I'll plead guilty to my own case of availability heuristic here, but it sure seems like law professors lead the parade for defensive justifications of why their segment of academy still makes sense as a post-graduate choice. Shima Baradaran Baughman (Utah), guest blogging over at PrawfsBlawg, has bravely donned the gladiatorial armor and is sure to endure the largely anonymous opprobrium that will come in the comments as a result of any such effort. She's committed to a continuing series on "The Case for Law School" with Part I and Part II already posted.
My daily feed-reader scan occurred this morning just before I walked Tia the Wonder Dog, so it meant that I read this paragraph in Prof. Baughman's post, then stewed about it for the next thirty minutes as Tia got her daily constitutional.
Law school teaches you how to see both sides of an argument better than any other degree. Law school teaches you how to determine a reputable source from a bad one, a good argument from a weak one, and to see through logical fallacies. Often lawyers are criticized for becoming dispassionate because of this great skill. Students that come into law school feeling indignantly opposed to abortion rights will be forced to confront the legitimate arguments on the other side and have to rethink their views. This is an invaluable lifelong skill. There is no other education that will teach you this kind of analytical thinking. And the byproduct of this is that it makes it hard for lawyers to argue with nonlawyers (ask your snarky lawyer friends but it is true). It is important now—more than ever—to have people able to see the holes in arguments and to be able to understand both sides of an issue. It is important for people to be able to decipher real from fake news and be able to see the logical problems in arguments.
Professor Baughman's bravery deserves the wider distribution Tax Prof Blog provides, so I'll give another shot at what spilled out in the Prawfs comments after Tia and I returned home, she got her treat for being a good puppy, and I ventured back to the MacBook Pro.
Punch line: I spent too much of my career as a lawyer-executive among non-lawyers to be a proponent of "J.D. exceptionalism." And lawyers and law profs tend to drink the rationality Kool-Aid. It's an occupational hazard.
The empirical proposition that people change their fundamental views on things like abortion because of law school is questionable. Also the empirical proposition that there is no other education that forces one to confront legitimate arguments on the other and have to rethink views seems questionable. It is true that law school teaches a particular kind of analytical thinking (how to come up legal theories in pursuit of instrumental goals), but I'm not sure that it isn't merely a subset of the kind of analytical thinking that you have to do to make any argument, descriptive or normative, in the arts and humanities. I do know, from my years of being in board rooms and management suites with colleagues who had advanced degrees in business, environmental science, chemistry, organizational behavior, physics, English, etc., that suggesting I was uniquely able to see holes in arguments because I had a law degree would have been a rhetorical mistake!
My observation over many years is that the inclination to see the other side's point of view is affective and emotional and not reasoned. One variant on this is my maxim "the rule of law is not a rule of law." What inclines you to confront legitimate arguments and ACCEPT them is a kind of empathy or willingness to get outside your yourself and into the metaphoric shoes of another. Law, and legal argument, is just as capable of being a club as a physical club. Rather than doing the beating yourself, you appeal to a third party holding the power. The rule of law isn't a rule of law because losing and accepting the loss is a cultural or emotional or psychological disposition. Getting along with other without resort to law takes the same willingness to accept Mick Jagger's dictum that you can't always get what you want.
Several years ago, I wrote an article how how making business decisions and acting on them was fundamentally different than merely thinking rationally (as a lawyer "thinking like a lawyer" might) about a problem. One of the insightful pieces I referred to came from the philosopher Brian Ribiero:
Ribeiro has pondered why deep and fundamental disagreements in hard philosophical cases persist. He concludes that they “confront us with an unresolved, and seemingly unresolvable,challenge to the rationality of philosophical discourse, thereby raising the spectre of worrisome philosophical skepticism.” What is a hard case? It is not one in which one of the interlocutors is ignorant of a critical fact (e.g., an argument about the temperature in which one person has access to a thermometer and the other does not), uneducated (e.g., a child who believes that a stork has brought his baby sister), or under a cognitive liability (e.g., someone who simply does not have the mental capacity to understand a mathematical proof).
A hard case is instead one like Wittgenstein posed in his On Certainty, and which I can restate in my own experience. I have friends in the legal academy whose access to information, education, and intelligence are unimpeachable. Nevertheless, they are Catholics or Mormons, and undoubtedly believe things that I am quite sure no amount of reasoned persuasion could cause me to believe. Wittgenstein’s (and derivatively Ribeiro’s) assessment was that this kind of disagreement is incapable of reconciliation. Instead, a change in belief of one of the interlocutors requires conversion. “If reconciliation is to occur, then one of us must forsake reason-giving, (non-rationally) reject our old rule, and (non-rationally) accept a new rule, thereby ending the dispute.”
Hats off to Professor Baughman for trying to make the case. I remain rationally unpersuaded and non-rationally unconverted.