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Are lawyers that went to HLS better because they went there, or because they . . .?

nglez09nglez09 Registered User Posts: 186 Junior Member
edited July 2007 in Law School
I'd posted a thread about whether HLS was actually "better" than other schools, but that made me think: are the people that graduated from HLS better lawyers because they went there or because they had an innately better aptitude for the law (i.e. high LSAT)?

I know that at Harvard, the professors are much more interested in their scholarly work than their students, versus a low-tiered LS wherein the professors are mostly teaching, rather than working on big projects.

Furthermore, the applicability and practicality of many things taught at schools like Harvard is rare-- rather than practicality, many top law schools focus on theory.

Are the HLS graduates better because they went to Harvard, or would they have been even better off by going to a low-tiered law school and actually learning? (In terms of aptitude and skill in the law, rather than job prospects).
Post edited by nglez09 on
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Replies to: Are lawyers that went to HLS better because they went there, or because they . . .?

  • lskinnerlskinner Registered User Posts: 914 Member
    As has been pointed out in other threads, wander by a top college or law school some time and sit in on a class. Observe that you generally do NOT need to show any kind of ID to get into a class. Why is that top schools don't worry about people sneaking in and stealing an education?

    Because places like Harvard aren't selling classes. Law school classes -- especially first year classes -- are pretty much the same everywhere. What Harvard is selling you is the right to say you graduated from Harvard.

    JMHO.
  • nglez09nglez09 Registered User Posts: 186 Junior Member
    Oh, I see what you mean. So then (excluding Yale, right?) the 1L classes are the same-- that's why law schools allow transfers for 2L? But after that, would the predisposed aptitude for law make the lawyer, or the theory taught in the classes?
  • Birchum2Birchum2 Registered User Posts: 111 Junior Member
    i completely concure with iskinner. Harvard is selling you a very well respected brand name. My informal logic professor once commented that Harvard is comparable to a hospital that will only accept healthy patients. Harvards name and networking give a strong upper hand to anyone with a HLS J.D.
  • bizymombizymom Registered User Posts: 197 Junior Member
    at least with respect to my experience at YLS i have to disagree about law school classes being the same every where. i had friends who attended lower tiered law schools and i visited them and sat in on classes, both first year and upper classes. they simply were different than what i experienced at YLS -- their classes were focused much more on concrete issues -- students focused on practical questions -- what did they need to know for the bar exam and for the actual practice of law in the jurisdiction in which the school was.

    at YLS, practical real life legal situations rarely played a role in classroom discussion. students' discussions weren't focused on what the law WAS, but why was it that way, should it be that way. there were classes with more practical import than others -- but i'd be willing to bet that even those were probably much more esoteric and theoretical than their counterparts at other schools.

    when i worked at law firms and was involved in recruiting i was told at both firms that one of the things they felt students got at top schools was being challenged to think more -- it wasn't just a matter of wanting students from top schools because that was evidence of how smart those students were (though that was certainly a factor), but also evidence of what level of discussion and analysis that student was exposed to at law school.

    in terms of being "better lawyers" though? as a practical matter, I'd bet some graduates of lower tier schools, where there was more of an emphasis on the practicalities of the state's law, might actually be more ready to jump into the formalities of actual practice. whereas a YLS graduate might for example, be clueless of basic litigation procedure. the issue is what you mean by "better." some employers were known to moan about YLS grads who kept getting bogged down in public policy considerations instead of just addressing the simple nuts and bolts issue before them :). other employers valued the YLS grads' ability to think outside the box.

    bottomline-- i think the HYS pedigree means a lot because it tells employers that this is someone who is really smart. But it also tells employers that this is someone who was surrounded for 3 years by other really smart people (fellow students and professors) and exposed to more critical thinking. and in that regard law firms are looking for people who can think.
  • nglez09nglez09 Registered User Posts: 186 Junior Member
    Yes, I see where you're coming from bizymom. The fact that the smarter students are attracted to better law schools makes them that much better in terms of atmosphere and influence. So do you think that someone who was accepted to Yale as well as a low tier law school would succeed either way and still be as analytical to the law?

