Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Thinking like a lawyer

Via the Volokh Conspiracy, this excerpt from today's WSJ op-ed:
Legal education . . . breeds and dignifies some dangerous inclinations. It encourages people to favor constructed idealizations over real life. And it confuses the skills of argumentation with morality.
I have always favored constructed idealizations over real life. But then I wanted to be a lawyer as soon as I ruled out astronaut and President.

The argumentation point, though, is one that resonates with me. I know too many people (not all law students; competitive debaters and student government types are also prone to this vice) who are more concerned about form than substance, more interested in scoring points than arriving at an illuminating conclusion, and more apt to hamstring an opponent who doesn't know or refuses to follow the rules of the debate than to address their points or listen to their arguments. Law school only reinforces this tendency.

As lawyers, we are taught to advocate fiercely for our side, whatever that may be and regardless of whether our side is right. This has some utility in the context of criminal defense work, or perhaps corporate law, but when this stylized combat is substituted for philosophical inquiry about the morality of our public policy goals and methods, everyone loses. And lawyers are partially to blame.
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