legal content than conventional ones in order to justify taking them on the basis Scalia is proposing.

Rick said...

I agree with Scalia about the made-up classes. Every money-soliciting promulgation from my supposedly top-tier law school lists all of its innovations, all of its multi-culturalism, its flexible curriculum, including a blizzard of clinics, and how it will "make a difference." That text is squeezed around pictures of comfortable surroundings, modern chairs everywhere. The solicitations generate a chuckle, but no contribution.

traditionalguy said...

The Law is a system of rights and causes of actions to uphold those rights. It has been worked on over many centuries of reported cases and Codifying areas until it does a good job drawing boundaries.

The Law Schools are necessarily surrendering to today's Government Regulation ethos that attaches to every manner of life today.

It is under the radar because lawyers are seldom paid a half million dollars to litigate a case up to the Petition for Certiorari level just to see whether Scalia and friends pick 3% of them for a hearing.

So courses like "Law and Poverty Programs for Profit" and "EPA Star Chamber Procedures" are very much needed today.

Fen said...

Too many lawyers, too few prospects. Unless you have the luxury (time & money) to sharpen your mind with a law degree, I recomend a more useful vocation.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

It's about the bubble. Too many lawyers live inside theirs. It's what Charles Murray discusses.

Chuck66 said...

I've always resentd having to pay (much of it through borrowing) $20,000 a year to go to grad school (MBA) when I see we are subsidizing bullshit classes and majors like those the Justice says to stay away from.

After school, I contribute to society. How much is the Chicano or Gay-Lesbian studies person contributing to society?

edutcher said...


If you wanna be a lawyer, be one that actually does stuff with people*, not some sanctimonious Lefty who identifies with the poor as he sits by the pool in his gated community and wants to be William Kunstler if he/she ever grows up.

This is also what Glenn Reynolds means about the higher education bubble, not just for law, but generally.

* Our lawyer, a friend of The Blonde's originally, is a family law lawyer who once told us, "All I really want is for people to look back and think of the lawyer as the good guy".

PS She is.

Dan in Philly said...

My nephew in high school is taking "The history of Rock and Roll" which is just sad, sad, sad.

RonF said...

What? Join the Boy Scouts? Quel horreur! How heteronormative. Are you even allowed to be in the Scouts once you graduate from law school? I'm surprised this hasn't been on the front page of the NYT and demonstrations at the UoC GLBT-NRQSRVA organizations.

True story:
I'm an Assistant Scoutmaster. I've been involved in Scouting for half my life and I've been an adult leader for the last 20 years. One of the requirements for First Class Scout is "... discuss with a selected individual approved by your leader (elected official, judge, attorney, civil servant, principal, teacher) your constitutional rights and obligations as a U.S. citizen." One of the kids' parents at that time was an attorney, so I brought him in.

Big mistake.

His discussion of the Constitution started with the First Amendment, was heavy on rights with a confusion between the words "rights" and "entitlements", and never mentioned anything that might be interpreted as an "obligation". His discussion of the rest of the text encompassed a few of the other amendments, but skipped over the 2nd Amendment entirely. When I called on the latter he advanced the theory that the 2nd Amendment was limited to members of the militia and in any case would only allow private persons to own firearms that were current at the time the amendment was passed.

At the end I asked him if there were any other aspects of the Constitution he wanted to discuss. He said in a puzzled fashion, "Like what?" I said, "Oh, Article I, Article II, Article III, etc. And what do you think an American citizen is obliged to do under the Constitution?"

He was confused by the question.

And that was an upgrade! Previously I had engaged our local State Senator to talk to the Scouts. When she arrived and I got to talk to her directly (as opposed to her aides, who were quite put out that I was not going to allow her to take pictures surrounded by the Scouts in uniform for her campaign literature) she looked confused and said "I'm a State Senator, I don't know anything about the Constitution." Good Lord, I was asking her to talk to 12-year old boys, not write an article for a law review. But lawmakers in Illinois are not chosen because they have any particular qualifications for making law. The concept that at minimum a) all laws in the U.S. must be in accordance with the Constitution and b) it's the job of lawmakers to ensure that as a basic quality control measure was beyond her.

fleetusa said...