    The question really falls down to, how much does the actually teaching/discussion play into the effectiveness and quality of the lawyer-- or is it primarily innate?
  • bizymombizymom Registered User Posts: 197 Junior Member
    one more thing to think about -- its not just the exposure in law school that influences a law student's future as a lawyer. a lot of "learning to be a lawyer" is learning on the job.

    going to a higher tier law school gives you more opportunities to work at more selective legal jobs -- ie again, places where the "cream of the crop" is working -- the issue is whether those are the lawyers from whom you want to be learning as a junior associate.

    here's where you really get into an issue about what type of law you want to practice and what type of lawyers you think will best be able to learn from. many will say that working at a large firm is a great learning experience -- a chance to learn from top senior lawyers on cutting edge matters -- if that's the type of training you want, going to a top school makes it much more likely you will have that opportunity. but others will say that junior associates at large firms learn little about the practicalities of legal practice -- that you can get a lot more real hands on experience working for the government or in a small office -- now on the one hand, going to a higher ranked law school can improve any employment opportunity, but it gets really easy to be steered away from those types of practices when you go to a school where everyone is going the big firm route. so if you REALLY had the career goal in mind of wanting to a criminal lawyer, starting in the local DA's office, maybe going to the local lower tier law school might make that more likely to actually happen? i don't know, but i think it is worth thinking about.

    becoming a good lawyer, i think, has several components:
    1) your innate intelligence -- not just IQ, not just are you smart, but do you have the type of thinking that helps as a lawyer -- which includes analytical reasoning, but also common sense and people smarts.
    2) your education -- have you gotten the right type of exercise to maximize that brain power
    3) your training -- its a lot easier to become a good lawyer if you have a good lawyer available to train you.
    4) your compatibility with they type of practice you end up in -- 1,2, and 3 may all push someone to big law corporate practice, but if your heart's just not in your work, you're not going to do as well as if you are working somewhere you are more passionate about (at least in my opinion).
  • bizymombizymom Registered User Posts: 197 Junior Member
    just thought i'd add - some DA positions are very competitive to get - didn't mean to imply that they were easy to get -- just that they are a different career path than most top law school grads take.
  • lskinnerlskinner Registered User Posts: 914 Member
    i was told at both firms that one of the things they felt students got at top schools was being challenged to think more -- it wasn't just a matter of wanting students from top schools because that was evidence of how smart those students were (though that was certainly a factor), but also evidence of what level of discussion and analysis that student was exposed to at law school.

    You may have been told that, but in my humble opinion, it was a polite lie told by elitists who didn't want to sound elitist. It would be easy enough for New York Law School to make its curriculum more Yale-like (to the extent that there is a significant difference). Would that help NYLS grads in law firm recruiting? I doubt it.

    And for what it may be worth, I went to Columbia Law School and one of my best buddies went to Quinnipiac and our classes were very similar.
  • bizymombizymom Registered User Posts: 197 Junior Member
    NYLS changing its curriculum would not change the students sitting in the seats and the discourse that took place among them. the discourse that takes place in class is steered by what comes out of the mouths of the students -- most law schools rely on the socratic method, not lectures, so what comes out of the students is a huge part of what goes on in the classroom -- and personally, i found a difference when i sat in on my friends classes versus my own.

    and this is something easy for any prospective student to test for themselves -- as you've stated it is fairly easy to sit in on law school classes. any prospective student can do the comparison for themselves -- sit in on a top tier class and sit in on a lower tier class and see what if any difference they see in the discussion that takes place.

    i know i clearly saw a difference, not only between my friends' classes and YLS, but also HLS when i sat in on classes there as an admitted student. (the HLS property class was certainly more traditionally based than the one I ended up taking at YLS, but there was still a clear difference in the natural of the discourse that took place there versus that at either of my friends' schools).

    its easy to say curriculum is the same if you cover the same casebook and the same subject matter -- it doesn't mean that the what goes on in the classroom is the same by any means. reading the same cases is a small part of what one gets out of law school.

    sorry if it sounds "elitist" - but i honestly think its true in high school, colleges, and other settings too -- what you learn is not determined simply by the books, the formal curriculum, and the teacher -- its also affected by the classroom environment created by your fellow students.
  • lskinnerlskinner Registered User Posts: 914 Member
    NYLS changing its curriculum would not change the students sitting in the seats and the discourse that took place among them.

    I'm not sure I understand your point then.

    Earlier, you said this:
    i had friends who attended lower tiered law schools and i visited them and sat in on classes, both first year and upper classes. they simply were different than what i experienced at YLS -- their classes were focused much more on concrete issues -- students focused on practical questions -- what did they need to know for the bar exam and for the actual practice of law in the jurisdiction in which the school was.

    at YLS, practical real life legal situations rarely played a role in classroom discussion. students' discussions weren't focused on what the law WAS, but why was it that way, should it be that way. there were classes with more practical import than others

    Are you saying that law professors have little or no power to focus classroom discussion on practical issues versus theoretical issues?
  • bizymombizymom Registered User Posts: 197 Junior Member
    i am making two separate points --
    1) what i studied at YLS was presented by my professors differently than my friends at other schools experienced. i realize that to some extent this may be unique to YLS -- which is why i also referred to a class i sat in on HLS.

