Sunday, August 18, 2002

Dahlia Lithwick's "Letter to a Young Law Student" in Slate is interesting less for the advice she gives--the usual "don't take it so seriously, stop and smell the roses, you'll look back on this years from now and be as cloyingly sentimental about it all as I'm being right now" blather--than for her characterization of the typical modern law student. According to Lithwick, the vast majority of them "applied to law school simply because [they] took the LSATs", and "took the LSATs simply because the MCATs were too hard". They "graduated college with the generalized sense that they ought to be doing good works on this planet but were uncertain how to go about it", and "went to law school hoping that the experience would be stimulating and/or mind-expanding; a liberal-arts grad school for political people."

Well, we saw what a couple of generations of that sort of aimless, unserious student did for liberal arts undergraduate education: it now consists mostly of ignorant, lazy, illiterate slackers pausing between parties to collect their gift A's in a collection of joke courses in vacuous subspecialties, earning worthless degrees that signify with high probability that the bearer possesses no discernible job, life or intellectual skills. Certainly there aren't many liberal arts graduates these days who feel the need to admonish this year's freshmen, as Lithwick does the incoming "one-L" class, to "ignore your grades" and "have a life".

How long, then, will the law schools be able to continue to absorb a stream of applicants who are uninterested in law, hard work or career advancement, before the pressure on them to cater to student demand for "stimulating and/or mind-expanding" experiences forces them to eviscerate their own curricula and turn themselves into summer camps for spoiled post-undergraduate "permafrosh"? Can the law schools possibly have the spine to stand their ground and force all those future proto-Lithwicks to find their three-year vacations elsewhere, should they rise up one day soon and, like their undergraduate counterparts, start demanding "relevant" courses, "fair" grading, and all the rest?

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