I took only the basic courses (because that's all that was offered then) and loved it.

In the LLM program again I took the basic courses and they proved to be all I needed for an enjoyable career.

CJinPA said...

Love it.

Also, anything with the word "Justice" in the title that isn't related to "the Department of..."

Social Justice. Environmental Justice. Made-up stuff.

traditionalguy said...

Law students need a course called, "Moby Gun Running to Ban Guns." And also Stonewalling Until the Investigators Go Away," which teaches students the wisdom of the Syrian Ambassador to "just admit mistakes were made, and then resume the attacks."

Law School graduates today need much training in how the Federal Government works to get around that Constitution Thingie.

Troubled Voter said...

As a law student, my experience is that the only people whose advice is worth listening to are those attorneys who actually play a role in recruitment and hiring. Everyone else, including Justice Scalia, are blissfully unaware of the the challenges American law students face. Also, this is not a political issue at all--it's a strategic planning issue related to what courses and grades are on your resume. People on this thread should avoid trying to
conflate politics with trying to find a good firm job. In the end, Scalia's advice isn't harmful--don't worry if you don't get a job at a fabulous big law firm that seeks to kill you, and take substantive courses in which you can learn real stuff, because there is a lot of fascinating real law that you will never be able to encounter it all in your three years of law school.

Howard said...

Scalia's advise is spot on for anything in life. Don't take the easy, popular or trendy route and by all means, have a life outside of work.

Troubled Voter does a great job of outlining the tremendously strong pull on students to game the system. This is a sad state of affairs because it shows that much of the "Self Esteem" generation lacks the confidence to think for itself.

Robert Frost had it right:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Troubled Voter said...

I'm fairly certain that most law students take a proportionally higher share of substantive law courses than "made up" ones, so that would be the path most taken, actually.

Also, "gaming the system" and thinking strategically is what we are taught to do--assess the legal framework as it is or could be interpreted to be and advocate on behalf of a client. It's only fair that we do that for ourselves with regard to the job market.

ricpic said...

But Judge Scalia, the people who are "correct" don't have to learn anything nuts and bolts, they "know." Just ask hatboy, shiloh or the incomparably smug Roeschie, they'll tell you in no uncertain terms, that is if they deign to answer a neanderthal like you.

Bruce Hayden said...

Not sure where I sit here.

I do think that there should be core classes, in particular contracts, torts, real property, civil procedure, criminal procedure, constitutional law, etc. Call it the minimum amount of knowledge that any attorney needs to know. I would suggest that you will run into all of those I listed during your years of practice, except maybe contracts and torts for those few who only practice criminal law. And, they all tend to be tested on both the multi-state and essay portions of bar exams.

Beyond that? Not so sure. My real property prof had a list of must-take subjects, above and beyond the required courses. They included such things as family law. I took none of her must-take list, and learned all I needed those areas in BAR/BRI. And, having practiced for over 20 years now, I don't miss having taken any of them.

What I did take were classes that I thought might be useful for IP/cyber-law. The only one I regret was alternative dispute resolutions, and that was because of the prof who taught it.

One of my favorites was antitrust. I was shocked when I interviewed with Microsoft early on, that none of their IP attorneys had taken such a course, and thought that it was just fine to tie a royalty free (to them) patent and copyright license to their license of Windows or Office. This was not long before they were, indeed, sued for antitrust by the DoJ. (At the same time, all attorneys at IBM were being required to take an in-house antitrust class).

If I do have a complaint about most of these "law and xxx" classes, etc., it is that they really don't help you in the practice of law. You really don't learn anything that you will be able to apply when you do get out into practice. There just aren't all that many attorneys working in most of these areas (and, that is IMHO a good thing).

EMD said...

Does Scalia watch 30 Rock?