    2) the caliber of the student body then has an effect on how whatever curriculum presented by the professor is in fact addressed. the discourse that takes place at a top tier law school will be different than that at a lower tier law school because of the nature of the student body.

    we could get into a whole debate as to whether the students at HYS are really "smarter" than those at New York Law or Brooklyn Law because gpas and lsats don't really measure much -- and i wouldn't try to gradate fine distinctions between the students at HYL and # 5-7, or #5-7 and # 8-10 -- and i'm not even sure its purely a matter of "smarts" -- but i do believe that the nature of the student body -- their prior academic experiences (in the case of YLS, their rather eclectic mix of post-college experiences), their intellect, their aspirations, etc influences what then takes place in the class -- and what other students in turn get out of that experience.

    and i also want to make it clear -- i am not saying someone coming from New York Law, or Brooklyn Law, or any other non-T14 school, can't turn out to be a fine lawyer -- as i noted previously, they may came out of law school more ready to actually practice NYS law than someone from YLS or HLS -- but they will not have gotten the same intellectual experience as someone at YLS or HLS. and many employers will prize the experience of those from YLS and HLS because it will have encouraged the type of thought process they seek.

    as i noted previously -- there is a basic problem, i think, with the OP's phrasing of the issue as to what makes one a "better" lawyer. Someone can go to YLS or HLS, spend 5 years at a large firm and have less of a grasp of the practical ins and outs of everyday civil litigation than someone who goes to Brooklyn Law School and works for a small practice with attorneys who mentor him and give him a lot of responsibility right away. Which is the "better" lawyer? I don't know -- it probably depends on what you want that lawyer to do -- that's why i previously mentioned that one does have to really think about what type of law one wants in thinking about this.

    YLS and HLS will open far more doors, but they may also push a law student towards a path that they might not really want. which is why i referred to what it takes to become a good lawyer as involving more than just one criteria.

    it may be sacrilege on this board, but depending upon one's goals, i can imagine situations in which attending YLS and HLS may not always be the best path for someone -- but that doesn't mean that i think their experience at another law school will end up being the same as if they went to YLS or HLS -- they would be trading off something in the hopes that what they get elsewhere would be better suited to their ultimate goals.
  • HannaHanna Registered User Posts: 14,657 Senior Member
    "It would be easy enough for New York Law School to make its curriculum more Yale-like"

    I don't think that it would be easy for them. Law schools in general and lower-ranked ones in particular are judged on their bar pass rate. Teaching bar-related material for three years helps students to pass the bar. With a pass rate in the 70's, NYLS can't afford to chuck the traditional curriculum and let the kids spend three years pondering medieval Japanese law or the other arcane subjects that Yale and its peers allow students to focus on.
  • lskinnerlskinner Registered User Posts: 914 Member
    three years pondering medieval Japanese law or the other arcane subjects that Yale and its peers allow students to focus on.

    I don't know about Yale, but I can say that at Columbia we definitely studied Torts, Contracts, Civil Procedure, all the basic stuff that you study for the bar. I doubt that discussing those things at a level that's a little more theoretical would have much of an impact on bar passage rates. Particularly since most students study the same subjects again 2 years later to prepare for the bar.
  • bizymombizymom Registered User Posts: 197 Junior Member
    at YLS we studied Civil Procedure -- on the first day of class, my professor held up the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and announced to the class that they were "mere snipets" that had not been legally enacted. most of the class was spent on the issue of class action law suits.

    at YLS we also studied Contract Law -- at one point in the course, the teacher introduced a subject by saying -- "I used to spend a lot of time on this issue, but I just don't find it interesting anymore -- there's a clear rule of law now anyway." and he proceeded to move on to an area he found more interesting, but which had much less practical import.

    i don't recall ever contemplating medieval Japanese law at YLS though. :) that might have been much too concrete a subject.

    when i took a bar review course, there was much i felt i was learning for the first time. i knew people who went to lower tiered schools in the given state who found it more of a "review." i know one of my friends at one of the lower tiered schools always spoke about choosing classes with the bar exam in mind -- the need to be prepared by studying the subject, not simply in a review class, but in law school itself.

    it may be easy to say they don't need to worry, they'll just pick it up in the review class like we did, but its just not that simple -- i know my first job did not depend on whether i passed the bar exam or not in the first try (though i did) -- i didn't do anything my first year that probably would have actually required being admitted and i know my firm readily accepted the fact that some associates might take a second try to pass. my friend did not have that luxury. she was still waiting to get a legal job and needed that bar admission for many of the places she was waiting to hear from. (and by the way, she is now a very successful attorney in her chosen field of practice.)
  • lskinnerlskinner Registered User Posts: 914 Member
    at YLS we studied Civil Procedure -- on the first day of class, my professor held up the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and announced to the class that they were "mere snipets" that had not been legally enacted. most of the class was spent on the issue of class action law suits.

    Realistically, does this make you a more attractive candidate to law firms?
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