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07 February 2007



I am graduating this year from a respectable but non-elite law school, and will be starting a job with a respectable but non-elite large law firm.

I have noticed a large difference in the degree of credibility afforded to my normative statements about the law based on 1) their self-evident considered basis, or 2) the listener's knowledge that I have been hired to do law stuff for $160K in a top market.

Our legal system takes to absurd levels the use of rank-order proxies to determine merit. On every front, lawyers and law students evaluate the credentials of the speaker before even hearing the substance of the statement. Thus even in this comment I felt compelled to state my credentials up front.

Having also studied engineering formally, and both film and literature informally, I feel confident in asserting that law is more concerned with prestige as a proxy for merit than any other academic pursuit. I have never felt so tracked as in law school, and non-compliance would only have marginalized my voice.

Given that, of course law people have more trouble sacrificing prestige for the better life. The commodity value of prestige is higher in law than elsewhere, and as a prophesy, prestige reinforces itself.

Some suggestions for reducing this effect:
1) Promote egalitarian values in the law school classroom
2) Adopt the Yale Law grading system
3) Lower tuition, a lot
4) Meaningfully engage with the Plaintiffs bar and other legal careers currently unrepresented in law school career offices
5) Lower tuition some more. I enrolled wanting to represent the working class and study for law teaching. I cannot.

But to keep perspective. When I graduated engineering school in the late 90s and started working, 60 hour weeks were considered light, and there was not this level of ink spilled over it. I'm starting to become more and more convinced that the reason lawyers have bad social lives is just bad socialization -- the natural consequence of conceptualizing life, love, work, and education as a tournament.

Tracy Lightcap

I don't want to rain on the Marxist parade here, but Uncle Charlie (as I call him) is turning in his grave like a lathe over this interpretation.

True, there is exploitation going on here, but the surplus value that pays for the young associates and the partners is extracted from the productive workers in the economy then distributed through rents to the service sector. It is the profits extracted in the productive process that are the basis for the exploitation of the workers and the alienation of the capitalist running dogs in the lawyer's clique.

That means that the answer is both simpler and more complicated. How do the young lawyers end their exploitation? By ending the exploitation of the proletariat, of course. Marx always counted on that; that the alienation of at least some of the bourgeiosie to provide the intellectual leaven of the proletarian movement. (It worked that way too.) But, of course, to do that they have to be REALLY alienated. I mean Great Depression/Lawyer's Guild alienated. That is a more complicated solution then some kind of associate angst but it's the only thing that will work. After all, this is a SYSTEMIC problem. Or, at least, that's what Charlie would say.

For another take on the whole question, one might refer to Lord Layard's recent essays on ecomonics and happiness. His research might show another way out. If profits weren't in the way, that is.

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